Hunted by Moonlight Chapter Ten

The air had shifted. First, Solenne noticed the scent of flowers that only bloomed at night. The air felt dry and crackled with static. Tension wound itself through every room in the house, tracing a path down the darkened halls, up the stairs and into the secret, forgotten corners.

Author’s Note: This is a long one, full of action. It ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Chapter Ten – Solenne

Heavy pounding sounded at the front door. 

Solenne stilled, the mug of tea paused inches from her mouth, and listened. Cook placed a comforting arm around the maid, who whimpered. Travers reached for the wooden bat and looked at the ceiling, like he could devine who was at the door. Aleksandar, Luis and Godwin had left for Boxon Hill, the epicenter of the nexus, as soon as the sun neared the horizon. They were alone. 

Tension crackled through the air. 

The pounding continued. 

Travers looked to Solenne, waiting for instruction. 

“This is unprecedented,” she said. No one came to the house during a full moon. Solenne and the staff behind left alone had never been an issue. No one left their homes if given the choice. 

“If they require aid, we must assist,” Travers said. 

“Yes, you are correct. Answer the door. I will be right behind you.” She set down her tea cup and reached for her silver knife. The blade was not much but a good hit in a vulnerable spot would slow down anything, man or beast.  

Up the stairs, Travers carefully approached the door. His hand paused on the bolt. “Declare yourself,” he ordered.

“Open the door, man,” a masculine voice said. 

Travers looked to Solenne, who shook her head. She did not recognize the voice. 

“I said declare yourself. Who are you? I am armed,” Travers said, his voice losing the familiarly cool and polished tone Solenne knew. 

“Jase Parkell,” the man answered, muffled by the door. She recognized the name, but had not thought of or seen Colonel Chamber’s nephew in weeks. “I have a man. He’s unwell.”

“You are unknown to me, sir,” Travers replied. 

“Please. This is the closest house. My uncle’s house is too far away.” 

“Then I suggest your hurry on to your uncles.”

“I found a man in the woods. He’s delirious. He keeps saying he has something for Luis.”

“Miles,” Solenne gasped. 

“It could be a trick,” Travers murmured. “Mr. Bartram knows better than to wander the woods on a full moon.”

Solenne nodded. Miles did know better but if he were distracted or focused on a project, he might misjudge the hour. She adjusted her stance, wishing she wore something more substantial than a plain work dress and leather soled slippers on her feet. If this was a trick, she and Travers would give a rousing good fight but she’d move better in trousers and proper shoes. 

Jase stood at the threshold, propping up Miles, who had an arm slung over his shoulder. 

“Miles!” she exclaimed. “Is he injured? What happened?”

“I am unsure. I found him wandering in Uncle’s property. He can’t tell me a blasted thing. Apologies for my language.” 

No obvious blood or injuries, although Mile’s eyes appeared glassy and his skin slick with sweat. She pressed her palm to his forehead. “He’s feverish. Bring him through to the drawing room.” 

Travers helped Jase to carry Miles to the drawing room. Fortunately, the room was not far. They deposited the delirious man on a settee. 

“Miss?” Cook asked from the stairwell that led to the kitchens below. 

“Cool water, please, and a clean cloth. Miles?” Solenne knelt before Miles and held the man’s face in both hands. He blinked slowly and his pupils were wildly dilated. “Did you eat something in the woods? A berry?” 

Although it had not happened in years, flora near the nexus could shift.  Benign fruit turned toxic overnight, just one of the many difficulties that made farming their land impossible. The sheep did well because their stomach would digest most anything, nexus-twisted plants or not. 

“N-no, no. I can’t…” Miles slumped back onto the settee. The bag on his shoulder slipped to the floor. “Bite.”

“A bite?” She frantically searched him for signs of blood and the cursed wolf’s bite. Other than mud and sweat, his clothes were pristine. Perhaps it was a smaller creature. She pushed tore at buttons to push open the fabric.

“Miss Marechal!” Jase gasped in shock.

“Now is not the time for decorum. We have to treat the bite.” 

“Yes, of course. Allow me. I insist.” He removed his own coat and began to unlace Mile’s boots. Constructed from sturdy leather, nothing should have been able to strike through the boot. Nonetheless, Jase removed the boots, stocking and pushed up trouser legs to check his calves. 

Nothing. 

Solenne held Miles’s wrist to push up his shirt sleeves. The man hissed and jerked away, nearly knocking a fist into her. The bite was angry and red, possibly already infected, and large enough to belong to a wolf. 

“What bit you Miles?” 

