The False Moon
Jacqueline Rohrbach © 2018
All Rights Reserved
Chapter 1: Jouska But Not Really
Kijo stood in front of the gateway Mazgan stole from the Boo Hags. Lacking descriptive language, she could only call it doorish but smaller. As it was, when she became wolf, it was what she felt and not what she saw. Surging electricity pried apart large spaces inside of her to make room for itself amongst her being. This sensation wasn’t intoxicating. It was terrifying. Without knowing how she knew it, Kijo understood the presence with her wanted to rip her apart.
You do not open it. It opens you.
It was one of the few things Kijo remembered Lavario saying with any force back when he was still her father. Normally flippant about bright-line rules, he was stern, even afraid, when he cautioned her against tampering with the sentient powers immured within the gateways.
Back then, pride kept her from asking him more. As a new wolf, she wanted her pack to think she was in control, secure in her ability to fight any enemy the world had to offer. Varcolac. What a fool she’d been. Now it was too late to ask for guidance, too late to admit her fear, too late to do anything other than move forward. Under her nose, Mazgan had already brought a gateway there and left it where anyone could access it. Worse, he’d selected Garvey—a brazenly careless wolf—to travel through it and bring back a vampire of all things.
“Here is proof of Mazgan’s foolishness,” she said to herself in the darkness. “Here is proof he’s tampering where he should not.”
In her head, she considered her pack’s response. It’s nothing, they’d say.
She stressed the significance to them. “It is a gateway. Here.”
Their retort played out in her head. It was past time for Varcolac to have dominion over one. We are due. You are looking at your birthright. Your rank is not just some silly title. It is a destiny, Guardian.
Furious, Kijo paced the length of the hall. Her imaginary conversation with her subordinates became reality if she approached them now. Pack pride surmounted their caution. An honor they’d been denied all these years, a right reserved by the much hated Isangelous, was in their possession. Having did not mean tampering. Even if it did, the wolves of the Varcolac—mostly younger, brasher—might not understand the danger.
Mazgan hadn’t exactly hidden it either; the damn thing was literally a door to a storage room. Inexcusable hubris.
“You will need so much more to persuade them of the danger,” she concluded to herself.
This time, her pack did not answer her. She was alone.
No, not alone. An unknown entity stirred nearby. More curious than concerned, Kijo scanned the hallway, narrowing her eyes while she sniffed the air in measured, stable inhalations. Her nostrils barely twitched. Although she didn’t see, didn’t hear, didn’t smell anything, instinct demanded she listen.
Kijo straightened herself, haughtily raising her chin. She walked up to the gateway the same way she’d approach any other enemy. Touch. The energy sent her staggering backward. It was an impulse as strong as anything she’d ever felt, more demanding than even her body’s need for blood.
“No.” Defiant, Kijo said it out loud. Cold liquid ran down her spine. Sweat, she realized.
The energy shifted, tipping her direction as though to acknowledge her refusal. Softer this time, the request was seductive. Touch.
Kijo’s hand twitched at her side. With effort, she forced herself to walk away. Lavario’s words repeated, You don’t open it. It opens you.
Each time Kijo turned her head, a quick flash of movement, a flutter of a shadow, caught her attention. Imagination couldn’t run away with her when she didn’t have one. Sour with the whole experience, Kijo pursed her lips, annoyed with whatever followed her home. Once she determined the unseen was most likely unseeable, she went back to her studies.
Tip-tapping—nothing more audible than the sound of mice running inside the walls—didn’t turn her head. Some of the art she selected for her ever-shrinking personal space toppled to the ground with a muted clap. She heard something, perhaps glass cracking. Annoyed, she sniffed indelicately. Not even Geri or Freki would come clean it up if it were to shatter.
“Yes, yes,” Kijo said to the unknown entity, “I understand you’re here.”
When the knock at her door came, she assumed it was still her guest trying its best to toy with her. It came again, loud enough for the reverberations to shake pencils on the desk. A voice accompanied it.
“Kijo, it is Mazgan. Open this door.”
She preferred the specter. But there was no ignoring rank.
As soon as she cracked her door open, he pushed his way inside, using his superior bulk to force her against the wall. His facial features were muddied and sloped like the face of a mountain.
“Alpha Guardian,” she greeted him with an icy formality.
“Guardian Kijo.” Mazgan’s tone was strict and self-consciously commanding.
