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Full Moon

By Jerry Leonard

Chapter 2

Allowing Captain Sembedia to take the lead leaving the church, Selene let her gaze wander over the group before her.  The first thing she noticed was one of the mounted men, an aged but still strong looking man, uncovering the blazon on his shield displaying the black and gold Star of Justice.  The symbol marked him as a Theurgical Knight of Torisat, The God of Truth and First Son of Mordillan. His black cloak thrown back, she saw he was dressed in chainmail with a sleeveless crimson tunic on top of that.  Strapped to his waist was a sheathed scimitar, which she knew was the weapon of choice for the knights of that order.  

So, the Mother Church sent someone after all, she thought with a silent prayer of thanks.  Happy with the recognition she looked over them all with greater attention to detail and, at that point, her thoughts slipped in confusion.  This wasn't quite what she would have expected from the church.

She saw before her two male oafs, both sporting contentedly amused expressions on their faces, as if sharing a silent joke between themselves.  They were each wearing a dark green hooded cloak that covered most of their bodies, but from their leggings, sleeves, and what little she could see peeking through the front, she could tell they were dressed in thick leather armor.  She also couldn't help but notice the sheaths of very large swords poking out from the bottom edges of their cloaks.   Attached to the saddlebags on their horses they each had mounted a great bow and quiver.  But what really struck her as strange was how their facial features looked exactly alike, from the pasty yellow skin and low brows to the shapes of the ears and their lopsided grins.  They must be twins, she thought distractedly.

Sitting atop a small painted pony between them was a kobold.  It was maybe three feet tall, and because of the pony's size it looked much like a small child, but with the oafs on either side of it the effect was even more pronounced. The kobold sat there unmoving, the slanted eyes on its narrow face closed and its wide mouth shut tight, looking almost like it was sleeping... Or concentrating.  She thought it was a female, but she couldn't be sure since she had never actually seen a kobold before today. Framed by dark and oily-looking hair that had been cut back rather severely, the green of its skin contrasted sharply with the black tunic, breeches, and riding cloak it wore. Sheathed at its side was what most humans would think of as an overly large hunting knife, but she was sure that it was probably more like a short sword to the kobold. 

Beside the knight was a tall and thin man with graying hair tied back in a top not.  Sporting a pencil thin mustache and small pointed beard on the end of his chin, she couldn't help but think of rats when she saw him.  Arrogant rats.  He wore a forest green tunic with baggy black trousers stuffed into knee-high moccasins, and on his side was a thin rapier alongside a long dirk.  She didn't like the looks of that one.

When she and Sembedia stopped before the assembled riders, Selene looked over last man who was in the group's lead position.  He was a young and handsome man with a large muscular body.  His long brown hair was pulled back into a single braid, but his cold blue eyes and sun darkened face showed signs of a continuous battle of conflicting emotions. All at once, he seemed tired, sad and angry.  She noticed that he had a black mourning band attached to his upper arm, signaling the loss of a loved one.  Apart from the others he had no cloak, leaving the armor he wore to glisten brightly in the sun.  Slung across his back was a magnificent looking great-sword, its guard shaped to look like a pair of golden wings spread out in flight, and affixed to the end of the pommel she saw what appeared to be a large emerald held by a claw. In the crook of his arm he casually held his helmet and, to Selene's surprise, she saw that it was made to look like the head of a falcon...

In that instant, feeling like she was frozen in place, Selene's mind was transported elsewhere... 

Flying through an explosive kaleidoscope of colors and imagery she once again found herself witnessing the battle between the wolf-beast and the bird of prey.  The battle appeared inconclusive, but what caught her attention was the woman that lay below them.  She now seemed faded, as if she were disappearing.  As she was trying to make sense of what she was seeing, the battle fragmented like broken glass as another assault on her senses propelled her through a series of scenes, the jumble of images and emotions leaving her breathless in its wake.

.... In a narrow canyon she stands in front of a tower made of fire while, around her, the sounds of battle echo off the cliff walls. Wondering what to do next, a doorway of blue ice appears and starts to open before her...