“Doesn’t matter,” he mumbled. “Luis needs… the bag.” 

“Was it a wolf? A beast? This is important.”

“So is the armor I made for Luis!”

Exasperated, she dumped out the contents of his bag. An undershirt slithered to the ground, almost soundless as the fabric flowed. Dull grey, it looked very much like the many times repaired armor Luis wore, only new and whole. 

“Did you make this?” She retrieved the shirt, the fabric flowing as smoothly as water in her hands. Made entirely of one piece of fabric, it had no discernible seams. “This is remarkable. Did you recreate the nanocarbon fiber?”

“A close approximation.” He sat up, wincing. “I spun the thread and Mrs. Berry knitted the shirt. For Luis.” 

Solenne set the item to the side. There would be time to wonder if Miles had been intrigued by the challenge of making the armor or if he had been driven by the need to protect Luis. “We need to get that bite cleaned. I’ll need to fetch my kit. Stay here,” she told Miles, then looked to Jase for support. He nodded. 

“Miss, I will fetch what you require,” Travers said. 

She shook her head. She didn’t know what she needed, exactly. Wolfsbane. Honey. “Yes. My kit. Wolfsbane. All of it.” 

A femine shout came from the other end of the house. Travers paled. “See to that. We’ll manage in here,” she ordered. 

“What can I do?”

Cook arrived with the water and clean cloth on a dull metal tray. Solenne took the woman’s burden and set it on the side table. “Get his shirt off. Hold this to the wound until it stops bleeding,” she said. 

Her workroom was at the back of the house, in the original part of the building. The last expansion nearly a century previous added the front rooms laid out in a logical grid with a corridoring running down the center and a large foyer designed to impress guests. Narrow, twisting corridors filled the older section. 

Poorly heated in the winter and poorly ventilated in the summer, the family seldom used this section of the house, other than to store weapons and artifacts. Her workroom was at the very end, a room with tall, narrow windows that faced the morning sun. 

She ran, skidding precariously as she rounded a corner. 

And nearly collided with a man. 

“Colonel Chambers!” 

He reached out a hand to steady her. “Are you well? The door was open.”

“Jase… Mr. Parkell arrived with Miles. He’s been injured,” she said in a rush. “What are you doing back here? They’re in the front drawing room.”

“I thought I heard a noise and the door was open.” He ran a hand down her arm. The gesture was a touch more familiar than she appreciated, almost possessive. 

She pulled away and stepped towards her workroom. “I require my kit.” 

“Was my nephew injured? He went out before dusk and did not return. I was worried.”

“They were attacked in the forest but he is well.” 

“Attacked? Here? Do you think something followed them into the house?”

She had not until that moment. Ice rushed over her. She told Travers to open the door, against every protocol, then had been too distracted to secure the door. 

Her eyes darted to the iron door down the hall. Chambers followed her gaze, then touched the handle of the nearest door. Silver nails decorated the door in a grid, but time had tarnished the nails to a dull grey. 

He drew his hand back when the handle did not budge. 

“We must be prepared to defend ourselves, I fear,” he said, shaking his hand slightly.  “Can you open this door?” 

“That goes to the basement. There is nothing of use down there,” she said. Only the vault where the old and broken artifacts were kept, along with the few items too dangerous to level unsecured. 

“The weapons we use are here,” she said, brushing past him in the narrow corridor. The skin at the back of her neck pricked at the close proximity. 

The door to the weapons room required a code to open the lock. The ancient keypad, numbers worn smooth on the keys, had not worked in more than a hundred years. Now a combination lock kept the room secure. 

“Marvelous,” Chambers said. He reached for a club studded with silver nails.  It was a brutal piece of work. “This will do.” He gave a test swing, lunging forward and stepping back. 

Solenne elected to leave the room unlocked, in case they needed to make a mad dash for a sharp and final weapon. Chamber went to join his nephew in the drawing room and she finally made it to her workshop. 

Dust and the scent of dried herbs hung in the air. Moonlight filtered in through windows. She grabbed her kit and all the bottles of wolfsbane tonic. The supply was distressingly low. She felt certain she had more but there was no time to count. 

A loud crash made her jolt. She turned around, her elbow knocking over a bottle that should not have been there. It rolled across the table, heading for the edge. “No, no, no,” she cried, dashing to catch it. 

The bottle smashed to the floor. 

Everything was going wrong that night. She felt flustered and wanted to toss her entire stock to the floor. She made do to old equipment and limited supplies. Everyone said the family’s work was important, valued, but those were only words. They did not offer tangible support. That smashed bottle cost money she did not have. She’d have to barter for a replacement. 

