Chapter two

The ponderous caravan proceeded through the night, pierced by the sardonic luster of an omnipotent, pulsating moon. The light was somewhat unusually powerful for such a melancholy procession; its glimmer lightened the moods of those men, trudging along side the parade. However, some sadness is too heavy for a bit of crisp light to lift. Some pains too deep to be reached by comfort and rest, some problems far too ingrown and penetrating to be uprooted by mere pleasure. The moon drenched pine needles, the invigorating pricks of small snowflakes against heavily clothed and wrapped flesh, cold moisture smeared across blinking eyelids; these small diversions were key to the moral of the advancing party. But such things were lost to the injured one. He sat in a blanketed carriage, originally reserved for the captain of the expedition, the man who now strode at the front of the relatively small train of carts, horses and men.

They had originally set out to harvest great revenue, and to discover and to exchange a wealth of new ideas with their flourishing neighbor lands. They were, in fact, quite emboldened by the nobility of their endeavor, believing that they would be successful and held in higher regards when they returned to their home. All this, however, was before the chocolate.

Near their journey's end, the caravan had encountered a small town, ramshackle and ancient, in which they had found their first trade opportunity. They haggled to a miniscule price, and proceeded with four new chests brimming with chocolate. Each would be worth at least one hundred gold pieces in their native land, perhaps more at their destination. They did not question, even, how such quantities of the substance could be produced in a town without a cocoa bean in sight. They were delighted, they would be rich and powerful, as they had once been, some of them, long ago.

However, their cargo had betrayed them. On a night very like this one, the moon enormous in the sky, something, perhaps a man or a creature, had slunk into the stagnant camp and stolen two of the chests. It had left a mark in lives as well, killing a useful horse and wounding the man later referred to as the injured one. The captain was not discouraged, reassuring his party that this beast, as it seemed likely to be, would surely not be seen again, as they would leave the area long behind them. But most of the men were not convinced, and took little comfort from this statement. With every passing day, the condition of the injured man worsened, soon the men were forced to reduce to a moribund pace. Now, their purpose seemed only to be escape. Whispers and ideas haunted their thoughts as they passed through a long and unremitting forest, unaware of the horror that was soon to befall them.

January 22, 1226: The birth of a Lycanthrope

Night was deep around the procession of limb figures, so deep that if it were not for their constant, yet mournful, motion they could have been mistaken for sapling trees whipping in the wind. Pine boughs shuffled intelligently, as if signaling to their neighbors with news of the despondent travelers. It was clear without a second glance that something had gone horribly wrong in the history the caravan. Thoughts of assurance and comfort miscarried in their minds, solace and sanctuary only found in closing eyes and wishing for home.

The peculiar North Wind was attempting to thwart them, it seemed. It wailed, and bashed its intangible mass against each advancing step, each turn of the wheels keenly affixed to the carriage of the injured one, in which he tried his luck with sleep. His wounds were, and had been, burning since they set foot into this terrible forest. The gashes of tooth and claw steamed as if alight, adding unwanted weight to his suspicions. For the injured one had long ago ceased to shelter himself from the memory of that night. He had not forgotten (how could he?) the vivid images and snarled passion of his attack. He had , though he would never dare accept them until he was left without a doubt. Some things he suspected, one thing he knew. He had not, yet, peered through the small portal to the outside sky, curtained with absurdly unnecessary luxury. However, one irrefragable fact shone in his darkened mind. The moon outside, was full.

He could already be nearly certain that the moon was near the completion of its waxing cycle, because of the dim light that pierced the curtains. However there was no reason for him to know that this plump full moon possessed that uncanny, eerie sheen, that came, quite literally, once in a blue moon. It was illogical even to suggest that it was, somehow, ripe; quite like an apple longing to be picked from its tree, at the peek between perfect, and rotten. The injured one longed even now to reach out and pluck the succulent orb right out of the night. To snatch the moon from its dazzling home in the stars, to cradle it in his arms. For reasons he could not account for, the injured one was salivating.

Suddenly he realized a far stranger urge within him and, although mind boggling, he would not shield himself from its true nature. The pieces came into place, his suspicions solidified in painful lurch of realization, a few agonizing seconds too late. He abruptly, discovered himself lurching forward with a mechanical will alien to his own. A predatory will it was, it yearned more still to feel the softness of flesh against its teeth, to feel blood trickling over its furred chin. It was an awakening. This was the birth of a Lycanthrope.

Although it was hard for him to know, the injured one still possessed full control of his body. It was just that, he was not quite the same creature he had been only minutes before. The roots of the thing had spread deep into him, surging forth from the infected flesh. He was no longer appalled by the concept he had formerly feared, he was no longer spooked by his inexplicable desires to see the moon again, the unbelievable aggression and nefarious belligerence that now exploded from his head like a wave of fire... he held complete control, he knew the evil of his desires and he relished in them, not but a glimmer of his passed self, his humanity, had been extinguished. Yet… twinkled in his eyes, his new eyes, a massive odious intellect.

The injured one was a title he had shed forever.

The Flight of the Lycanthrope

The beast tore at him from behind before he could give the slightest alarm. It simply struck him down, driving jagged claws deep into his shoulder and wrenching him towards the earth. It was an indistinguishable mess of black and crimson. Swiftly and adroitly it plunged its face and teeth into the fallen man, unscrupulously dispatching him, digging and snapping loudly at his flesh, sating a long dormant hunger. It seemed that the thing had been starved for centuries. The manner with which it tore at its prey did not match the sleuth intelligence and conceit of the creature that had so carefully peered forth from the door of the still moving carriage; that had so keenly made its untraceable escape into invisibility. The veracious savagery seemed to be born from an ancientness, deep within the creature. A long suppressed starvation had been released, with no heed for circumstance or stealth.

