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Full Moon

By Jerry Leonard

Chapter 1

Ilea ran through the darkness of the forest, blind to the grabbing branches and tearing briars, as the full moon illuminated the thick mist surrounding her. Throughout her flight she could catch quick glimpses of the dark shapes running beside her; their red, glowing eyes watching... waiting for her to tire from the chase. Aside from her own ragged breathing she could hear the growling and snapping jaws of the beasts directly behind her, trying to take her down.

Her only thoughts were of escaping these nightmare beasts. If she were to trip and fall, or collapse from exhaustion, she would never live to see the sun rise again. Silently she cried in despair, "I DON'T WANT TO DIE! NOT LIKE THIS!!" The fear spurred her on to even greater speed.

After what seemed like an eternity of running, the sounds of pursuit faded until nothing could be heard but the tortured gasps of her breathing and her running feet on the forest floor. Thinking she might have lost her pursuers for the moment, she stopped and listened to hear if anything lurked within the mist. Except for the noise of her own presence, the forest was deathly quiet, as if the very trees were holding their collective breaths in silent anticipation.

Ilea stood for a time, afraid to move and unsure of which way to go. Then she heard it- the soft rustling of leaves somewhere in the mist-shrouded gloom. Something was creeping around in the darkness....

Towards her?

She couldn't tell.

She held her breath, the fear within causing her to shake violently. Not sure where the noise was coming from, she eyed the damning mist straining for the slightest clue.

A snapping twig on her left caused her to jump and spin around, stifling a cry of fright. Peering intently, she searched for the source of the noise. As she stared the mist slowly parted, revealing a vague man-shaped form approaching her. It had a familiar look to it but she refused to take the bait that her imagination was offering.

Just before Ilea was able to distinguish the man-things' features it stopped and dropped into a slight crouch. The sword and dagger in its hands clearly explained the shadowed figure's intentions. Trembling, she drew her own dagger knowing full well it would do little good. Her fear was so strong now you could smell it in the air.

Slowly she began retreating from the menacing shadow, but she hadn't gotten three steps before the silence was shattered by a low, deep-throated laugh. The sound of that laughter had a quality to it that made her think of things long dead. While the laughing continued a voice seeming to come from nowhere, and everywhere at once, penetrated her fear-numbed mind.

"Foolish woman," the voice whispered. "You should have listened when I warned you..."

Ilea immediately recognized the voice of Erlic, her father. "Father?" she cried, "This cannot be! I saw you die! But if what I saw is true, then why have you come to haunt me?"

"Yes. I am dead," the voice continued in a malevolent whisper. "But think of me not as a shadow come to call, but as your conscience come to damn you! You, so strong with thoughts of revenge for your dear mother's death... I warned you, did I not? The wolf-beast would destroy us if we did not flee, said I! But no, you said; we must stay and confront it when it came back on the next moon...."

While the corpse didn't shout, or indeed even seem to speak, the voice was so loud in Ilea's mind she thought she would go mad with the pain it was causing. Her mouth as dry as parchment, Ilea choked on her words. "Father, you cannot blame me for what happened. The mage at the tavern told us how to destroy it, and we followed his instructions to the letter!"

"That may be daughter," the voice answered, "but just like when you were a child, you did not listen to EVERYTHING the mage said. Remember his words little one? Or should I repeat them for you...."

Ilea began crying because she remembered his words clearly and had no wish to hear again what she had so easily dismissed before. The decaying corpse that was her father said it anyway.

"Remember, the mage said, when all is said and done, the hardest part of killing the werewolf will be destroying it before it destroys you.... What else," the thing seemed to ponder. "Oh yes, you also ignored his final warning.... Where there is one, there WILL be others with it!!"

The pain of her failure, combined with her fear and exhaustion, was just too much for Ilea to bear and she began screaming. Still the corpse continued.

"I stayed with you because you were my only child and you were too stubborn to leave. Destroy it, you said. Well, destroy it we did! How were YOU to know that there would be two of the beasts!! Because of that, LOOK at what has happened!!" The voice of her father was quickly becoming mocking and hateful.