Dimly she heard a voice in the dark recesses of her mind say, "We heard you all have had some doggy problems..."

.... Now in a large chamber looking through a doorway that opens to the sky and seeing another open doorway almost an insurmountable distance away...

.... Darkness and the overwhelming feeling of despair, shattered as a spark of blue fire fully erupts into flame revealing...

....  Shadows.  Swarms of writhing shadows coming closer, bringing with them the sense of impending doom and the destruction of her soul...

"Protectant?  Protectant, are you okay?"  Sembedia's questioning voice brought Selene crashing back to reality and she found herself on her knees, the captain holding her shoulders to support her.  Seeing his look of alarm and concern she remembered where she was and, with an embarrassed glance at the strangers before her, shakily got back to her feet.

"Uhmm, yes.  Yes.  I'm all right Captain," she reassured him, "For a moment I just felt faint, that's all.  I... I'm fine now."  Scanning the faces once again she saw a mix of reactions regarding what just transpired... confusion from the oafs, apathy from the 'rat man', concern from the leader and the knight, and a disconcertingly intense look from the kobold, whose eyes were now open and staring right at her, its golden irises imparting to it an eerily demonic visage.

"Please forgive me good sirs," she said apologetically, "I, uh, haven't been feeling well lately and I'm afraid it's all just catching up to me.  However," she continued, looking at the Knight of Torisat, "I am pleased that the church has seen fit to send us help.  Help, I might add, that is sorely needed at the moment..."

The knight looked at her quizzically, "Illness strikes us all at one time or another Protectant, so there is nothing to forgive.  But you seem to be mistaken.  The church didn't send us."

"They didn't?"  Selene tried to hide her disappointment.  "But..."

"No m'lady," the leader said gravely, "We've been tracking the beasts for personal reasons.  We woulda got here sooner but they fed us misleading clues that sent us in the wrong direction..."

Interrupting, Captain Sembedia asked, "How did you know we were the ones having troubles then?"

The leader looked at him and gave a wry smile, "There're two families heading south on The Everlost Road right now with all of their belongings heaped up on a couple of wagons... They told us."

"Ahh," he sighed.  Looking over at Selene he mumbled, "I guess that Dolen and Brent finished their packing after all."  Squaring his shoulders, Sembedia turned back to the strangers and in a formal tone said, "Please pardon our apparent lack of manners.  I am Artek Sembedia.  Captain of the Church Protectors for the Holy Church Of Mordillan here in Dunst and the acting First of the Dunst Militia.  Beside me is Selene Descairn, our Protectant.  Again, I welcome you all to Dunst, and if you do indeed have the means to help us, then I welcome that as well."  This last was said with a lightness that couldn't disguise the earnest desperation of his words.

When Sembedia finished his introduction, the leader of the group smiled and replied lightly, "Well met Captain.  And to you as well Protectant.  May your church remain as a beacon of hope and light to all, in these troubled times and beyond..."  With simple efficiency, he began introducing the members of his party.  "I am Mengar Falcone of Addonshere.  Accompanying me is Lord Garon Tarn, Knight of Torisat and Justiciar."  At the mention of his name, Selene raised her eyebrows in surprise.  His name was very well known to her, as he was practically a legend within the church.  "Next to him is Adolphius Cole."  Jerking his thumb back at the two oafs he said, "The two disrespectful hooligans behind us are Dunk 'n Monk.  Please don't be offended by anything that may spew inappropriately from their lips.  They think they're funny.  Between them is Mayla of Addonshere..."

At this, the kobold interrupted with, "Unwilling nursemaid to these two overgrown children..."  The comment made Dunk and Monk laugh and brought a small smile to Mengar's face as he continued, "We also have one of Lord Tarn's retainers with us.  He's back at the inn securing rooms for us.".

Selene smiled brightly at them all and said, "As Protectant, allow me to welcome you as well.  Please, join us in the church as I believe we probably have much to discuss."  When the riders began dismounting Selene watched the one named Mengar, mentally transposing over him the image of a large golden falcon.