Finally, when the dark hunger was appeased, the corpse was all but gone. The skeleton and some of the flesh remained, the head fingers, and toes were entirely untouched, though they were separated from the main body. They lay frozen in the last terrified convulsions of their existence, the few ghastly remains of a whole person, a horrific spectacle; a chill in an already blue and frigid night. There would be no question as to the nature of the attack when the horror was discovered. If it was discovered. The caravan was moving at a pace that made this unlikely.

The corpse would be left behind for a murder of starved crows, or a family of worms, or a wandering vagabond to unearth. The moon cast on the carnage an eerie and unhealthy light, the spectacle appeared to be coated with a film of bright slime. And the Lycanthrope was hidden from view. But it was not gone.

The creature was about a half a mile now from the main road, for it had long since departed from the scene of the attack. As the caravan passed further through the night, it was scrutinized by two wary orbs of light. Both were black, yet somehow, they sparkled with an alien sheen. The eyes of the Lycanthrope passed three times across the length of the caravan. Finally, a decision made, they disappeared. It was as if a pair of lanterns had been extinguished in the deepest of dark; the orbs left circles of light upon the air where they had perched moments before. A single trudging soul had spied the last shivering lights of the Lycanthrope's vigil, and it was this soul that would not sleep this night, or the next, or the next, or ever more. It was this soul that would rattle and shake under his sheet covers for years, who would cry out in the night. It was this soul, that screamed.

The scream itself was not what stopped the caravan, but terror that it implied. It was a wail of such mind boggling horror and torment, that it set even the crows and ravens to the skies. The captain of the expedition, followed by several of his men, rushed back, dodging through groups of dumfounded entrepreneurs, just soon enough to glimpse the creature retreating into the darkness. Acting on an assumption, one that was indeed near to the truth, men were armed, carts and horses deserted. They were on a hunt. However, in their minds it was not their injured comrade they chased; instead it was his attacker. In moments, torches were lit, weapons were seized, and a strange viciousness descended upon the group. They were eager to avenge their injured friend, and to destroy the fear that had weighed gravely upon their minds for the past days. But even as they took the first valiant steps of chase, even as they threw themselves at vengeance, the true identity of their enemy, remained unknown. They did not understand the magnitude of its ferocity, of its cunning. They were not aware, as the flickering fires of their conflagrating torches darted through boughs and brambles, of its fearsome nature.

It is true, in all probability, that there is an extent to the fear a human being can handle, as is for most things, before consciousness is lost. Or perhaps, even, before life is lost. It is not impossible; in fact it has been known to occur. This being said, there are forms of fear. The most common is fear for ones life. This fear is can be attached to anything: high altitudes, sharp objects, disease and helplessness. This is an emotion that can easily be conquered, in most cases, in the face of necessity; when man must cross through the valley of death, he will not let his fear get the best of him. The calm cadence and suppression and rhythm of the step can retain us through nearly any crisis. But this fear is not close to heart; it is only in our flesh and bones and mind. It lacks spirituality. But there are fears that nuzzle far deeper into our shaking hides; that dig further than any other. That reside in some sort of principle or law or nature that cannot be defied, and when is, emits a terror greater than any other. This deep set horror is of the being, it is revulsion of the soul, the spirit. It burrows past life, existence. It is a ponderous and utter wrongness, unconquerable, unending. Eyes bulge, toes curl, tongues parch; jaws drop. For the unlucky one who encounters this terror is dead. This is a fear greater than all others. It is not a fear of death, for the soul induces death to end it. It is not a fear for oneself, for the self is shed to deflect it. It is not a fear of reason, for this is long gone. It is a simple polar repulsion.

It was this terror that sight instilled in the hunt.

Selves, whole existences, were forgotten; only it remained. That beast. It was only minutes into the pursuit that they encountered it.

Eyes, maddening, knowing; sadistic and predatory; they alone could kill a man. Corneas dripped with a yellow substance; red and gold smeared like splattered blood across both fist sized spheres. Piercing pupils bored deeper than the sharpest arrows; puncturing consciousness, sanity. It was not the look of a cat that would toy with its prey. It was ambivalence, fearlessness. Or it would be…if not for the smile.

Black lips curled menacingly, tufts of fur on its cheeks poked upward. Its gums were no more than a few centimeters in width; teeth were made longer and more gruesome. Finger length fangs caked in plaque and crusty blood gleamed ever so slightly in the moonlight. Gore dribbled over its chin, and a long flat, canine tongue peaked from between the gargantuan daggers of its teeth. This was its smile, its sadistic grin of pleasure at the helplessness of its prey.

The head was like a wolf's, pointed and narrow and covered in grey and white fur. Wreathed in a relatively light mane, its neck appeared to droop like an old man's wispy hair. An emaciated torso seemed the most human of its parts, despite its shimmering coat of fur. But is most ghastly feature, had to be in its arms. They were too long, like a monkey's but firm and powerful. It was clear that one swipe from such great limbs would cost a man his life. Second in menace only to these abhorrent appendages, were its long coiled legs. Thin and elongated, they appeared as if they could propel the creature miles into the sky. Their length ensured that this beast would not walk on four legs. And it did not. It stood, feet above any man, and watched.

The men did not pause to consider their chances, they only ran. Their legs prickled with terror, as they willed them to tear through the wintry brush.

The Lycanthrope loosed a terrible rasping howl and was gone. Now, two was their number.