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Lome was lost in a daydream about which of Hartha’s goats he’d pick when he tripped over something. His bow flew out of his hand and he landing flat on his face. He brushed away the ferns around his feet revealing a box sticking out of the ground, one of the ancient things that were littered everywhere. He read its symbols out of habit. T.V., whatever that means. Maybe Hartha will know. He didn’t feel like asking his father. He was still mad at him for pulling him into the woods so suddenly. He exaggerated a groan and continued to lay on the ground. He liked caring for animals, not shooting them. For a moment, he thought he heard a faint noise. A high pitched howl. An Ash wolf? His father was always talking about them, but he’d never seen one. He concentrated on the noise, but it was already gone.
His father turned and gave him a stern look.
Lome breathed a sigh and picked himself up. He thought about running back to Thurlow and getting his goat. He felt his palms instantly become sweaty. “Let’s go back,” he said, risking a confrontation. “There’s nothing out here.” He leaned against a silver oak while he waited for his father’s reply. The afternoon sun fell through the canopy above and warmed his face. “Hartha promised me a goat today.” He already knew which one he wanted, but he didn’t say that he planned on selling it. With that money he could finally leave Thurlow and start his own life. He had worked two years for Hartha with the promise of his own goat. He felt antsy just thinking about it.
“You’ll stay here with me.” His father’s voice sounded more concerned than commanding.
“I can feel we’re getting close to something.”
“You never let me do what I want. I’m seventeen now.”
“Until you learn how to hunt, it’s not safe for you to be out on your own.”
“Out on my own? You practically dragged me here! Why do we have to hunt today?”
“Lome, don’t question me. Now come.”
A sigh escaped Lome’s lips. Maybe if his mother was still alive, his father wouldn’t be so protective. His father always made sure someone was watching him. He always talked about vicious Ash Wolves roaming about from the north, but he’d never seen one. He figured those stories were about as true as the ones Mother Elanoris told of the moon crashing to Earth. He tried to imagine a big blue rock in the sky, but that was just silly.
“Hunting’s a waste of time,” Lome muttered as he watched his father check for tracks. He tried to see himself in his father, but he couldn’t. His father was patient. Lome was curious. His father had dark hair. Lome had light. His father was stocky. Lome was thin. He wondered all the more what his mother had looked like. No one in the village would tell him much about her. Maybe she had freckles too.
Together they trudged further west into the silent forest. Lome had been to this part before. The Sea of Trees, people called it, since no one had ever reached its western end. He was familiar with where they were now. It was the most common path they hunted on, but he knew if they headed any further there wouldn’t be much chance of returning until late afternoon.
Up ahead a stone structure lay half sunken into the ground. Silver oaks grew out of its square windows and moss covered the strange lettering etched above the doorway. He knew it was empty inside. He had searched all the ruins on their hunting trips for anything of value, but everything worth anything had been carted off to the bigger cities long ago. All that was left now was junk, like that T.V. box.
Lome thought he heard something. So did his father. His father unsheathed his dagger and inspected it. Lome eyed its sleek black blade and bear jaw handle. The teeth were sharpened and pointed outward. “When you are forced to use it, the teeth will dig into your hand, drawing blood,” his father said. Lome already knew the rest of what he would say. “It’s a reminder that you must kill only when absolutely necessary and to do it quickly. Only when you are ready to inflict pain first upon yourself, that is when you know you must use it.” Lome looked at the scars on his father’s palm.
Suddenly his father turned and whistled. He pointed towards a break in the trees.
A stag appeared.
Lome knew what he was supposed to do. He planted his feet and brought his bow up, holding an arrow taut at his chin as his father had shown him. He aimed for the heart and lungs, the shot that would kill as quickly as possible. He was afraid his father would make him use the dagger if he missed the mark. He hated hurting animals more than anything.
Without speaking, his father corrected his stance and brought his bow up a little. Lome breathed frustration through his nose. He could never do it right.
“Lome, stop,” his father whispered. “You’re not focusing properly. Take a deep breath.”
Lome rolled his eyes.
“You only get one chance before the moment passes. Focus on the stag alone and let the rest of the world wash away.”
Lome concentrated on the stag, the first one they’d seen in weeks. All the forest game had been disappearing, so he knew how important it was to make this shot. But part of him wanted to miss on purpose. He could blame it on his bad aim. It would be an easy excuse. They wouldn’t be able to track the stag, so they’d have to go home early. Anything to hurry this pointless hunting trip. He couldn’t stop thinking about his goat-shaped freedom.