Solenne touched the silver bracelet on her wrist. When things went wrong, her mother always said it was best to take a moment to decide why, rather than fly into a rage. As much as Solenne’s natural inclination urged her to throw a tantrum out of fear and frustration, she needed to think. 

Calm

Someone had been in her workroom. They moved the bottles, carelessly leaving them in a location where it would be easy to knock them over. She had already caught Aleksandar helping himself to her wares. It was not inconceivable to imagine him doing so again, and then being thoughtless enough to leave a mess. 

They would have words once this horrible night finally finished. 

She gathered up the supplies required for Miles’s wound, then hurried through the corridors. 

The air had shifted. First, Solenne noticed the scent of flowers that only bloomed at night. The air felt dry and crackled with static. Tension wound itself through every room in the house, tracing a path down the darkened halls, up the stairs and into the secret, forgotten corners.

The front door was open. Again. Still.  

“Travers. Chambers,” she called. 

No response. 

Miles was alone in the drawing room, sprawled back on the settee. His skin appeared slick and glossy. She pressed the back of her hand to his forehead. He felt feverish. 

“What happened to Jase?” she asked gently, exchanging her kit for the bowl of water and cloth. She soaked the cloth, wrung it out, then placed it against Miles’s forehead. 

He jerked forward, his hand clamping around her bad wrist. His grip was tight but not painful. “Oh. Apologies.” He released her. “I’m not myself.”

“You’re having a bad reaction to more than the bite, I think. Were you stung by anything? Eat anything?”

“Nettles? I can not be sure. Is that a difficulty?” 

“Less than ideal,” she said. Normal nettles were unpleasant but would not induce such a reaction. He could have been stung by an insect or pricked by a plant from the other side of the Veil. 

“Any difficulty breathing?” 

He shook his head, then shivered. “No. I’m cold.”

Finally, a bit of luck. If Miles were having an allergic reaction, his throat would be swollen and he’d be quite blue. 

Solenne pulled the footstool to Miles and sat before him. Taking his arm, she ordered him to remain still. She swabbed the bite area with the disinfectant. It bubbled and fizzed. Miles watched, fascinated. 

“It’s funny,” he said. 

“Oh, this is a very humorous situation, getting yourself turned into a chew toy.”

“No, the nexus. People say it’s magic, but it’s not. It has rules.”

“How so?” She dabbed away the excess with the clean cloth. “Tell me,” she prompted,  content to let him lecture if it kept him still while she picked out the bits of leaves and grass from the wound. 

“It’s on a cycle. We’ve known that for years and years. And it only happens in certain places, which is weird. And things come through, we know that, but mostly what comes through is energy. We have our own form, of course. It’s in the background, harmless to us. But what comes through the Nexus, it waxes and wanes, but it doesn’t go away. It changes. But that’s what energy does, like heat. I use the heat from fire to transform metal.”

“And the Nexus energy does this? Can you harness it?”

“We tried, you know. Or others in the past tried. They built machines but those did not work. They failed. The energy is not compatible. Which is a shame, because it’s everywhere. So we have this raw energy, like the heat from the sun or the wind, and it doesn’t vanish. It forces mutations in plants.” He paused. “In people.”

Pausing her work, she gave him a serious look. “Miles, the bite carries a virus. It’s not raw cosmic energy. This was the work of tooth and claw.” 

“Energy can’t be destroyed. You can contain it or transform it, but never destroy,” Miles said, as if he did not hear her. His head lolled back. “Transform is the wrong word. Disperse? Dissipate? Expend. Yes. Contain or expend.”

Those words were familiar. She had heard them before. “Mother’s journals,” she breathed. 

He nodded. “I have them.”

“You stole them?” Amalie had been an artificer, much like Miles. The older tech fascinated her. She spent countless hours trying to repair or recharge the artifacts in the vaults below the house. One such endeavor cost her her life. 

“No, you misunderstand. She leant them to me a fortnight before her death. I did not know how to return them. I feared–”

“I always thought Father burned them,” she said. 

Miles nodded. “Exactly. I fear Godwin would destroy them. Your mother had a marvelous mind. Are they still there? Below ground?”

“Probably. The only items we’ve bartered away have gone to you,” she said. 

“No. The batteries. The containment banks for–”

Glass shattered inwards. Solenne raised an arm to shield herself from the flying shards. 

The beast crouched, snarling. 


Copyright 2020 Nancey Cummings


But Nancey, how can you leave us hanging like that?

Cue evil laugh. 🙂

Anyway, who’s ready for a big dramatic action scene next week?

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