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

As the sun reached the peak of its journey across the land and began making its downward trip to the western horizon, Dargon left the tent.  Feeling amazingly energized and content for the first time in months he looked around for Ilea, not the least bit disturbed that once again he would probably spend a couple hours repeating himself to a woman who just wouldn't listen to him.  I'm almost done with her anyway, he thought happily, so who cares if she's an aggravating wench or not.

Not seeing her within the clearing he sniffed at the air, nostrils flaring, trying to catch her scent and found it almost immediately.  She was upwind and, from the sounds reaching him, slowly coming back towards the camp.  Just then, his mouth began to water as he detected another scent.  The scent of blood...  "Ahh, excellent," he said enthusiastically, "She's bringing lunch!"

 

Walking over to the fire that had died down he stirred the coals and added more wood, quickly bringing the flames back to life.  He then sat on a log next to the fire and waited for Ilea.  As she came into the clearing with two fat rabbits in one hand and her rabbit stick in the other, he asked her with a hint of annoyance, "Why didn't you just change forms to hunt for lunch?  It's easier and much more satisfying than throwing sticks at them, my dear..."

She looked at him and with an equal amount of annoyance and disdain in her voice replied, "I've told you a hundred times.  I will never, EVER, willingly make the change.  It just isn't me."

Dargon snorted.  "You know, your stubborn refusal to accept the gift you were given is precisely the reason why you can't master the beast within.  If you would just accept your true nature, then all the power that comes with it would be yours to control."

Ilea tossed one of the rabbits to him and said bitterly, "Gift my arse."  Dargon gave a mocking gasp of surprise and started laughing, but she continued.  "A gift doesn't make you do things against your will.  And with all your talk of power, what can this truly give me that I couldn't get for myself?"

"The power over life and death woman," Dargon answered, his tone growing serious.

Ilea looked at him and smiled.  "Well now, you just said it yourself, Dargon.  I am a woman, so the power of life is already mine.  As for the power over death, just look in your hands," she said pointing at the rabbit, "and you can see that that is mine as well."

"You're talkin' semantics girl.  I mean absolute power..."

"I don't want absolute power."

Shaking his head, Dargon sighed and turned to the rabbit in his hands.  Pulling out his dagger he laid the animal out on the log and chopped its feet off.  Cutting a slit through the hide on the back of its neck, he grabbed the head in one hand and, sticking two fingers from his other hand in the hole he made, ripped the skin off in one pull.  On the other side of the fire Ilea did the same thing, but then cleaned the organs out of her catch and attached the carcass to a spit so it could be roasted.  Dargon just smiled and cut the head off of his.  Lifting the rabbit over his head by its hind legs he leaned back and let the blood drip freely into his mouth, enjoying the slightly salty and coppery aftertaste.

"Now that's disgusting," Ilea said with a grimace.

Dargon looked at her and smiled, his teeth and fangs coated with blood.  "Just being true to my nature, my sweet."  With that he took a large bite out of the uncooked rabbit and chewed with obvious pleasure.

Looking on with distaste she hesitantly said to him, "You said you would tell me what's going on.  Why are we still here?"

Taking another bite, he mulled over her words deciding what to tell her.  Finally he said, "Fair question, that one, so I'll tell you.  You got a look at the town when we first arrived here.  Nice, almost idyllic."  She nodded her head in agreement.  "Well, I used to live here.  That is, until the day the whole lot of 'em, the superstitious peasants and those sanctimonious windbags at the church, drove me out at sword point.  Defiler, they called me.  Disturber of the dead...  I was an enchanter that's true, but because of rumors and false accusations I lost everything I owned.  I swore that one day I would repay them for what they did... And now that I possess this gift, that day has come."

Ilea stared at him in bewilderment and, in a quiet voice said, "So that's what this is all about?  Simple revenge?"

"Indeed," he answered with a sly smile. "Wouldn't you be thirsting for revenge if you were driven out of your home, forced to leave everything you knew behind just because some village simpletons and their overseers decided they didn't want you there anymore?  Do you remember the ring of stones at our first camp?  That was where my home once stood..."