A light wind rustled the leaves. A hollow sound made the hairs on the back of Lome’s neck stand up. The stag jerked its head up and looked straight at him.
“Lome, not yet—”
Before the arrow left Lome’s fingers, the stag had disappeared.
Lome could see the disappointment in his father’s eyes. “Let’s practice your stance again.”
“This is pointless.” Lome threw his bow to the ground. All that was on his mind was finally getting a goat. “I’m going back.”
His father grabbed his shoulder. “You will stay here and practice your stance with me.”
The seriousness of his father’s expression only fueled Lome’s anger. He threw his father’s hand off and backed away. “Stop telling me what to do!” He had never said something like that before.
His father’s jaw dropped.
“I didn’t even want to come hunting today. I can’t wait to be on my own so you’re not hounding me all the time!” With that, Lome ran off in the direction of Thurlow.
Lome didn’t listen. He kept running. He was finally taking charge of his life. This was the first time that he’d blatantly disobeyed his father. He didn’t even care about the punishment that would follow. Once he had his goat, his father wouldn’t be able to control him anymore.
“Lome, stay here. Please!” His father was at his heels. He sounded desperate.
“Leave me alone!” Lome yelled. Branches whipped his face, but he didn’t care. Nothing would stop him.
He ran faster and became reckless, not watching the forest floor. His foot caught a root and he hit his head on a log.
“Don’t move, Lome!”
Quickly he got up and ran again. His head hurt and tears filled his eyes. A hollow sound filled his ears again and made the hairs on his neck stand up.
The hollow sound grew louder and turned into a howl, but Lome ignored it. He was nearly back to Thurlow.
The ground shook, followed by the sound of branches snapping. Something was coming towards him. Something big. In a moment it was running beside him, just behind the shield of silver oaks to his right.
Lome caught a glimpse of it as the trees cleared. He couldn’t believe his eyes. His father had been telling the truth.
Zhing! An arrow hit the beast in its rear. There was no mistaking it—it was an Ash Wolf. Its matted grey fur shook like a mop as it bounded after him. It was the twice the size he’d imagined. It screamed with a sound like human teeth scraping glass and sent a shiver down Lome’s spine.
He sprinted as fast as he could, but his energy was quickly running out. His lungs burned and his legs felt numb. He no longer knew which way he ran. Everything whipped by him in a blur. At any moment he could trip again, or run into a tree.
The wolf leaped in front of Lome and he fell onto his back.
Zhing! An arrow stuck into the wolf’s leg. Another struck its chest.
Lome scrambled out of the way. The forest spun. His heart felt like it would break free from his chest. The wolf’s scream filled his ears again and the last thing he saw were teeth as long as fingers and his father’s face.
Lome regained his senses slowly. The yellows and greens of the fall leaves above swayed peacefully and floated down as they fell from the trees. He couldn’t move except for his arm and he swung it around like a drunkard until it touched something hairy. In a bursting moment he remembered the wolf and froze. He was lying right beside the beast.
It did not move or even breathe. Grey blood seeped from its wounds. He was sure it was dead.
Slowly he rose and backed away, not taking his eyes off it. He noticed something around its neck. A metal collar. He was about to touch it, when something else caught his eye and made his heart still. His father’s leg stuck out from underneath its gigantic belly.
Lome rolled the beast over using all his might. His father lay sprawled on the ground. One of the wolf’s claws had dug into his side and a red stain grew on his shirt. His hand still clasped his dagger. He’d punctured the wolf’s heart and sacrificed himself to save Lome.
At last his father opened his eyes and breathed in deeply.
Lome felt a wave of relief, but it didn’t last. He had caused this.
“Lome,” his father coughed. “Are you hurt?”
Lome couldn’t speak. He couldn’t believe his father was more concerned about him than himself. “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry,” he sputtered. “Don’t move. I’ll go get help—”
“No!” His father tried to sit up, but couldn’t find the strength. “You must stay here. Don’t go back to Thurlow.”
The anger in his father’s voice shocked him. “Why? You’re badly hurt, you need help!”
“Don’t feel bad about what happened,” said his father. He reached up and held Lome’s cheek. “This isn’t your fault. Please, stay here with me. Just until sundown.”
Lome fought back tears. He felt torn. This was the first time he’d disobeyed his father and look what had happened. But his father needed help and Lome knew he didn’t have enough strength to carry him on his own. He had to be decisive. “You’re bleeding too much. I’ll go get Hartha. I won’t be long.” With a struggle he helped his father sit up against a tree. He ripped the sleeve off his shirt and pressed it into his father’s side. “Hold tightly. I’ll be back soon.” He stood to leave, but his father caught his arm.