"My folly and your vengeful ignorance! HAH!! Look upon me daughter and understand your fate.... LOOK AT ME!!"

Body shaking from her screams of denial, Ilea looked up as the shadow that was her father closed the gap between them in the mist. His body was badly torn and mangled from the fight with the wolfen. His once tanned face was now a pale gray with half the flesh ripped away, eyes a deep glowing crimson. His throat all but missing.

When what was left of her father lifted his sword as if to strike her down, Ilea howled in despair and turned to run. She only ran a couple of steps before a loud snarl cut through her cries. A dark form with blazing eyes sailed out of the mist before her and slammed into her chest, knocking her onto her back. The last thing Ilea felt was the wolfen's jaws closing around her throat and, above it all, was her father's mocking voice, "Understand your fate daughter, understand your fate...."

Ilea jerked awake covered in a cold, sticky sweat. Around her the forest was slowly coming alive with the arrival of dawn. Another nightmare, she thought, as she climbed to her feet and headed for a nearby stream to bathe in. Contemplating the cruel twist in her life, she smiled. But there was no warmth in it; only a savage, lonely bitterness.

Well father, she thought to herself, you have been dead for five cycles of the moon now. Understand my fate, huh? I understand it well enough.

Slowly, she stepped into the cold stream, removed what was left of her clothing, and began washing the dried blood and gore from her body. I wonder how many died tonight, she wondered, shivering from the horror of it all.

After cleaning herself up, she began following the stream at a brisk pace hoping to reach her camp, collect her things, and be gone before the hunters started to look for her trail....

***********************************

When Selene woke from her sleep, she was still very tired.  She was also very worried.  The Beastmoon comes again tonight, she thought with a growing sense of panic.  Of all the villages, towns, and priests in the land to test, Selene couldn't understand why Mordillan chose to test this one.  It is better not to wonder at the reasons of the Deity, she thought, but to pass his test and bring the village back into his favor...

This was the beginning of the third month that Selene had led the village of Dunst's congregation now, ever since the head priest, Father Simmeck, was killed and she was doing a horrible job.  In two months, twenty people were dead, Father Simmeck being the first, and the rest of the village was looking to her for answers.  Answers that seemed to be in very short supply these days.

As she dressed and prepared for her meeting with the village council, she went over what she knew and had done so far...

Three months back, Father Simmeck was returning from an outlying farm after blessing a newborn when he was attacked and killed.  Found the next day, the Church Protectors and a tracker were sent to examine the site.  They determined that two large wolves killed him, but that made no sense at all.  He may have been old, but he was still a man with considerable power and two wolves should have posed no problem, even if they took him by surprise.

Nevertheless, she was now the leader of the village's church and that night two families were killed in their homes outside of the village.  Once again she sent the Protectors and the tracker to examine the sites and, again, they had found wolf tracks.  After the third night of attacks the tracks were the same again but this time with a twist.  They were the tracks of two very large wolves all right but, according to the reports, several times it appeared as though they were walking on two legs.  Wolfen.  Selene shuddered at the thought.

After a week had passed with no more deaths, they all hoped that the beasts had continued on their way, but it was not to be.  On the next Beastmoon the killings began again.  Since all of the deaths had taken place on the outlying farms Selene brought the farm families into the village limits in the hopes of protecting them.  Fat lot of good that did, too.  The beasts just began attacking the village itself.

So she had the village patrolled en-masse by both the village militia and the Protectors.  They weren't able to confront the creatures until the third night, at which point everyone realized just how unprepared they really were to deal with the threat.  That confrontation left a dozen people lying dead in the streets and, when dawn came to the shattered village of Dunst, the trackers were once again unable to follow them to their lair. 

