Edited by Penn Lady
This is a copyrighted work of fiction. All rights reserved.
This is a contest piece, please vote.
We are the Benandanti. In the earliest days, the moon sang to us our purpose. Protect. Protect our brothers and sisters, the tribe, the village, the township. However large or small the protectorate was, our sacred duty was to guard it. We guarded from witches who had given themselves over to the darkness, from the creatures of shadows who preyed upon the light, and even against our own brethren who were not of one skin. Regardless of what their shifted shape might be. Any who decided the path of malevolence was preferable were our sworn enemies.
We were children of the moon, the good walkers, and in the time of the one God, the hounds of God. It mattered not to us. We knew our duty and kept to it. Then the followers of the carpenter's son turned on us. After centuries of faithful service, we were condemned with our enemies and set to the lash, the torture, the gallows, and the pyre. Despite our powers, despite running on either two legs or four, we were mortal. Our flesh and fur burned to sate the need of the Holy Church to be the sole power.
But the moon protected us, and the old powers nurtured us, and even the carpenter's son, horrified by the deeds of his followers, helped to hide us. Now fewer in number but more dedicated for it, we still keep the sacred trust. Never let the betrayal be on our heads!
Violet closed the ancient leather tome she'd been reading. She could feel the moon watching, waiting to see what her daughter would do. She could feel her body prepare for the change to wolf. She knew her pack was waiting. For tonight was Halloween and there was work waiting to be finished. She shuddered as her mind wound back to Halloween a year ago.
"Flank it! Flank it!" Ballard yelled.
The werewolves of the pack responded.
Marcus, a black-furred, heavily-muscled mass, wove between the trees and slammed the creature hard. Tobias, smaller and lighter, brown and gray in color, came at it through a clearing in the trees from the other side. Though not as massive as the black wolf, he latched onto the creature with equal ferocity. Violet barred its path forward, covered by Ballard, intent on keeping it in the forest and close to the gateway. She forced herself not to watch as a small female pulled a broken wolf from the field of battle. Their efforts hardly seemed to faze the horror they faced.
Tall the thing was, and terrible to behold. It towered over the werewolves, who themselves ranged between six and seven feet tall when standing on their hind quarters. It was roughly human shaped, and looked male, but with long ape-like arms that hung nearly to the ground. One arm gripped a twisted club so tightly that the creature's own dark blood ran down the weapon.
Its head appeared too large for the neck, and lolled from side to side. Its mouth hung partially ajar, and the jaw jutted out past the upper lip with drool escaping down its chin. The eyes burned red and flame-like, with hatred that seemed to seep up from its very core. It stood on two legs, but they were bent backward, like a horse's, and ended in broad hooves. There was not a single hair on it. But that was a small thing compared to its missing skin.
It was comprised of raw flesh with no covering; dark blood coursed through yellowed veins, thick muscles rippled and writhed across the body. Beneath those an organ could be glimpsed here and there through the pulsating mass. The creature had a foul scent; it reeked of pestilence, rot, and death. The werewolves had no name for this creature, and but one duty: its destruction.
Violet bared her fangs, a snarl building deep in her chest, rising along with the bile this thing called up in her. She could not back down, could not give this thing way. She leaped for the torso, landing square on the chest and sinking her teeth into tis neck. She nearly retched from taste of its rancid flesh.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the giant swing the club at her. She dropped off a split second before the thing slammed itself in the chest. Part roar, part scream, the agonized, furious sound that escaped the giant resounded through the woods. It glared down to where Violet stood on the ground howling her challenge.
The creature tried to raise a hoof to attack the defiant she-wolf, but found the movement harried by the attackers at its flanks. It swung the club high into the air and brought it down in a vicious arc. So much force was in the strike that the club splintered when it struck the ground where Violet had been moments before. It stared at the broken weapon for a moment, then screamed out again in fury. With a savage kick to either side it dislodged the clinging wolves and focused its attention on one particular female.
Violet backed away as the giant reached for her. Big it might be, but it was also slow. She darted out of the way as the hand reached her level, then pounced back on it. She bit deep and dug in. Ballard leaped over both of them and landed on the thing's back. He rent the back open, spilling blood and sending muscle tissue flying.