“Please, stay. It’s not safe.”
Lome pushed away and wiped his eyes. His father wasn’t making any sense. He knew where he was. It was a short run back to Thurlow now. In all the years they’d hunted, they’d never seen an Ash Wolf and the chances of seeing another so soon were likely zero. Every moment he delayed, his father came closer to death. Lome shook his head. “I have to go.”
“Lome, stop! Come back!”
For a moment, Lome felt suspicious about why his father was so adamant on him staying, but he didn’t listen. He ran full speed through the forest, relieved when he could finally see the houses of Thurlow far off through the trees.
“Hartha!” He burst out of the forest and ran straight into Hartha’s pasture. “Hartha, help!”
He nearly froze. Something was off. None of the goats were out even though it was only mid afternoon. His first thought was about the goat he’d been promised, but now was not the time for that. Hartha was nowhere to be seen either. He ran towards the goat shed, expecting to find Hartha there.
A flash of blue and a shout made him look in the direction of the village centre, which was still quite far off. Everyone stood in lines around the Totemound, while men in black hoodless cloaks walked between them. He couldn’t recall any visitors in Thurlow before, but the men had horses; they’d be able to reach his father quickly. He changed direction and started running towards the village centre.
The voice came from the bushes beside the goat shed. Hartha’s face appeared through the leaves as he waved frantically at Lome. “Over here, hurry!”
Lome ran towards him. “Hartha, I need your help. My father’s injured.”
“Get down and keep quiet!” said Hartha. He peeked through a trap door that was hidden behind the bushes. Lome had been around the goat shed a thousand times and had never seen the trap door before. Without warning, Hartha grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him down into a cellar. He hit the dirt floor with a thud. Hartha shut the door behind him and lit a candle.
“What’s he doing here? Isn’t he supposed to be hunting with his father?”
Lome could make out the face of Artulo, Hartha’s son. He appeared irritatingly perfect as usual. Hartha never made him work and gave him everything he wanted—perfect ingredients to make him the entitled brat that he was. Hartha said it was because his mother died when he was young, but so had Lome’s and he turned out just fine. Artulo was the last person on earth he wanted to see now, or ever for that matter.
“Hartha, please, you must come with me. My father’s badly injured—he’ll bleed to death if he doesn’t get help.” For a moment he wondered why Hartha and Artulo were hiding down here. A strange feeling hit him. The ladder, the dirt floor, the wooden shelf. He felt like he had been here before, but he didn’t question it. He relayed the rest of the story as quickly as he could.
Hartha stared blankly for a second. His strong jaw line and light hair stuck out in the dim candlelight. He looked terribly conflicted. “They must know if they let one loose in the forest,” he finally said.
“We’re wasting time, we have to go now!”
“All right.” Hartha sighed deeply and handed the candle to Artulo. “Stay here and don’t make a sound.”
Hartha climbed the ladder quietly and peeked out from the trap door. He held out his hand to stop Lome from following him.
Lome waited impatiently. All he could think about was his father bleeding to death.
“Quickly now,” said Hatha suddenly. He crawled out of the cellar and helped Lome up after him. “Run as fast as you can into the forest. Don’t stop until you’re far past the trees. It’s a miracle they haven’t seen you already.”
Lome didn’t need to be told to run fast. He reached the forest edge in no time and kept going, leading Hartha through the trees.
Voices came from up ahead.
“Get down,” Hartha said in a hushed voice. He grabbed Lome and pulled him behind a tree.
Through the trees, they could see two men in black capes atop two black horses. They circled the dead wolf. Lome gasped. His father was nowhere to be seen. Hartha put his hand over his mouth just as he was about to shout at them.
Lome indicated he’d be silent and removed Hartha’s hand. He eyed the men. Each dressed completely in black, with a silver bird pinned at the neck of their cloaks. One man held a thin spear, while the other had a white gauntlet attached at his wrist. It looked like it was made of stone, but the man gestured as if it weighed nothing. A blue glow caught Lome’s eye. It came from a circle on the hand plate of the gauntlet. He wondered how something could be alight without flame.
“Swallowtail will chain us in the Shadow if he finds out about this. We already lost the other one,” said the man with the spear.
“Nah, look at it,” said the man with the stone gauntlet. He dismounted his horse and inspected the wolf. “It’s covered in arrows. Some hunter probably picked it off before it even got close.”