Once the second cycle of the Beastmoon had passed Selene sent requests for aid to her mother church and to Duke Arset in the city of Crossmere.  Even though Dunst is a good distance away and isolated they should have had some word or assistance by now, but so far there had been nothing.  And last night was the first night of the full moon.  Most of the village folk had come to stay in the chapel for the night, hoping it would provide sanctuary from the wolfen and, for them, it did.  Now she had to go out and see how the rest faired.  Already, she knew some families were packing their belongings and preparing to move to Crossmere.

After dressing, Selene walked over to her door and locked it.  She knew that what she was about to do was frowned upon by many in the church, but to her this felt as natural, and right, as her devotion to Mordillan, The Creator Of All.  Going back to her nightstand, she opened a drawer and pulled out a small, ornately decorated box and took it to her writing table in the corner of the room.  From where she sat she could look out the east window and watch for the moment when the edge of the sun would begin to rise from behind the hills.  Realizing she had a couple of minutes left she opened the box, removed a square of purple velvet and laid it out on the table.  Next she removed a small copper brazier and, putting in a cube of rose incense, lit it and sat back to let the fragrance permeate the air.  After a short moment of silence Selene again reached into the box and removed two runestones.  Holding one in each hand she let her gaze fix on the horizon and quietly began to meditate, letting her mind focus on the problem at hand.

A minute later the sun began to rise past the edge of the horizon.

"Will the problem of the wolfen be resolved in this cycle of the Beastmoon?"  With the question breaking the preternatural silence hanging in the air, she let the runestones fall to the velvet.  Slowly, and with a great calm, she gazed down for the answer she knew would be there...

YES.

If anyone had been watching they would have realized by her startled gasp that that wasn't the answer she was expecting.  I don't know what to do, she thought with a mixture of hope and desperation, how will it be resolved?  Knowing the stones were incapable of answering she pulled out her symbol of religious office, a silver sun with the moon and a balance engraved upon it, dropped to her knees and lifted her eyes to the heavens.  "Mighty Mordillan, Creator of All, you are called The Protector by your priests and worshippers.  I am but an initiate of the third ring and have little power in the eyes of my peers, but now I am in charge, your followers need protection, and I am lost.  I pray to you, help me to help our people..."

Almost immediately she cried out as her mind was struck with a sharp pain and she fell to the floor.  After a moment she rose unsteadily to her feet, shaken by what just happened.  She had never had a vision before but she had little doubt that that was what she experienced.  "What of the bird?" she questioned aloud as she stood there.  In her vision she saw a wolf, a dark and corrupted creature, in fierce combat with a large bird of prey that shone like the sun while a young woman lay cowering and crying beneath them.  What all this meant she didn't know but she was sure that, if the runestones were right (and they always were), she would find out soon enough.

"Ah, dwell on it later," she said tiredly to herself, "right now I must confront the council and find out who we lost in the night."  With that in mind she unlocked the door and left her bedroom chambers to go to the council room next to the chapel.  

***********************************

Ilea smelled the smoke from the fire before she saw the camp, so she knew that Dargon had beat her back again.  Why do I stay with him, she silently asked herself before stepping through the dense undergrowth into the clearing.  Because he's the only one who would accept me as I am now, she thought bitterly in reply.  He's a monster just like me...  With that last thought lingering in her mind she casually pushed through the brush into camp and surveyed the area.

In the center of the small clearing a tiny fire was crackling energetically and a copper teakettle was set above live coals that had been raked to the side.  Their tent had been erected alongside the trunk of a large, ancient tree that had fallen long ago and now helped to hide the camp from prying eyes.  At first Ilea was unsure of herself because she felt that something wasn't quite right with the setting, and then it hit her.  Dargon wasn't breaking camp.  In fact, from the looks of things it appeared he intended to stay right here.

"It's about time you got back here girl!"  Startled, Ilea whirled towards the tent to see Dargon stepping out.  "When are ya goin to learn to quit fighting The Change?  If you'd just let go you might find yourself getting back to camp BEFORE me every once in a while...  Just once I'd like to come back and find breakfast waiting for ME!"