Dargon watched Ilea consider his words, her brow furrowed as she struggled to mentally grasp at some intangible thought or idea.  Finally she looked him in the eye and asked, "And what of this schedule you spoke of?"

It figures she'd ask that one, he thought to himself with amusement while aloud he said, "Next month is the full moon of the harvest.  It is a special time, when all of the peoples of the Great Pack gather in one place to celebrate with a glorious feast.  When we are done here, that is where we will be headed.  It is time you met your brothers and sisters, some of whom think like you do.  Then, if you wish to be rid of me and be with folk more to your liking, I won't stop you." 

"But before we cross the border into Alanthus and head for The Gathering we have one last thing to deal with.  For several months now hunters have followed us.  Not the sorry types that come from the villages, but real hunters.  These are in the employ of Duke Arset.  They are inquisitors who capture, willingly torture, and then kill our kind, sending their souls screaming into the abyss of darkness rather than allowing them to find their final rest.  I will not allow them to follow us to our meeting place..."

Ilea sat in thoughtful silence, letting his words sink in.  A moment later she said, "They're only doing what they believe is right.  To protect their people, the land should be rid of all the things that prey on them.  I know you don't like to hear me say it, but we are an unnatural blight on the land."

Dargon jumped up, throwing his meal to the ground.  "Unnatural?  UNNATURAL...!?!"  Voice rising in pitch until he was screaming he spit at her, "What do YOU know of what's natural or not?  It's our nature to go out on the full moon... to kill and eat!  Any attempt to physically restrain yourself from the compulsion is to condemn yourself to a slow and painful death!  Your strength comes from the feasting, and to deny what is the NATURE of the beast within... that's unnatural!"

Realizing that he lost control he stopped himself, sat back down and took a deep breath.  Regaining a small measure of composure, he looked at her in contempt and said through clenched teeth and bared fangs, "You side with a group of which you are no longer a part of while at the same time despising your own kind... your peers.  Now that's unnatural.  Whether you realize it or not, Ilea, you are a creature of free will.  If you feel so strongly that you have no right to live, then why haven't you turned yourself over to them?  I'm sure they'd be more than happy to put an end to your stinking misery..."

"I can't," she cried out as the tears, sliding inexorably down her face, began to fall, "I'm a coward... I'm afraid and too ashamed!"  Sobbing aloud like a child lost in the deepest of wildernesses she added, "I... I don't... want... to die!"

"Bah! That's just pitiful," Dargon sneered, venom and sarcasm dripping from his voice.  "Do you realize that you're probably the most powerful coward in the land?  What a waste..."  Ilea leaned down and covered her face with her hands, shoulders heaving as she cried in despair.  Despair over a life she had lost and a life she was now condemned to live.

Dargon watched her in silence as she agonized over her lot in life until his anger faded and turned almost to pity.  Finally, as she began to calm down, he said softly, "Ilea.  Look at me."  When she lifted her face to him, red-eyed with tear-stained cheeks, he calmly continued.  "We of the Great Pack live in simple harmony, as brothers... and as sisters.  Newcomers are welcomed with open arms and we never war with one another.  We all learn, eventually, to accept the gift and to live according to our nature.  It is harder for some and easier still for others, but we learn and we accept nonetheless.  What you're going through is nothing new... to any of us."

Surprised, he watched as a new quality appeared across her ravaged features, something that centered in her eyes.  Suddenly he recognized what he was seeing.  She was actually listening!  Just another little nudge then, he thought to himself in triumph, another small wedge in the crack.  Hoping to exploit her apparent weakening, he said confidently, "Consider this, if you will, my dear.  When the Great Pack lives as nature intends for us to, we thrive and prosper.  Go against our nature, and we wither and die.  Simple as that.  Now, if you can accept that premise, then tell me...  What then is the nature of man and his brethren?  They too could thrive and prosper if they chose to live in harmony with each other.  Instead they make war with one another, brother against brother, nation against nation, unleashing horrible magics that scar the land and destroy their own kind.  All the while they seek advantage and gain at the expense of others."

Pausing a moment to let her consider the notion he then asked, "Now if what I say is true, then which one is the natural one, and which one is unnatural...hmm?  Think about it." 