With a shriek the creature stood upright, attempting to throw off the attacking werewolves. The flesh of the hand came away in Violet's jaws and she spat it to the ground. The thing twisted and bent and weaved in frantic motion, desperate to dislodge the attackers. It slammed back into a tree, dislodging Ballard who fell to the ground, stunned.
The two wolves that had been on the legs loped over to Violet.
"Now what?" Marcus asked.
Violet didn't take her eyes off their adversary. "We can't let it out of these woods. We have to drive it back through the veil before dawn."
Tobias looked towards the east. The sky was graying; there wasn't much time left. "As you say."
As Marcus and Tobias prepared again to attack, the small female rejoined them from the fallen wolf's side. She could not bring herself to look up at any of them, but kept her head down and awaited direction. They all understood what had happened.
With an enraged snarl, Marcus dashed at the their foe, savaging anything he could get his teeth or claws on. Tobias, no less angry but more patient then his pack mate, sidled along the creature's blind side and waited for his opportunity. The moment presented itself when the creature turned to deal with Marcus. Tobias lunged for the open side and bore down for all he was worth.
Violet sent Socorro to check Ballard, the pack's beta and Socorro's mate. Violet sparred a moment for a brief prayer that Socorro would find her mate well, then went back to the matter at hand. She watched as the two males harried the thing. Hatred seethed in her heart. She squatted down low to the ground, backed up a few paces, then hurled herself towards the thing. She struck it square in the chest and proceeded to rend it open in the front.
Violet's sudden attack sent the creature teetering backwards. Its exaggerated arms windmilled in an attempt to remain upright and it stumbled as two male wolves snapped at its legs. Once it had regained its balance, it reached for the female on its chest and managed to pull her off. It regarded her with open hostility, and seemed to be considering what it might do next. It never got a chance to make its decision.
Marcus moved in; he grasped the thin calf, between the hoof and the first bend of the leg in his mouth and bit down hard. The bones snapped and the creature fell backwards.
It fell through several trees, opening the wounds on its back even further. The lolling head struck the ground and bounced up once before striking again. Violet worked her way out of the weakening grasp and got to the ground. She rose up in her bipedal stance and gestured to the other two.
"Come on, while its down, we drag it back." Violet wrapped both her arms around one of the creature's. Tobias came in on her side and grabbed the same arm. Marcus grabbed the other and they dragged the thing down a hill and to a faint distortion in the air.
It shimmered, a bit like heat haze, and caused the wolves' fur to stand up on end. They pulled the giant to it.
"Tobias, open the veil farther if you can," Violet directed over her shoulder.
Tobias nodded and released his grip. He moved off to one side, crouched low to the ground and started a chant, low and guttural. The haziness flickered, then solidified. A rent opened and glimpses of another world could be seen. Marcus looked over to Violet.
"Push?" he asked.
"Push," she confirmed with a nod.
The two of them then pushed the foul monstrosity through the gate. It took what was left of their strength, but the thing was sent back. Tobias stopped his first chant, and began a second one. This chant was high pitched and piercing, and the rent again became insubstantial, then disappeared as the sun rose up.
"Do you think it will have the decency to die of the wounds?" Marcus asked.
Violet shrugged, bone tired. "I don't know." She glanced over to Tobias, who was standing up. "Maybe Tobias can check with the auguries on it."
Tobias nodded his head. "I can do so."
Both Tobias and Marcus looked to Violet. She knew she had to go back to Socorro and Ballard. And Aidan. She felt a lump rise up in her throat. She turned, still in the bipedal wolf form, and made her way back to the partial clearing.
Socorro was waiting. Ballard lived. He was awake and resting, his eyes bright with unshed tears. Socorro looked down, as if the grief weighed down her neck and shoulders. Violet could sense more than see Marcus and Tobias take up positions to either side of her. Violet walked slowly over to where the body of the broken wolf had been, now laying as a human. She knelt down beside him as the wolf form sloughed off her.