Ignoring his sarcasm, Ilea shot back, "I'll always fight the change.  It's not natural, it's evil.  It's a curse!  I'm not evil!"

Dargon dropped to his knees and doubled over, literally howling with laughter.  He had heard her speech so many times that he now found it uproariously funny.  "Stop!"  Gasp.  Wheeze.  "You're making my sides hurt! HA HA HA!!" 

After a short time of uncontrolled laughter he got himself back under control, almost, and fixed her with a leer.  Between fits of chuckles he said, "Oh yes, you're so pure of heart.  And every Beastmoon you go out and eat your fill, just like the rest of us horrible monsters, making you no better than the rest of The Great Pack..."

Rising to his feet he slowly walked over to her and let his voice, and gaze, soften as he looked over her naked body.  Her long brown hair was messed up and tangled, but it did nothing to hide her beauty, which was slowly being transformed by her "curse" making her even more lovely in his eyes.  Her 'wolfish' appearance filled him with lust, regardless of her lack of attention in return.

Handing her the clothes he brought with him from the tent he said, "The least you could do, dear heart, is to remove your clothes before The Change takes you.  You're running low on nice things to wear..."  With that he walked back to the tent and as an afterthought added, "There's tea and honey ready for you once you're dressed."

Ilea watched him reenter the tent, the disgust evident in her look, then slipped on her clothes.  Wandering over to the fire she poured herself a generous dose of tea and drank greedily.  The Change always left her feeling so dehydrated and spent... and ashamed.  Raising her voice so he could hear she asked, "Why aren't we packing up to move?"

"Because everything is right on schedule and I like it here.  Now leave me be sweets and I'll join you shortly..." was the muffled reply.

"Great.  Maybe later you'd like to fill me in on what's going on around here." She said unhappily.

"Sure. Later."

She knew he'd be in there meditating over his tablets for a few hours yet and so she set about looking for something to keep her occupied until he was done and ready to talk.

***********************************

On the north edge of the village of Dunst, The Church of Mordillan stands looking somewhat like a small Keep.  Surrounded by a low wall that was built more for aesthetic reasons than martial, most folk know that it could never withstand a siege.  Within the walls, a large house occupies the northwest corner providing a home for the residing clergy while, to the south of the main house, a garden and well provide the residents with a small measure of sustenance.  The church, which would be considered a modest building compared to the MotherChurch in Crossmere, dominates the whole east side leaving room for a small courtyard in the middle.  Built of stone to withstand the ages, the church was divided into several sections.  The chapel, which is the primary portion, was built towards the front and was meant to be large enough to snugly house practically the whole village during the main holy days.  In the back could be found the priest's meditation chambers as well as a small library, the Chamber of Rites, and a conference room that, for the last couple months, was being used by the village council for their meetings. 

Before going to the conference room, Selene took a detour that led her through the chapel.  After passing through the large double doors she paused and offered her thanks to Mordillan for another day, even though it was a troubled one.  Looking around she saw that many villagers still scattered around sleeping on pews or the floor while others were up by the altar going through their morning devotions.  Her two lay priests were at the altar reverently performing the Morning Rites for them. 

Off to one corner a few children were sitting up, silently watching the various people in the room.  A little girl, probably not more than five, glanced over and saw Selene.  The child smiled and waggled the fingers of one hand in greeting; the other hand grasping a small doll made of straw.  Selene smiled and waved back, but shamefully wondered to herself if she would be looking at this child's torn and lifeless body, come tomorrow morning.  It was then that she truly felt weight of her responsibility to the village.  She felt so impotent and helpless that the seed of despair in her heart began to flower.

"Did the monsters come last night, Protectant?"  The question made her jump and Selene whirled around to face the questioner.  Realizing that he startled her, the old man began apologizing, "I'm sorry m'lady, I didn't mean to..."

"No, no.  It's all right Seth.  I was just lost in thought and didn't hear you walk up behind me," she reassured him quietly.  As her heart slowed to a regular rhythm she remembered the question.  "Well Seth, I don't know yet.  I'm supposed to be on my way to meet with the council... but... something told me I should come here first... to make sure that... well... that everything's okay."