With that he reached down, picked up what was left of his lunch, and threw the remains into the fire.  As an afterthought, he threw the head, feet, and skin in as well, then rose and walked out of the clearing.  Stopping several yards from the camp he turned and looked back the way he came.  Stupid cow, he thought.  His features hardened slightly as he fought the urge to laugh out loud.

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

"Lemme get dis straight.  We done lost several of our Church Protectors and home guard to dese tings already, not ta mention all dose villagers, and now you say we gonna be saved by an old Templar, dese two udder humans, two slabs and a frog!?  No offense Protectant, but have you gone mad?  Why don'ts we have Sembedia here take da beasts on by himself den?  He'd prolly have just as much chance to beat dem dan dese people.  We don't even know dem!"

Selene sighed in frustration.  While the rest of the village council seemed uncommitted one way or the other towards the group so far, once the introductions had been made Drekel seemed bent on causing trouble.  His rudeness was starting to fray the nerves of everyone in the room, including hers.

Captain Sembedia bristled at the comment, but before he could fire back a reply the kobold, Mayla, said dryly with a hint of amusement in her voice, "Well I'm supposin' we could withhold our help until after they've eaten you, fatboy.  A choice morsel like you can't remain unnoticed by 'em for long, I'm sure.  In fact, we should probably stake you out in the village square for bait.  That would bring 'em runnin' for sure!"  Smiling wickedly and looking up at the two oafs that towered above her she added, "Whaddya think boys, hmm?"

Dunk and Monk looked at each other and then at Drekel, their wide toothy grins plainly showing what they thought of the idea.  Giggling, Monk said, "Never know, they might get indigestion..."  Dunk laughed and added, "Yah, make 'em easier to fight after eating tainted meat..."

At this, the Veshoge visibly paled and began sputtering, looking to Selene for help.  "Don't look at me," she said with a hint of satisfaction in her voice, "you're the one who started it..." But then she grew serious and addressed the whole council, "Gentlemen, Lord Tarn's reputation is without peer in the church and his integrity goes without question.  To me, this speaks very well of the people he keeps as companions.  If they say they can end this then I, for one, believe them."  Looking at Lord Tarn and Mengar she said with finality, "Whatever you need, we are at your disposal..."

The old knight smiled gratefully and said, "I thank you for your support in this matter Protectant.  So for starters then, maybe you could tell us everything about how it began and what has transpired since."  Selene then told the story, trying hard not to leave out any details.  Occasionally interrupted as either Mengar or Mayla would ask for clarification on one point or another, Selene finally finished and then sat down at the head of the table looking at them all tiredly.

Kemal gazed intently at Mengar and asked simply, "Good sir, you have heard our tale.  The question now is can these wolfen be destroyed?"

Mengar glanced around the room making eye contact with everyone before replying.  Finally he said, "Sure they can be destroyed, but what ya need to understand first is that they aren't wolfen.  They're something else... something worse."  At this news, everyone in the council shifted uncomfortably in their seats, almost as if they were silently awaiting the word that they would be next to die.

With a look of consternation on his face, Captain Sembedia stepped forward from behind the Protectant's chair and asked, "You mean to say they're not werebeasts?" 

Mengar took a moment to consider how best to answer, then replied, "Well, they are werebeasts... of a sort.  Wolfen can only change from whatever they originally were, human or alfar or whatever, to that of a very large wolf.  They can change whenever they want whether it's a full moon or not, and fire, acid, magic and silver are the tools used to destroy them quickly, if necessary."

"But the beasts you're facing are called Loup Garou.  Fire, acid, and minor magic means absolutely nothing to them. If that's all you have to use against them then you may as well be attacking them with a feather...  These beasts can change form whenever they want to as well, but the difference is that they can walk as a man.  They can also manipulate objects, as can any of us here.  You want to fight these things, then silver and strong magic is the only way to go.  If you are bitten by one, well... then may the Gods have mercy on your soul, because soon you will become as they are."

"So where do they come from?"  Dennisar Rees, the oldest of the council who, until now, had sat silently listening to the whole proceeding asked this.