Violet traced the line of his jaw, remembering his many kisses and kind words. She ran her hands along his chest, remembering many embraces. She ran her hands through his dark hair, then closed his staring eyes knowing she would never again look into them. She threw back her head and released a keening wail into the air for her beloved mate as the rest of her pack joined her in mourning their beloved alpha.
Violet stood, distant, amid a sea of bodies, her head tall but her spirit bent under the mournful weight of her widow's weeds. Her dark brown hair was covered by a shawl, her blood shot blue eyes hidden by a veil. The lithe lines of her body were still discernible under her black dress, but barely. Word had spread amongst all the packs of the Benandanti that the leader of the Oak's Oath pack had been slain in battle. They gathered together to mourn the great loss and offer condolences to his widowed mate.
Violet acknowledged their sympathy and moved on. Socorro cleaved to Violet, a hazel eyed shadow prepared to chase off anybody who overstated their sympathy. Though Socorro was small, just an inch over five feet, she could be fierce. Next to her stood a willowy Asian woman, her long black hair spilling out under the covering, her dark lashes accentuating her cobalt blue eyes. A child of mixed race, she got her complexion, the cast of her face, and her long black hair from her Japanese mother.
From her Slavic father came her height, her striking blue eyes, and her wolf. Her name was Philadelphia and she had come late to her nature. She was still learning the ways of the wolf and so was not on the hunt that claimed her leader's life. She had shed her tears privately, and now stood tall beside her grieving friend, though she was just as happy to let Socorro handle the crowd.
Ballard stood in a corner as he took a temporary reprieve form the crush of people. Where his mate Socorro was small but fierce, Ballard was burly and tall but placid. Still waters that ran very deep. His hair was graying, even in the wolf, but only the foolish would assume he was past his prime. He watched the room and mulled over the mixture of mourners at the gathering.
Tobias worked his way over to Ballard. His long blond hair was thick and somewhat shaggy even as a human. He had tamed it into a pony tail that ran down his back, but it looked like it might escape at any minute. His green eyes were distant and as always, his thoughts appeared to be elsewhere. He was the pack's lore keeper and as such, he was always at least somewhat concerned with the spirits. At the moment, though, he was more concerned with the gathering at hand.
"Is it just me," he asked Ballard while scanning the room, "or do there seem to be a surprising number of unattached males attending tonight?"
Ballard's jaw clenched and he frowned. "I was thinking the same thing. Some can't wait for the body to be cold."
"She won't like it, if she even realizes what's happening."
"That's what Socorro and Philly are busy with, keeping the dogs from sniffing too close."
"What the hell is this?" Marcus demanded as he joined the little group. "A wake or a stag party? Moon's doom! You'd think this was singles night!" He snarled deep in his throat.
Marcus was an athletic, muscular built man, with black hair and pale blue eyes. He wasn't as big as Ballard, but more than able to hold his own. As a wolf he was big, black as sin and one of the most frightening Benandanti in recent memory. In contrast to his appearance, he was quick to laugh and find amusement in most situations. The absence of his good humor was worrisome to Ballard. Marcus tended to feel everything strongly and could be bull-headed enough to start something.
Ballard laid his hand on Marcus' shoulder. "Yes, I know. It's an insult, certainly, but it will pass. The important thing is that we attend to the mourning and to Violet."
At the mention of her name, Marcus tensed up. "I think that can be handled by running off the vultures, don't you?"
Ballard tightened his grip on Marcus. "These 'vultures' are not of our pack. You are. I expect your behavior to reflect that. We do not brawl at our own alpha's wake. What would Aidan have thought?"
Marcus sighed and his expression became even more glum. "Had to go bring that up, did you?"
"If that's what it takes to maintain some semblance of decorum, I'm not above guilt."
Tobias understood Marcus' anger; he felt some of it himself. However it didn't change the situation.
"Sooner or later, it will be expected of her to choose a new mate." He paused. "Like it or not." Tobias' tone was measured, but it was clear he fell on the side of "not".
Ballard nodded, his amber eyes showing sadness. "Too true. An alpha female of her position isn't likely to be left alone for long. Though I suspect she'll put if off for as long as possible."
