By Jerry Leonard
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....
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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...
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
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
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
He didn't seem wholly convinced of her words
and she found herself thinking that he'll just have to deal
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
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...