The Werewolves' Story
Healer and Hunter: Chapter Six
Shinan-Al shone down brightly, only a tiny sliver of darkness
marring the perfect circle of pale green light, as Zzandoren and Rythri
nervously approached the temple complex of Amerou. Goddess of the moons.
"This'd better be what that fortune-teller meant by 'house of the moons'," Zzandoren muttered unhappily, hanging back behind the younger man and viciously quelling the urge to scratch uselessly at his uncomfortable skin, "or we're in trouble."
"We're probably in trouble, either way," Rythri muttered back, but he did approach the priest-guard at the gate.
Though Rythri made it clear that he thought Zzandoren was insane to want to be locked up during the full moon, he at least didn't harp on it, and he went along with him without complaining too much. The fact that they had spent part of the time traveling in wolf form helped: Rythri liked being a wolf, and seemed happier when Zzandoren was one, with him.
Oddly enough, Zzandoren didn't mind it too much, either, especially once he tried it and realized both Rythri and his goddess had been right about the more natural form when the moon wasn't full. He didn't ruin any more clothing, and he didn't even lose his things if he had them on his person when he changed. Since leaving things behind was not an option, and neither was constantly having to go back for them, it was that ability as much as the reassurance that he wouldn't lose himself again that made the shift possible-- and made him able to not mind it. He was hesitant to say he liked it, when not even four months of their new routine had entirely dampened the horror of the full moon, but he certainly didn't mind it.
The first time he shifted of his own volition was during Rythri's full moon, only a couple days after his own ended. He frankly envied the quick, easy change the young man endured, but even though his willful shifts seemed at least relatively comfortable with Zzandoren on two feet, the poor wolf was so skittish around him after the moon rose that he took pity on him and changed, himself. After that, it was hard to turn him down when he asked to travel like that at least part of the time. They went faster, anyway, so he couldn't even argue it logistically: the faster they traveled, the more people and animals he could get to, to heal. So he quickly gave up even trying and just gave in. It became part of their little cycle, village to forest to wolf, wolf to human to village to forest and wolf again. It was soothing, having a routine and having someone to share it with.
When Shinan-Al once again started waxing towards full, however, the memory of what had happened and the fear of what might happen again made it seem harder. Rythri was sympathetic, at least, and didn't complain when he spent more time on two feet, and more time lost in thought. He reiterated that he thought Zzandoren would go mad if he were locked up, but since he didn't have another alternative that would keep him safely away from people in case he couldn't resist the change-- and Zzandoren wasn't at all sure that he could, especially since this was the first time he tried-- he quickly stopped arguing. Given that fear, anticipation, and the moon itself was already starting to make him jittery, Rythri actually made an effort to keep from annoying him.
And now, confronting the enclosing walls of the temple complex, Zzandoren had to fight with himself to keep from turning around and running. He told himself again, with each step he took following Rythri closer, that it was the only choice he had. He could not kill again.
It just looked so... imposing, from the outside....
"Um, hello," Rythri began.
"Good evening," the priest smiled. He was very tall and very slender, and the mix of pale green light from Shinan-Al, sliver of yellow light from Eilan-El on the horizon, and odd gray light from Calan-Al, about half-full but still bright, combined to make him look a little sickly. "Welcome to the House of the Moons-- do you wish entry?"
House of the Moons. This had to be the place....
Rythri hesitated, and Zzandoren growled at him a little, nudging him in the back. He didn't trust himself to speak yet and not be rude, but someone had to say something. Rythri glared a little at him, but meekly nodded. "My friend-- he's... um, he's...."
Spit it out, Zzandoren thought fiercely. If they were run off, he had another plan, but not as good of one. If they were attacked... well, he just hoped they weren't attacked.
The priest smiled a bit more, an eerie combination of delight and reassurance. "A werewolf?"
"How'd you guess?" Rythri exclaimed.
"We've seen it before, and there are some signs, especially when a moon is nearly full," the priest nodded calmly, still smiling that weird smile. "Do you need sanctuary?"
"I need to be locked up," Zzandoren answered, managing to not snap it or growl it. It came out a little strangled instead, though. "I'm-- I'm dangerous, and we were sent here in the hopes that you could-- keep people safe from me."
"Of course," the priest soothed, actually sounding understanding about the whole thing, and he motioned them to follow him. "Come in, friends. We're equipped to handle things like this, thankfully."
"Equipped?" Rythri repeated suspiciously.
"Not in the way you're thinking," the priest chuckled. "Our goddess is a werewolf, after all, so we're not about to euthanize her children. Trust me."
And, for whatever reason, Zzandoren did, and he nudged Rythri in with him. "The fortune-teller did send us here," he reminded him.
"I suppose," Rythri said, still sounding uncomfortable, but he didn't say anything more. It had been his idea to talk to the minorly-gifted seer, though, and he wasn't about to go back on his own words that it was probably their best option if he had to be locked up. Perhaps he was finally remembering, too, the full moon almost five months ago, that had been hellish for them both. Perhaps he was thinking, just as Zzandoren was, that the abandoned, one-room cottage that was their secondary plan really wasn't secure enough for a monster like that. If he did give in and change, he could probably get out without too much trouble. Especially if he could still cast spells as a wolf, which he wasn't entirely sure wasn't possible.
Being inside the temple complex walls wasn't as terribly confining as he'd been afraid it would be: the grounds were open and wild-looking, with uncut grass, untamed trees, vines climbing up the walls and buildings. There weren't many buildings, either, just the main temple, a small gatehouse, and the dormitories along the back wall. Gods, even if he just had the run of the complex, he could have been all right-- but even that would be dangerous. There were more than a dozen priests here-- eighteen, actually; so close to the full moon, he could actually pick out each individual scent-- and there would certainly be visitors, services, maybe even a gardener, though it didn't look like it. And what if he managed to scale a wall? Or get the gate open?
