Our mistress rises once more in her glowing glory, a silver disk shining down on the dreary earth. Hers is a soft and healing light, not the fierce blaze of the sun, and that light calls forth our true souls. We fall to four legs, fur flows from our flanks, and we listen for each other’s howls. For three nights out of every thirty, we are not alone. It makes as good a night as any to die.
I run between the trees, the blood down my flank as hot as the breath in my lungs, its pain as urgent. Every month, we answer our mistress’s call. Every month, the hunters hear us too, and they come. They have been closing in for years, chasing us from one valley to the next, tightening their noose. For some, pierced with silver and dragged half-human across the cobbles of a village square, that noose has been all too real. That’s how we lost Ren, Albertus, and Miran, Chalia and her daughters, old Reffel and a score more of my pack alone. Others were shot or stabbed, some fighting back, some protecting friends, some simply trying to flee.
I howl and others answer, a chorus of creatures as old as the moon, but that humans call abomination. I hear their cruel glee as they pursue us. The noose is closing. My leg is weakening as the blood flows.
I burst from the trees onto dunes whose pale sand and deep shadows mirror our mistress herself. Stalks of stiff grass tickle my belly. Fine grains fly from my feet. A fitting place to end this. For that alone, I’m glad that I’ve come this far.
The others burst from the woods and follow me. Scores of my kin, hundreds, all that remain in this land. The hunters have forced us closer and closer together until there is only one pack, one desperate dash through darkness. Still their shouts and their crashing steel follow, the beaters driving us into the open for the hunters with their silver spears to enter this last pursuit.
Our mistress beams down. Whenever she calls, we obey. But tonight, for the first time, we will call back.
Sand sprays from our paws as we thunder down the beach. It is a beautiful night, no clouds marring our mistress’s majesty, a court of stars shining in attendance upon her. A good night to die, but for who?
We reach the edge of the sea. Some of the pack look back fearfully, faced with the grim reality that there is nowhere left to run. The tips of silver spears shine as bright as stars at the edge of the woodland and burning torches follow them. More approach along the coast, coming from east and from west. No way out.
I face this pack, the largest that has ever gathered. I smell our fur and the blood from our wounds, hear the growl in every throat. From some, it is a warning, from others a challenge. You brought us here, they seem to say. Now prove yourself.
Standing in the salt spray, I tip my head back and open my soul. It is a new howl, one the others have never heard. Not a hunter’s howl, directing the pack to prey. Not the mating howl of a wolf in heat. Not a howl of pain and desperation, the last sound we have heard from so many. This howl is a prayer.
The others join me. Our voices twist together as they rise through the night, unhindered by treetops or clouds, by the roofs of houses or the smoke of so-called civilisation. There is nothing between us and our mistress.
For generations, we have obeyed her call. Tonight, instead, we answer. We tell her our pain. We tell her our fear. We tell her what we face if she does not help.
The torches and the silver spears are closing in, forming a bright arc against the night. Armoured feet pound the sand. Wicked voices snicker. My heart hammers as I howl; one way or another, this will be the end.
Our mistress’s face ripples like the ocean, her partner in the eternal dance. A bright light beams down upon the waves, which rise to meet it.
In moments, the water is up my legs, past my belly, soaking my fur. I’m lifted from the sand and my pack with me. We keep howling while the hunters cry out in shock and alarm.
The ocean crashes across the shore, carrying us at its crest, light as foam in our mistress’s glow. There is no such mercy for the hunters, who are pummelled and scattered by the waves that slammed down on them. Bodies are flung about, limbs twisted and snapped, the flames of torches snuffed out. Screams and gasps for breath are swallowed by the sea.
The tide keeps rising, higher and higher. It carries us on waters that churn with the dead, sweeps us up the valley toward the towns where spears were forged and nooses tied.
My pack howl in gratitude as the moon’s light carries us and protects us amid those waters. We held our faith. We answered her call. At last, we have our reward.
It is a good night to die, but not for us.
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Ashes of the Ancestors
In a haunted monastery at the heart of a crumbling empire, a lone priest tends the fires for the dead. A servant bound by the bones of her family, Magdalisa is her people’s last link to the wisdom of the past.
But as the land around them dies, new arrivals throw the monastery into turmoil. A dead warlord demanding recognition. Her rival, seizing the scraps of power. Two priests, both claiming to serve the spirits, both with their own agendas.
As ancient shadows struggle for the soul of an empire, Magdalisa must decide how far she will go to keep tradition alive.
A fantasy story about tradition and our relationship with the past, Ashes of the Ancestors is out now:
Luna Press for physical books