With a mischievous glint in his eyes the old man chuckled and asked, "And is everything... well... okay, m'lady?"

Relaxing a little, Selene gently smiled at him.  "Yes, it appears so.  So now I suppose I must go and attend to my duties.  Take care, good Seth."

"And you as well, Protectant."

As the old man turned and slowly wandered away Selene walked along the chapel into an alcove to the left of the altar and, after passing through the door there, headed for the conference room where she knew the village council would already be waiting.  Once she reached the door, she paused, taking a deep breath to ease her nerves, and let herself in. Glancing around as she entered the chamber she waved down the five men present as they began to rise at her arrival.

With a thoughtful frown, she asked the Captain of the Church Protectors and de facto leader of the village militia, Artek Sembedia, "Where are Dolen and Brent?"  But before Captain Sembedia could reply one of the others, she couldn't tell who, mumbled, "Finishing their packing most likely."  The Captain looked at her steadily and gave a slight shrug.

"Well Protectant, you gots any answers yet, or we gonna watch de village be dismantled more by dese beasts in wolves cloding?"

Selene looked at the man who spoke.  His name was Drekel, and he was a grossly fat Veshoge with a mottled, almost reddish, skin.  Even though he was completely bald, lacking even the small patch of hair on top of the head that commonly marked one as a Veshoge, his flat, upturned nose and the small tusk-like teeth just peeking out of his mouth removed any doubt about his breeding.  He ran the only inn and tavern in the village, The Twisted Beak.

"Goodman Drekel," she calmly answered, "you know as well as the others seated here that I am doing the best I know how.  Mordillan provides the miracles, not I."  Her mind briefly flashed back to the vision she had earlier.

"Oh yah, sure," he sneered, "and while you wait for a miracle, or de Gods only know what else, more people will die."  Slowly he lifted his immense bulk from his seat.  "Do you realize dat whedder it a full moon or not, nobody will leave dere homes at night?  Travelers ride in, hear of our trouble and continue ta ride!  If dis keeps up I am going out of business!"  The last came out almost as a sob.

"Sounds like the travelers made wise decisions to me," said the large man seated next to him.  It was Kemal, the village blacksmith, and Selene liked him.  Whereas Drekel was huge with fat, Kemal was huge with muscle; a man who was honest and hard working; a slow talker but a keen thinker.  And the only one besides Sembedia that sided with her on most matters, she thought with frustration.

"Oh what d'ya know, big man," Drekel shot back.  "Your money made in da day and mine at night."

Captain Sembedia shot Drekel a dark look.  "Your greed is showing Drekel.  Don't talk of money while people are dying.  The Netherworld can be a cold place to visit when it's your turn to go..."

"Hmmph."  As Drekel lowered himself back into his tortured and creaking chair, he couldn't help but try to get in the last word.  "Ever'body greedy, just not shamed ta show it..."

After listening to their exchange, Selene caught a glimmer of things left unspoken.  Looking over at Sembedia she asked for the news she didn't want to hear.  "Who did we lose in the night Captain?"

"We lost three Protectors on the south end of the village," came the reply, the loss obviously causing him pain.  "Only four Protectors left now..."

"And the militia?"

At this, the sadness in his eyes was replaced by something else.  Something infinitely harder.  "They broke and ran," he spit out without flinching.

Selene knew he was taking it as a personal failure and tried to lessen its impact.  "It's not your fault.  It isn't their fault either.  They're not warriors.  We knew that this is beyond their ability to handle and, apparently, they knew it too.  Courage is easy when you believe you have a chance, but much harder to find when there's no hope of success.  You're the only one I know of with a weapon of power but, even with that, you still can't stand alone against two of them."

He didn't seem wholly convinced of her words and she found herself thinking that he'll just have to deal with it.