Standing apart from the others, Adolphius cleared his throat and answered in a haughty voice, "Where they come from originally, nobody knows.  But as far as these two are concerned, they most likely wandered over from Alanthus.  From some of the stories I've personally heard the place is infested with them." 

Everyone sat quietly, lost in their own thoughts and nightmares, until Algar Markem broke the silence by asking in a shaky voice, "You said they can change whenever they want to.  If this is so, then why do they only choose the full moon to do it?"

Lord Tarn stepped forward to the edge of the table and answered saying, "Because during the Beastmoon they have no choice.  From what we have learned, these creatures suffer from some kind of compulsion that forces them to change.  During this time they must kill.  And they must eat..."

Selene remembered the image of the young woman helpless beneath two battling creatures and quickly asked, "So are you saying it's possible that they really don't want to be doing this?"

The knight looked at her and smiled.  "Indeed, Protectant.  That is why I am here.  After we have captured them they will be set within the Light of Torisat and judged according to..."

"WHAT!?"  Drekel's explosive outburst made everyone in the room jump.  "You gonna try ta catch 'em?!  Dis is crazy!  After all de people dis village has lost jus tryin' to kill dem, you jus gonna walk in an catch dem tings.  Just like dat."

Mengar looked over at him and simply said, "Yes.  Just like that."  A look flashed briefly across his face hinting that maybe, just maybe, he wasn't as confident as he sounded but nobody seemed to catch it, and if they did they certainly didn't seem eager to point it out to him.

Lord Tarn, trying to ignore Drekel's sputtering, looked back to Selene and asked her, "So does your offer still stand?"

"Of course," she replied, sounding surprised that he would ask.  "Whatever you need."

Satisfied he said, "Fine.  Then what we need first is for everyone, and I do mean everyone, to come to the church.  Now, before moonrise.  The creatures cannot stand on hallowed ground without suffering and we must be sure that everyone in the village is what they seem before the change is forced upon them.  If the good captain could see to this...?"

Sembedia snapped to attention with a grateful look.  Happy to finally have something constructive to do he said in a forceful manner, "Consider it done," then headed towards the door.

"Oh, and Captain?"

"Yes, my Lord?"

"If anyone actually resists the idea of being brought here, then leave them be and remember who they are.  Then let me know..."

"Yes sir."

After Sembedia left, the knight addressed everyone in the room, "This is a necessary precaution.  The idea is for my companions and myself to be only ones in the village when the moon rises.  This way there is no one but us left for them to attack. If given a choice, I don't believe that they would dare to attack the church so everyone should be safe here.  On the other hand, it would be sheer folly for us to wait for them in the open, so we need to acquire a building to set our trap.  While passing through the village, the strongest building by far that we saw was the inn..."

Suddenly Drekel began moaning piteously, "Oh no you don't.  Not my inn!  Do you people have any idea how much I put into da place?  Mess wid someone else's livelihood why don'tchya..."

"Don't worry, you'll be richly compensated for any damages that your fine establishment may suffer from this, my good man," Garon said soothingly. "You have my word on it."  Reaching down to his belt he unhooked a coin purse and tossed it onto the table before the Veshoge.  "Consider this an advance, for allowing us to use it."

Still whining and acting like the whole world was out to ruin him, Drekel snatched at the purse before him with the speed of a snake and quickly looked inside.  Just as quickly the whining ceased.  Looking up at Lord Tarn with a twinkle in his eyes he gave a slight bow, smiled and said, "Welcome to it.  My house... is your house."

Garon found the abrupt change in manner amusing and replied dryly, "We kindly thank you for your generous hospitality.  We'll try not to destroy anything of value."

Stuffing the purse into the folds of his vest, Drekel shot back in a confident voice, "I know you won't, 'cuz I'm gonna be dere too."  Before Lord Tarn, or anyone else, could voice any disagreements he pointed at the kobold and oafs and added, "You really don't tink I'm gonna leave my kitchen and especially de bar unattended with dem tree around do you?"

Mayla laughed at the slight, and looked up at Dunk and Monk saying, "Boys, looks like you're goin' to have some fun here after all..."