The giant apartment Lavario created for himself within the Varcolac stronghold was no more. In its place was a modest single-wolf dwelling with blasé showroom-white walls cut into cold ninety-degree angles. Per his suggestions, she’d divided the space amongst her pack.
Various relics from the bonfire were scattered around it: bits and pieces from Lavario’s collection of things that once were. Items too valuable to burn, too much Lavario’s to display. Nostalgia tugged at Kijo, increasing her ire.
Mazgan assessed it all, stopping to glower with disapproval at the unused paint cans and unhung art. Decorations were frivolous, unwelcome in the Vercolac compound.
The long hairs on his arms and neck stood at attention. Claws and teeth wanted to come out. His body was trying to tell itself there was danger in the room. Fool that he was, he probably assumed it was tension between them. Indeed, he smirked to himself in a way that made her want to slap sense into him. What was the point of having the wolf inside of him if he ignored it?
“How can I help you, Alpha Guardian?”
“I’m here to offer you another chance to stand by my side. I held off challenges for your benefit. This will end soon. I cannot hold the gate forever,” he chided her.
A glass fell off the counter, sparing her from having to answer promptly. Mazgan pushed past her to follow the noise. Perhaps he expected a lover to dominate, maybe a traitor to cow when he patrolled the kitchen. What he got was an empty room, barren of anything except for the tenebrific presence that made the small space gravelike.
Hoping he’d listen to his senses, Kijo waited for him to notice something amiss.
Seeing nothing obvious, Mazgan went back to assuming the tension in the room was somehow between the two of them. The glass was a mere curiosity. By the time he walked back her way, she had mastered her tone, readied her response.
Calmly, she said what was needed. “I accept whatever challenges await, Alpha Guardian.”
His eyes grew wide in his shocked anger. “They have my leave to kill you.”
“Then I give myself leave to kill them, as is my right, Alpha Guardian.”
“Kijo…” For a moment, he looked uncertain. He reached out one hand to take hers. “Kijo, my darling, through me, you will have the power you want. No need to make our relationship contentious as it was with your father. Do not make his mistakes.”
What he offered was a glimpse at the sun through blinds. Filtered under the best of circumstances, blocked in the worst. Kijo pulled away. “I will not make my father’s mistakes, Alpha Guardian. Send the challengers.”
Minutes later, after they’d already said their terse, formal goodbyes, Kijo went back to her work. Something that smelled of wet dog eating rotten meat leered over her shoulder. Tired of the unknown’s games, she snarled over her shoulder and demanded it leave. Whatever it was didn’t obey. Whatever it was vanished the moment she turned her head to confront it.
A word to describe what was happening wormed its way to the front of her mind, pushing aside her conflict with Mazgan. Lifestealer. The supposed soul of a vampire. Every fiber of her being screamed that this thing was more a threat than the careless Alpha Guardian would ever be. She knew it. Politically cut off, she was trapped.
“I have to deal with Mazgan before I can properly address whatever this is,” she said to herself. ”Him and his idiotic schemes.”
Her current world was a convoluted mess. Kijo needed to simplify.
Chapter 2: Between Two Camps
Outsiders called them False Moons, but Garvey’s kind called themselves Moondogs. As half-breeds, they’d always be weaker than the werewolves of the Vercolac and the Isangelous, the true wolves as they called themselves so they had to be smarter. Garvey was Moondog to the bone. Since he couldn’t physically dominate his enemies, he’d manipulate instead.
With Molly, the last remaining vampire, in tow, Garvey made his way to the chamber of Mazgan, the Alpha Guardian of the Vercolac. Doing his best to sound subservient, he tentatively rapped on the door and waited as Mazgan pointedly exerting his control over the situation in the most petty way possible and made Garvey stand around. Eventually, Mazgan flung open the door and gestured for Garvey to come inside.
He took one look at Molly and said, “Where is the other vampire?”
Timothy, the vampire Mazgan spoke of, was now in the great beyond, whatever that was, no doubt yammering on about food, humans, and hunger. Poor re-dead Timothy with his limited vocabulary. Garvey didn’t linger long on such things, though. Tim’s death wasn’t part of the plan, but life was like that.
“One second, you have a scheme that involves two bloodthirsty vampires clamoring for human blood. The next, you have a plot that only ever realistically needed one,” he explained to Mazgan.
“Meaning the other vampire died, Alpha Guardian. Now Molly over here is the only one left.”
“Left,” Molly repeated.
