I was tired, the family had been on the move for several days with little to no rest. I crashed onto the bed in the room I shared with Rose at the La Quinta in New York. As I let sleep take me I could hear Rose cleaning guns over on the coach. The smell of gun cleaner was somehow comforting as the world faded to black.
“Anna hurry, we must not dally here!”
I ran down the forest path. The damn lizard was always getting too far ahead. How did he expect me to keep up, the path was little more than an animal track with branches and roots always ready to grab at and trip me. I barely made out the tip of his tail moving down a side path and I darted after him. I burst through a bush and found myself tumbling down a steep hill. I saw the shadow of the lizard disappearing up a tree as I crashed into a table and send the food upon it flying. As I was trying to pull myself together and pick myself up off the ground I felt a sharp blade at my throat.
“What do we have here,” came a voice a little way away. “Bring the urchin here so we can have a look at her.”
I was grabbed by rough hands and pulled from the ground. The two men holding me up were dressed in chain mail armor and were armed with spears which explained the blade I felt. I was dragged over and dropped at the feet of a woman in royal robes. The head of her scepter roughly lifted my chin and I met her gaze. Cruel dead eyes glared are me. I was shocked by tight gaunt skin that stretched across the bones of her face. The royal finery upon her body fit loosely and was moth eaten and faded with age.
“What a scrumptious little morsel you are, we will have you replace what you spoiled for us. Guards, prepare her.” Her voice was raspy but still had an air of superiority. Flicking her scepter I tumbled backward and landed on the grass as she turned and strolled over to her throne. Looking around I saw that the table I knocked over had not been filled with food like I thought. Platers of human limbs and organs lay shorn around the ground. Several wine urns had spilled their contents of blood on the ground and were quickly soaking in. I realized that my body was to replace the meal on the new table the guards were setting up.
Thinking quickly I spoke up, “Your majesty, I beg your forgiveness for the terrible accident I have caused to befall you. I hope to not speak out of place when I say that I am just mere skin and bones compared to the feast you had set. Would not one or two of you plump muscular guards be a much better meal for one such as yourself?” I got to my feet and curtsied to the undead creature.
She seemed taken aback that someone would address her. Sitting upon the carved gilded throne she stared at me for a minute before responding. I stayed curtsied not sure what to do, when I heard her speak I slowly stood up and looked at her. “So the urchin has a tongue in her head. Why would we listen to advice from the destroyer of our feast? One so young should be seen and not heard.”
“Your majesty, my size is confusing to most. My people are all small in stature, I’m much older than you think,” I did my best to keep my voice even and keep a small smile on my lips.
“Your people you say, just whom are they,” her voice became a little higher. I can tell that I’m starting to annoy her. I need to sooth her ego a little.
“I am a Minjur your majesty. My people are not local, I have been on a long journey but got lost in the woods when I was separated from my guide. I feared something after me and that’s when I ran and fell upon your table.” That’s it I can see a little interest in those dead eyes. “Why I trusted the guide to get me through the woods I’ll never know. He did seem trustworthy but, oh I’m sorry your majesty I did not mean to ramble about my insignificant problems with your lovely feast ruined.” There is the look I wanted, I set the hook now to reel her in.
“Tell us of your people and your journey. It amuses us to hear,” she said leaning back in her throne.
“Well your majesty, my people live far from here in a giant machine. Our towns slowly rotate on enormous gears while we travel between them on springs and sprockets. The machine alters its form from time to time so we are always having to find new paths between the towns, the gears themselves being the safest places to live. Some of my people have learned to talk to the machine, they help us rediscover the paths and lead us to the hidden treasures that can surface. Others have learned to channel the machine elements like metal, steam, and lightning, these people help to protect. The machine is beautiful but deadly if you don’t pay it the proper respect and attention. Some say that an ancient god sleeps at the heart of the machine and the changes in the machine are its response to the gods dreaming,” I spin my tale and see that I have amused the undead royalty. “As for myself, I travel to a hidden library in the east seeking information on the god that might sleep in the machine depths. The times between the changes have been growing shorter and more violent. There are those among my people that believe this means the god might awaken destroying our world. I seek knowledge on how to sooth the god so he can sleep in peace. I thought I had found a trustworthy guide in the town at the edge of the forest but, well, you know what happened with that your majesty.”
“How interesting my dear, to think you might not make it. Your people will surely mourn you if you don’t return,” licking her lips as she speaks I can see the hunger fighting through her interest. I need to act fast.
“Your majesty must be hungry, allow me to help.” I give a small curtsy to hide palming the dagger from my boot but don’t hide the picking up of a goblet from the ground at my feet. I lash out with my dagger severing the throat of one of the guards. Following the body down, I filled the goblet with fresh blood and quickly offered it to the royal before the other guards responded. The undead greedily drank deep and I could see some satisfaction in her dead eyes. I needed to keep things rolling my way, spinning around I addressed the guard that was about to lunge at me,” Just what do you think you are doing? Can you not see that your mistress needs taking care of? Go prepare the body before you are taken in its place.” I had to make this work as I stared down the guard and spoke my eyes went white and a predatory aura filled the air around me. The guard shrunk away from me and with the help of another guard drug the body away to prepare it. My eyes returning to normal and with the predatory vibe quickly dying down I returned my attention to the throne. “There you are your majesty, I think I have solved your problem.” A slightly wicked smile crossed my lips.