Ignoring the three snickering in the corner, Mengar said to the council, "We may also have need of your blacksmith's services..."

With that Kemal stood up from the table and replied, "That's me.  Ready when you are."

Hours later, just before the sun dipped below the horizon, Garon Tarn stood before his shield-bearer outside of The Twisted Beak speaking earnestly with his young charge.  "... It's important that you listen to me, lad.  We'll likely have our hands full here and I need you to be at the church."

"Admit it, sir.  The truth is, you think I'm too young and you're afraid I can't handle it!  Well I'm sixteen, and you're the one who's been teaching me to fight."  The boy was trying hard to be allowed to stay but realized his arguments were falling on deaf ears.

"Nonsense, your skill is precisely why you should be at the church.  I can't be in two places at once.  This village has taken a beating and they're deathly short of proficient men-at-arms up there.  You're the one who wanted to be a soldier, so now the time has come to act like one.  Remember, The Knights of Torisat stand up for those who cannot stand, fight for those who cannot fight, and if..."

"And if necessary, they die for what is right... For the truth... For justice in the land," he finished in a monotone voice for the old knight, knowing that any further argument was futile.  "Okay, okay.  I understand."

"That's a good lad.  Here, take this," Garon said, handing him a six-foot long boar spear, the head of which was made of silver backed by a steel crossbar, "I don't want you fighting with a feather.  Report to Captain Sembedia."

Smiling in response to the small joke, the boy looked up and asked, "Are you sure you have everything you need, my Lord?"

"I'm sure.  Now go..." 

Garon stood there and watched his shield-bearer jog quickly towards the church.  Once he was no longer in sight he sighed and turned to enter the inn, almost running into Mengar as he was coming out.  "I see he went," Mengar said casually.

"Yes, he's a good kid.  He'll be safe up there."

"So old-timer, uhmm, where's your spear?"

Garon looked Mengar in the eye and smiled.  "Come now.  Holding a spear wasn't the reason you brought me along my friend, now was it?"

Mengar smiled back and replied, "This is true..."  Turning back, they both entered the inn together.

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

The sun had just set leaving the forest blanketed in a darkness lit only by the starry sky.  An almost unearthly silence hung in the air as the wind stood still and all creatures nocturne disappeared for safer places.  No night birds called out and no insects buzzed or chirped.  Standing silently in a large clearing not far from Dunst, Dargon watched Ilea as she agonized over what was about to happen.  She was quickly pacing back and forth, quietly praying to anything that would listen in the hopes that, just this once, she would be spared the horror to come.

"Stop fidgeting girl," he hissed at her, "nothing can stop The Change when the moon is full so just accept it."  She glanced fearfully at him but continued pacing.  "Aren't you tired of being shoved to the side, unable to control the beast that yammers for release?  For once... for just this time, let go. Let it happen.  Welcome the beast and feel the power!  With acceptance comes control...  That's what you really want."

As he verbally encouraged her to accept the inevitable, mentally he was thinking, go ahead and fight it.  Fight it with every ounce of your being.  Your will doesn't stand a chance against the beast, and I can't use it if you're in control, so resist... resist!  Then Dargon felt it.  The small tingle that would quickly grow to an unquenchable fire inside him.  He saw that Ilea felt it too as she stopped and let out a terrified moan.

"It's coming girl, remove your clothes," he said as he quickly took off his robes.  Throwing them to the side he looked to the east in mad anticipation, watching the horizon brighten as the moon approached.

Pressing her hands to the sides of her head, Ilea closed her eyes tightly and dropped to her knees, repeating the word 'no' over and over again.  Seeing this, Dargon laughed maniacally and screamed at her, "You can't escape it!  This is who you are now!  Fury unleashed, the hunter inside is hungry and it's time to feast!  Feel the energy in your bones and the heat coursing through your blood... revel in the power at your fingertips!  Nothing can stop us!  Do you hear me... NOTHING CAN STOP US!"