No, he definitely needed to be locked up inside somewhere, he thought with a shudder. Preferably somewhere he couldn't even see the moon or the wild garden outside, or better, couldn't smell any of the people. Would they have somewhere scent-proof?
"You should have about two hours until Shinan-Al is completely unshadowed," the priest said conversationally. "Would you like anything first? Food, drink? A bath?"
The last was added on a little pointedly, but with that same odd smile that said the priest wasn't really laughing at them, though Zzandoren didn't know what else it might be saying. Well, anyway, it had been a while since either of them had bathed, given Zzandoren hadn't wanted to be anywhere near people the past few days-- and Rythri had, he thought, rolled in something last time he had been a wolf. The scent lingered even though the fur didn't.
"I suppose even you people can smell us," Zzandoren said with a tight smile. "A bath would be wonderful, thank you."
"We will have one drawn for you. Both of you," he added, eying Rythri with less of a smile. Rythri, at least, just laughed. If it had been any other time, Zzandoren might have, too. As it was he merely followed impatiently.
The bath, remarkably, actually helped a little. The communal bathhouse at one end of the dormitories had windows that someone kindly left un-shuttered, so it didn't feel too enclosed, and the steam from the hot water was relaxing. Having water and unscented soap to soothe his itchy skin was even better. Zzandoren almost didn't want to leave, especially since he knew what was coming as soon as he did. But he could see the moon from the bath, and even if he couldn't see it, he could feel it. By the time the priest-- who had left them with his name, Jestin, in case they needed something-- returned with a small meal, he was out of the now luke-warm tub and pacing, dressed in the brief robe the priest had left for him, while Rythri watched a little nervously.
"One hour," Jestin reminded him.
"I know," Zzandoren grumbled.
At least he knew better than to try and make conversation. He waited until Zzandoren had eaten what he could-- he was almost too restless to force himself to eat, but he thought that maybe being full would help him feel less like he wanted to hunt something-- then guided him to a suite of two rooms on the other side of the dormitory building. One had a window, two beds, a desk and chair, and a display-spelled set of crystals on the wall; the second had no windows, being deeper inside the building, a pallet and a make-shift table of stone bricks and rough wood, a chamber pot, dimly-lit light crystals set into the ceiling, and a very stout door. Zzandoren wasn't sure whether it was comforting or not that walls and door both had grooves scratched into them: comforting, perhaps, in their protective quality, but not boding well for his five-day stay behind them.
"I know, it doesn't look very inviting," Jestin said apologetically. "But we must make do with what we have."
"It's fine," Zzandoren lied, looking around the cell and already itching again. Rythri wouldn't even go in.
"The door will be opened twice a day to bring in food," Jestin continued, voice more business-like now. "There will be two acolytes in this room at all times in case of emergencies or if you need anything. We do have magic to keep you immobile, but with luck it won't be necessary. That you brought your friend will probably help-- though I'm afraid we can't let him in with you."
"I don't think you could drag him in here if you tried," Zzandoren said.
"A valid point," Jestin agreed, smiling his odd smile at Rythri again, who looked rather like he wanted to bare his teeth at the man. Thankfully, he refrained.
"Can I stay in here?" he asked, instead.
"If you wish," Jestin nodded.
"Fifteen minutes," Jestin reminded him again. "I'll go get the first watch, shall I?"
And then he slipped away, leaving Zzandoren standing in the cell and Rythri standing in the guard-room beyond it, staring at each other.
"You're sure you want to do this?" Rythri asked plaintively after a long moment.
"No." Zzandoren sighed shakily. "But I have to."
"It's going to be miserable," Rythri pointed out.
"You don't think I know that?" Rythri cringed a little, and he shut his eyes. He hadn't meant to growl at him-- but it had been the last thing he wanted to be told, again. "I'm sorry. Maybe I'd better just get them to close the door."
"I'll be right out here, if you need anything."
There was another pause, Rythri shifting awkwardly from foot to foot and staring at the floor. He finally asked, "Do you want anything in there with you? Your, uh, your book that you write in? Or just something to read?"
"Maybe later." If he really needed something to help him focus, or help him distract himself, they could give him something like that, but not until he knew he wouldn't destroy it immediately. Especially not if it was his own book... he didn't think he could manage to get another like it.
That time the silence was uncomfortably long, but before Zzandoren could think of something to break it with, Jestin was back with a pair of unfamiliar priests-- well, he recognized the scents as being all over the complex, but he hadn't yet seen them, so they were sort of unfamiliar. "It's time," Jestin said.
"Get on with it, then," Zzandoren answered tightly.
Jestin's smile was sympathetic and even apologetic, but he still closed the door.
To Zzandoren's surprise, a spell sprang up as soon as the latch clicked shut, falling into place surely and silently. And then another, and another, and another... eight spells, layering one on top of the other, woven around each other, reinforcing, augmenting, and complimenting each other. He could sense them, and he could smell them-- not a single one smelled like honey, though-- and he could pick out what each one was for. They were a magical protection, far more powerful than just the door and walls. It sealed and isolated the cell, completely, and Zzandoren let out a long, slow sigh at the sudden and complete absence of scents-- human, anari, inuun, elkariin, miiri, anything. They really knew what they were doing, these priests.
And then the last shadow left the face of Shinan-Al, and he no longer cared about priests or spells: all he cared about was staying on two feet and staying himself.
It was going to be a very long five days.