"Then what will happen to the pack?" asked a new voice to the conversation.
All three looked over to the newcomer. He was younger than the others, just out of his teen years, rangy and a little awkward around so many unknown Benandanti. He was a lost pup, rescued by Marcus from a corrupt pack and integrated into his current one. He was shy and uncertain, and tended to cling to Marcus for security. After coming from abuse, the thought that something might happen to his haven terrified him.
Ballard looked Wyatt in the eye. As much as he wanted too, he knew it wasn't wise to try to sugar-coat what might be coming.
"We will either get a new alpha male, or Violet will go to another pack. It depends on whether the new male has a pack and where the two of them are relative to any existing hierarchy."
Wyatt looked confused.
"If the male is not in a pack or is...marrying up, shall we say, he will join this pack. If they are of equal standing, the needs of both packs will be assessed for a decision. If the pack is small enough, they could be merged. If the male is higher ranking, she will join his pack."
"That sucks," Wyatt observed. "Can't she just stay single?"
Ballard shook his head. "She's too highly ranked. There are fewer and fewer Benandanti as the years pass. Losing any is bad, but an alpha is worse. The elders are not going to stand by and let her step down. There is going to be a lot of pressure on her and, sad to say, I believe it's going to start soon."
"Nuckelavee," Tobias said as he entered Violet's study, consulting a book.
"Beg pardon?" she responded. It had about a week since the wake and Tobias had spent this time buried in his books.
"Nuckelavee. That appears to be the creature we faced on Halloween."
He sat next to her balancing the book between them. "According to the lore, it originated in the Orkney Islands and was deeply malignant. Most references consider it male, and state he caused crop failure, blights, droughts, and epidemics that sickened people and livestock. The only discrepancy between the creature we fought and the description is that what he saw had only the back legs of a horse where traditionally it was a human torso fused onto an entire horses body."
"Like a centaur?"
"No. The horse body still had a head. It's of Fae stock, so shape shifting can't be ruled out to explain the discrepancies. The primary details that make me think we have the correct one are skinless and malevolent."
"We're in America, nowhere near the Orkney Islands. Why was it breaking the veil here?"
Tobias shrugged. "Hard to say. But it would hardly be the first transplanted European magical creature we've encountered. The melting pot metaphor would seem to apply to more than just the human population."
Violet reached over and took the book, then studied the text in front of her.
"What does it take to destroy the thing?" she asked without looking up.
"The sources state fresh or running water."
"Depending on the on the lay of the land, that may not be all that exploitable. Were you able to determine anything about its fate?"
Tobias shifted in his seat and the silence stretched out to the point of awkward. Violet looked up from her book and crosswise over to him.
"What aren't you telling me?"
"Well, the nature of augury is unpredictable. The future isn't written in stone and things do change."
"Caveat duly noted. Future is subject to change without notice. Now, what did you find?"
"It is not dead, and it will try to return next Halloween."
The pained look that crossed Violet's face grieved Tobias and he wished he hadn't had to cause it. However, at this point, she was their leader and had to be told.
"Fine. Convene the others in the library. I will be there momentarily."
The Benandanti lines were ancient, branching back far into history. After the disastrous witch hunts, inquisitions, and other various hunts, their lines were decimated. It was decided to pool the resources of those families that were left and create a central exchange that would manage those resources. With luck and shrewd acumen those resources were expanded upon until in the present day, every pack was granted land, housing, and a stipend in exchange for doing the work of the Benandanti. The Oak's Oath pack had been extremely successful in their work and so had been rewarded with a nice home and generous stipend.
The house was a rambling three floor manor house. The attic was split into two suites, with Violet and Aidan sharing a master suite, while Ballard and Socorro shared a smaller suite. The rest of the rooms on the second floor were split amongst the rest of the pack, with Tobias and Philadelphia having their own rooms and Marcus having an adjoining room with Wyatt. On the first floor there was a living room, dining room, kitchen and library. When Violet gathered herself together and went there, the pack was already waiting.
"Has Tobias filled you all in on what he's found?" she asked.