She laughed, I had not expected that. She wiped a blood tear from her eye and tried to calm herself down. “You are a treasure my dear. We have not been so amused in so long. You must come visit us when you come back this way and tell us of your travels." With a wave of her hand a path opened in the hedge surrounding her banquet.
“Of course your majesty, it would be my pleasure.” With a quick curtsy I quickly turned and headed down the path.
The path became foggy the further I went. I soon could no longer see the path but I tried to stay straight. I must have done something right because the fog started to clear and I found myself walking down a path in an ancient wood. There was bright moon light filtering through the branches that cast eerie shadows among the trees. I felt like I was being watched but I kept moving, I needed to. I started hearing panting in the woods around me. Then I saw shadows moving, matching me on both sides. I came to a fork in the path and not knowing the way I decided to ask those that followed me.
Spinning around I called out into the shadows,” Hello, maybe you can help me. I’m a little lost and am looking for the path to the east. I’m in an offal hurry so any help would be much appreciated.” I saw the movements in the shadows stop. “Really now, don’t be shy. It’s not polite to keep a girl waiting.”
There was a flash of movement and suddenly before me were four enormous wolves that towered over me. Their mouths snarled back reveling long sharp dagger like fangs. They stood close enough that I could feel the heat and moisture in their breath. Their coats were an almost impossible shade of black and their blood shot eyes glowed an eerie yellow. One of them took a step forward and lowered his head to look me in the eye as he ran his tongue across his teeth.
Reaching out I thumped him on the nose letting loose a jolt of electricity. He jumped back startled giving me a little breathing room. “Now that is no way to treat a guest. Have you no manners?” The shocked look on their faces was priceless but I did not let up. “Do you not have anything to say for yourselves?” I took a step forward wagging a finger at the group. Two of them started having the look of kids caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Taking another step forward I grabbed the wolf I shocked by the scruff of his chin and pulled him back eye level but on my terms. “Where is your alpha? An alpha would have better manners than the runts of the litter I find before me.” Pushing his head down and away from me I spoke again,” Go bring me your alpha so I might have a proper conversation.” I had put as must authority into my voice as I could and it worked. They turned and disappeared into the woods. I thought I was a snack but my luck held.
I turned to look at the forked path again to contemplate what to do when I felt eyes on me again. Turning around there was a wolf sitting there watching me. He was similar to the others but a little larger and with some gray on its muzzle. His eyes were calmer and had an air of authority.
“So you are the Little Red terrorizing my pack.” His tone had a bit of amusement in it.
“Terrorizing is a little strong, I just did not feel being anyone’s meal. Forgive me if I overstepped my bounds but they were being rude to a fellow child of Luna.” I gave the alpha a little smile.
He shifted back into his human form. He was tall and pale with a thick head of black hair and gray beard. “Just what child of Luna are you Little Red. You don’t have the smell of a wolf.” His nostrils flared as he took another deep sniff of the air.
“Luna blessed more than just the wolves. She also blessed cats, bears, horses, and many others including,” I quickly shifted into my animal form" the mice." He looked shocked for a few seconds then fell over laughing. “Now that’s just rude, I expected more from an alpha.” I hopped over and nipped him on his nose sending a powerful jolt of electricity through his body.
Rolling away from me he came into a crouch already reverted back into a wolf. “What sort of creature are you?” He bared his fangs and prepared to pounce.
Quickly shifting back into my human form I raised up my hands palm out and tried to calm him. “Calm yourself alpha that was just a spirit gift to get you attention. I just wanted to show you that even ones so small can take care themselves. You would not want one blessed by Luna to be weak would you?”
He relaxed a little and gave me a quizzical look, “So child of Luna why do you pass through our territory?"
I relaxed a little and spoke, "There is a danger that could destroy my home and possibly my people. I was sent to the east to find a library that we hope has the information to save us. I must hurry in my travels or I might be too late. I only do what I can to help my people, would you do any less?”
The alpha walked up to me and sat. He placed a paw on my shoulder and looked deep into my eye for a minute. I could feel some spiritual power being used on me. As the power faded he spoke, “I believe you Little Red, take the left path and may Luna’s blessing speed you on your way.”
He took his paw down and I threw my arms around his neck. Giving him a quick hug I turned and headed down the left path. The path became a cobble stone road and the forest around thinned until it became rolling grass lands. As I kept walking a fog rolled in and soon I could barely see my hand in front of my face. It felt like I was still walking on the road when I bumped into something wooden. Looking around I found that I was alone in a small walled courtyard in front of a large stone tower. I had run into the big double door to the tower. I reached up and swung the door knocker. Striking the door there was a huge
hollow booming sound.