When Selene finished Algar Markem, one of the two village elders present, spoke up.  "Success may be more possible now than it was last night Protectant.  Gunnar Token's boy rode in to the village from the west just before I left to come here and he brought four score arrowheads made of silver.  Between me and my boys we should have most of them shafted before sunset.  Shades, if I can find that old fool Seth we could have them all done with time to spare.  Why, back in the day, Seth was the best archer in the area... maybe still is."

"That one is easy then," Selene said with a smile.  "Goodman Seth is in the chapel."  She paused.  "At least he was a moment ago."

"I don't know folks," Captain Sembedia began with uncertainty. "Four score arrows may seem like more than enough to use against two wolfen, but there's something definitely wrong about these two and I can't quite put my finger on it.  From all we've heard about their kind, fire and acid should have hurt them yet they remained untouched.  Why?  Will the silver even work?  I feel that we're missing something here..."

Markem looked at the captain and, smiling and rubbing the stubble of hair along his jaw said, "To know if the silver will work we must first try it.  Might I suggest you tell your archers to not miss."

Drekel let out a loud bark of laughter.  "Dat's a good one!  Don't miss..."

The meeting went on like this, with no real progress in sight, for another half-hour until there was a knock on the chamber door.  One of the lay priests poked his head in and, speaking to Selene but looking at Captain Sembedia, said, "Protectant, pardon the intrusion but, well, there are some people out in the courtyard asking to meet with whoever is in charge..."

Selene, with a spark of hope showing on her face, asked excitedly,  "Are they from the Church, or Duke Arset's men?"

"Uhmm no, milady, I don't think so.  These seem a rather rough bunch..." The priest said this last with a very pointed look at Sembedia.

"All right then. I suppose we should see what they want.  Please show them in to..."

"No," the captain interrupted, understanding the look on the priest's face. "Leave them in the courtyard, we'll come to them."

The priest nodded and ducked back out.  Sembedia looked over at Selene and asked, "Don't figure I can ask you to stay here and let me meet with them alone first, can I?"  Her look said it all.  "Didn't think so, " he sighed.

Leaving the building, Sembedia led the way looking over the travelers as he approached.  There were six of them; three humans, two of obviously oafish descent, and a kobold.  All of them were sitting astride horses, and heavily armed.  The captain wasn't sure who looked worse, the riders, or the horses that appeared to have been ridden quite hard for some time.  Stepping before the armored man that he assumed to be in charge he said frankly, "Welcome to the village of Dunst.  How may we be of service to you."

The man looked as though he was about to speak but a voice behind him, one of the oafs, said lightly, "We heard you all have had some doggy problems..."  The other oaf next to him shook his head and hid his face in his hands, but you could still hear the muffled snickering.  The man turned and shot his companions a withering look.

Uncertain what to say next the captain looked over at Selene and found her looking at the man oddly.  Following her gaze he noticed it rested on his helmet.  Sitting easily in the crook of the warrior's arm he didn't see anything strange about it.  That it was richly designed there was no doubt, but that was a common enough sight when one dealt with warriors.  Though he did admit to himself that it was the first one he'd ever seen made to look like the head of a falcon...

***********************************

With his eyes rolled up in the back of his head, Dargon sat in the tent cross-legged and motionless, a slight smile playing across his face.  His body was there in the tent, but his mind was elsewhere.  Entranced, he watched in his minds' eye as, just a few miles away, two groups of people met and talked in a courtyard.  After a short time the image faded and Dargon found himself once again seated in the tent.  The small grin he had on his face grew wider, exposing a set of very white teeth with unnaturally long and sharp canines.

Savoring the image of the people he saw in the courtyard he began to chuckle quietly.  My friends, he thought malevolently, I'm so glad you could make it...  This will, indeed, be a most joyous reunion.  I have waited so long for this moment that, now that everyone is here, I can barely contain myself.  But you know what they say... Patience is a virtue that rarely goes unrewarded.  So soon, my friends, very soon, I'll be over to join you and we'll just have... sooo... much... FUN...

 

 

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