“I dunno. You’ve heard what the Throne Stone’s supposed to do.”
“It’s been seventeen damn years and we’ve found nothing but junk. I’m so tired of Swallowtail’s crazy treasure hunt.”
The two men kept arguing while Lome looked all around for his father. Finally he spotted a disturbance in the leaves just behind the men. His father had covered himself in leaves in the shadow of a log. Lome tapped Hartha on the shoulder and pointed him out. It was clear the men were not familiar with the forest, because they would have noticed right away.
“Well, what are we going to tell him?” said the man with the spear. “Damn wolf didn’t flush anyone out.”
“We’ll say it got too much Tempus Rage in it — found it biting its own stomach to pieces. Still, better get rid of these arrows just in case anyone finds it.” He pointed his gauntlet at one of the arrows and touched the glowing circle with his other hand.
“Damned thing’s not working!” He shook the gauntlet and tapped a few more times.
“I’ll gladly trade you for my spear.”
“If you mention that dumb spear of yours again, I’ll—”
Finally the circle lit up and a jolt of blue light came from the gauntlet’s fingertips. It hit the wolf where an arrow was sticking out. Instantly, the arrow vaporized along with a big chunk of the wolf’s carcass. Lome jumped. He’d never seen such a thing. He looked at Hartha, but Hartha didn’t seem surprised at all.
“See? Just needed some warming up.” In another moment, the man vaporized all the arrows leaving the wolf completely mangled. “Now it looks like we had to use a little self defence.” The man grabbed his horse by the reins and remounted.
Hartha picked up a rock and threw it as far as he could. It landed far off and the echo reverberated off the trees.
“What was that?” The men reared their horses around and went off in the direction of the rock.
“Quickly, Hartha.” Lome ran over to his father and together they brushed the leaves off him. His eyes were closed and he breathed heavy, painful breaths. Together they grabbed an arm, and dragged his father as quickly as they could back through the woods.
“I just sure as hell hope the search is over when we get back,” said Hartha.
The Lost Histories of the Moon Part I
According to one version of the Lost Histories, when the Moon appeared above the Earth at night, it was said to give off a bluish glow due to a storm held there by the conjuring of a hundred Mage Technicians.
Long before the storm, people only lived on Earth. But, like a fungus they spread out over the entire planet, consuming all it had to offer until it became an inhabitable wasteland. As a last resort, four empires gathered what they could from Earth and escaped to each corner of the Moon. It was there that they hoped to rebuild humanity, but they did not work together.
Each empire raced for dominance over the Moon and they quickly became locked in perpetual war. The fighting spurred technological advancement, and while magic lingered deep in the Moon’s crust, it still remained undiscovered.
After three hundred years, the war stopped when a child was found in the central battlefield. The empires agreed to a ceasefire for as long as the child lived and granted him immunity in all the territories of the moon, each one taking turns to raise him as their own.
When the child came of age, he travelled each empire to preach harmonious co-existence. Wherever he went he amassed followers and his name was on every tongue and in every ear. As the years passed and battlefields lay empty, the people looked to him as their symbol of continued peace. They elected him King of the Moon and built him a palace of white stone. They tore down their barriers and the empires unified as one.
It was then that magic was discovered, deep within the mines where the white stone was cut. A guild of Mage Technicians was established and as they tested the technological applications of magic, their feats knew no bounds.
The moon’s cities bloomed and sparkled in the sun as transparent towers rose high into the sky and deep into the ground. The air became breathable and the soil fertile. The Moon became twice as glorious as the Earth had been in her prime. Cloud platforms carried people wherever they wished in a matter of moments. Garden terraces hung in the air, where birds of every colour flew. Waterfalls fell from the sky and filled hot baths while statue servants fulfilled the people’s slightest whims. Food and drink of every taste would appear with a thought. The people nearly forgot their ancestors’ agonies. They wanted for nothing and hailed their king for bringing them peace.
Many years passed and the king grew old. The people worried their peace would end with his death. For years it had been predicted that a unique event would soon take place. All the celestial bodies, as if beaded on a thread and pulled from the sun, would align in the shadow of one another. The Mage Technicians foresaw that during the alignment the powers of their magics would climb to astronomical levels. And so they crafted a device, which when activated through the power of alignment would grant eternal life.
Everyone wished for the king’s reign to be eternal. All the people agreed the device must be used on him. He would forever lead them away from their quarrels and towards harmony. The Moon’s glory would be as eternal as the sun.
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