“I hear you, I hear you. Don’t swing that damn knocker again, hate that damn thing…,” the voice from the other side of the door trailed off to a mutter. The door cracked open and a man with wild brown hair and beard stuck his head out. He looked me up and down through comically thick glasses. “Whatever you’re selling we don’t want any.” Then he tried to close the door on me.
Placing my hand on the door I looked up at him with the biggest puppy dog eyes I could muster, “Please sir I have traveled a long time and faced many dangers to gain access to your library. It might hold the knowledge to save my people.”
His pressure on the door relaxed, I had his attention. “What do you mean might hold the knowledge? THIS IS THE GREATEST REPOSITORY OF KNOWLEDGE THIS WORLD HAS EVER SEEN!! You have no idea the power it holds.” His voice boomed as he spoke, his passion was almost a visible flaming aura.
“I mean no disrespect, this is the fate of my people I’m talking about. I must be sure.” I put a nice edge of distressed maiden in my voice hoping that might help sway him.
“Why should I care about the fate of your people?” He raised one eye brow as he spoke.
Good I still had him talking, “I live far to the east….”
“Already board,” is all I heard him say as he glided backward and an unseen force slammed the door in my face. I heard his laughing fade away as I stood there.
No, I would not be stopped by this. Damn magi and their damn library, I will get what I came for. I went flush with anger then started looking around for another way in. Stomping around the towers base for a little while I came upon a small shuttered window. The window itself was too small for even a young child to get through but thanks to a damaged slat in the shutter that would be no problem for me. Reaching up and grasping the window sill I started pulling myself up. As I started coming off the ground I shifted into my mouse form and tumbled up onto the sill. I ran over and wiggled through the break and found myself inside.
It took only a second for my eyes to adjust to the dim light. I was in an enormous round chamber. Shelves wrapped the walls and went up multiple stories. Stairs, catwalks, balconies, and ladders wrapped around the shelves. The open area had tables and cases spread around. Little blue balls of light floated around dimly illuminating the area.
Staying in my mouse form for the speed it gives me, I climbed down from the window and scurried across the floor. I started my search for the magi. After running around in the maze like library for several hours I tracked the magi down to a balcony about three stories up reading from a large tome laid out on a table. I climbed up on the table and stormed over to the magi.
“That was very rude of you slamming that door in my face when I just wanted to talk to you!” I squeak out at him as my mouse form jumped up on him tome.
He let out a very girly scream and fell over backwards, “What the hell!!”
Bouncing over I looked down at him then shifted back to human form sitting on the edge of the table. “Now can we talk or do you just want to lay on the floor? Like I was saying I need some information and looking at this place I’m going to need your help to find. Now pull yourself together man.”
He pulled himself to his feet and adjusted his glasses. He reached out and pocked me. “What are you?” He seemed genially mystified by me so I had to use this to my advantage.
“I’m a Minjur wise magi. My people live far from here so you might not have heard of us but we have heard of your library," I gave him a little smile then hopped down from the table.
He looked down at me still confused but wanting answers. "I have records on all the lycanthropes but your aren’t in them , why aren’t you in them. "
“Now first of all lycanthropes are just wolves. The rest of us hate being called that. There are many others that are blessed by Luna that are not wolves. There are the different cats, the bears, horses, some birds, and many rodents including the mice such as myself. That is just to name a few.” I was amused by the look of amazement on his face.
“I must know more,” he reached out a grabbed my shoulders. “This could be a whole new field of study!” I could see the excitement in his eyes
“Calm yourself magi, I think we could come to a fair trade. I’ll share with you some information on my people and you help me with the information I came here for. " I could see the gears turning in his head. This was the bait I need to set my hook.
“Fine, I think we can help each other. Now tell me of what you seek.” The hook was set.
I told him of my home and the legends of the sleeping god as he lead me down a staircase and through the library. He asked me various questions and as I answered he altered our path. We finally came to an alcove with a locked cabinet. Taking a key from a pouch he unlocked it and pulled out the lone tome inside. Setting it on a table he motioned me to open it. I lifted the cover and the world went white.
I found myself sitting on a beach staring out at the sea. I reached down and picked up the beer I have been drinking and swirled what was left. From the trees behind me I heard a small rustle. Out wondered a small chameleon that stopped next to me and looked up. I wasn’t startled when it started talking.
“You are a little wonder you know that,” it said to me.
“So what does that mean?” I asked.
" You flutter around between the different night folk and make them comfortable with you. You have a way of making them work together. It is a rare gift. What a social chameleon you are." As it spoke it climbed up onto my lap.
“All I’ve done is what I had to do to keep my family safe,” is the only response I could think to say.
It licked its eyes with its tongue before continuing. "You have drown my attention and I want to give you my favor if you will have it. It will help you it your tasks and it would amuse me to help swing things in your favor. "
“Well with such a gracious offer how could I refuse.” The chameleon wondered over to my left forearm and dove into it. I woke with a start, Rose was snoring in the bed next to mine and I heard Simon banging on the door. I raised my arm to push the hair from my face before responding to the door 5rand that’s when I noticed it. There was now a chameleon shaped birthmark on my arm.