The edge of the moon broke free of the horizon, the glaring whiteness of its surface causing Dargon's eyes to glow.  Laughing uncontrollably now, even as Ilea screamed in terror and pain, he threw his arms to the sky and let The Change take him, cartilage popping in cadence with the wet sounds of tissue torn and rearranged.  What would have been pain to others was the purest form of ecstasy to him as he grew a foot taller and expanded, becoming a mass of muscle and strength.  Black fur grew instantaneously over the length of his body as his head and face changed to something more lupine than human.  His hands became larger and longer, fingers tipped with razor sharp claws, while his feet narrowed, lengthened and grew another joint, becoming more appropriate for a beast such as he to run, to jump, to hunt... to kill.

The last thing to change was their voices as Dargon's flowed from that of a laughing madman to a deafening howl full of rage and power.  Ilea's screams of denial, of terror and pain, changed to one of loneliness and loss... a mournful cry that rolled over the countryside.  What the wolf-beast was mourning it no longer knew because the person it once was wasn't there anymore.  The beast that was Ilea shook its head as if to clear it, then rose to its feet.  It was hungry...  Looking at its companion it issued a low rumbling growl.

The wolf-beast Dargon looked at his companion and began circling it, sniffing continuously in an attempt to find out who was in control of her body.  Satisfied that Ilea wasn't in control, he made a barking sound like laughter and turned to watch the moon rise the rest of the way.  Once it cleared the horizon he stood mesmerized by its magnificent beauty and couldn't help but let out a howl in appreciation. His companion joined in, issuing a call to whatever was listening that the hunt was on.  Strong and pure, their voices went out into the night, only to be answered a moment later by more howls from the south, and then from the north.  Hello children, Dargon thought to himself. Come to me, because the game is afoot... 

Again he called into the night, letting himself be a beacon for the others.

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

At The Twisted Beak, Mayla sat perched on a stool thoroughly enjoying the scene before her.  Dunk and Monk were being merciless in their attempts to poke fun at and harass Drekel, even as he served them supper.  To his credit, however, Drekel gave back as good as he got and was relentless in this seemingly never-ending battle of wit and wits.

"...Don't get me wrong now, Drek 'ole buddy, but if you was to..."

"De name is Drekel you moronic, plate-headed, oversized gust of dragon flatulence!"

Dunk paused in confusion, then leaned over to his brother who was sitting next to him at the bar and whispered, "Flatulence?"  After Monk whispered back in his ear he slapped the bar and let out a loud choked laugh, "HAH!  That was a good one!  I didn't know you porkers were so good at this..." Sobering up a little but not losing the silly grin on his face he continued, "Anyways, as I was sayin', if you was to lose about half the fat you got hangin' on that body of yours then people might just say 'yoinks, that's a fat one' instead of 'YE GODS! HIDE THE FOOD, HIDE THE FOOD!'...  Know what I mean Drek?"

Drekel leaned into the bar staring Dunk in the eyes and replied, "I... am... not... fat."

With that, Monk joined in with, "Well my friend, in that case then you got some really big bones in there..."

Mayla howled with high-pitched laughter as Drekel fumed and stomped off to the other end of the bar and began polishing mugs that had been cleaned a half dozen times already.  The laughter died on her lips, however, when they all heard the sounds of real howling somewhere outside in the distance.  Accompanied by the sounds of heavy boots on wood, Mengar, Lord Tarn, and Adolphius came running down the stairs from the second floor.  They had been upstairs shuttering and reinforcing the last of the windows.  Upon entering the Great Room of the inn's tavern he looked questioningly at Mayla.

Shrugging casually she replied in her high singsong voice, "They're still a ways off.  There's time yet."

Mengar nodded and went out the main door to stand in the street.  Slowly, everyone else followed suit until they were all outside standing in the moonlit darkness.  They watched silently as the moon fully exposed itself to the land.  Again they heard the howls to the west of them and Monk, with head cocked, said simply, "That's both of 'em."

Just then, another chorus of howls erupted from the south... and even more from the north.

Expressing aloud what everyone else was thinking, Adolphius said in a hushed voice, "I thought there was supposed to be just two..."

Mengar looked at the people gathered around him and just said, "Everyone inside." 

 

 

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