Pissed as predicted, Mazgan fumed. His eyes alternated colors as he struggled for control over his emotions. Mazgan wanted them to stay brown so badly that Garvey almost felt sad for him when they inevitably slid to gold. Alpha Guardian Not Lavario could never achieve any level of mastery over his transformation. Hell, he struggled to manage his human side, let alone the wolf.
Such anger might have worried Garvey if the Alpha Guardian didn’t need someone to do his dirty work. The wolf lord was known for little else besides being pugnacious, violent. Fortunately, Mazgan had no other lackey. The wolf lord would bluster, yell, and get the fuck over it. Meanwhile, Garvey poked.
Garvey lifted his thumb and jabbed it in Molly’s direction. “You still have one vampire, Alpha Guardian.”
Mazgan looked at Molly with disgust. He was none too pleased to have a corpse in his chambers, which, Garvey noted with some amusement, was now decorated with expensive furnishings. Varcolac wolves were meant to have no use for comfort and frivolities. Hard lives made stronger warriors who earned rank through battle rather than by birthright, the way Isangelous wolves did. This way of thinking was what supposedly separated the two packs.
From all appearances, Mazgan had embraced the Isangelous way of life when it came to luxury and decadence. The beyond-king-size bed was draped in furs from all sorts of creatures. There were pictures of Mazgan all over the place. Perhaps the best thing was the random giant-octopus coffee table in the middle of the room; its tentacles held up a giant slab of marble. Awesome. Garvey loved everything about it.
Mazgan shook his head. “What happened? I told you to bring both. This was not the plan.”
“Plans change, Alpha Guardian. Especially when part of it dies.”
Molly nodded. “Dies.”
“How did it die?” Mazgan bit it out with effort.
This required some truth bending. Mazgan would not be pleased to hear Tovin had been the indirect cause of a botched endeavor. Little human boys did not thwart werewolf kings, either directly or by going through open doors. Garvey had already thrown poor Tovin under one toothy bus too many.
“Molly killed it.”
“Killed,” Molly confessed without apology.
“Why on earth did it do that?” Mazgan was exasperated, the way Garvey liked him to be.
“Grudge, Alpha Guardian,” Garvey explained.
“Grudge,” Molly agreed.
“Vampires do not hold grudges.” Mazgan sounded so sure.
Garvey wasn’t quite there with him. Part of Garvey thought he might actually be telling the truth and his vampire companion really did axe old Tim to settle a score. Molly was different. He wasn’t quite sure how or why, but he knew his girl was an exception. At least she certainly had her likes and her dislikes. She parroted Garvey eagerly while snubbing Mazgan.
“This one does, Alpha Guardian,” Garvey reassured him.
“Does,” Molly confirmed.
“By the goddess! You do nothing right!” Mazgan was to the yelling part. Good times.
“It’s my curse, Alpha Guardian. I suppose I should go find the original screwup who bit me and cut off his head. I hear he took up residence in Oliver’s quarters.”
Without regrets, Garvey winced as Mazgan’s face rolled like a wave into its true form. While it was expected—Mazgan always resorted to violence when pushed—the blow and subsequent kick to his ribs stung.
Garvey was on the floor coughing up blood by the time Molly said, “Quarters.” Thanks, Mol.
“And shut this stupid thing up.” Mazgan hit Molly too. Beyond pain, the undead woman understood the gesture well enough. She hissed at the wolf lord before jumping up to bite at his torso and arm. Her clawed hands tried to gain leverage around his back—digging in, hopefully with enough force to get under the rough coat of fur that protected vital areas. Mazgan threw her off.
That didn’t stop Molly from continuing her attack. She was beyond many things besides pain—fear and reasoning included.
“Mol. Mol.” Garvey ran between them before she could lunge again. “Come on now, settle down.”
“Down.” She hissed back at him.
“Oh, I know. I know, Mol. But chill.” Garvey stood between her and Mazgan, hopefully blocking her view for long enough that she’d forget she was ever angry. It wasn’t really working. The old girl apparently had a long and evil memory.
“Chill.” She looked beyond Garvey and over toward Mazgan when she said it, as if instructing him. At least she was staying put. For the time being.
Mazgan lifted his lips to show his teeth. “Take this thing and sit on it. I’m going to work out how to fix this.” With that, he kicked Garvey and the seething Molly out of his chamber and slammed the door behind them.
It was bad enough to have to travel with vampires. Now he was the thing’s babysitter? Garvey wasn’t sure what needed to be fixed. Mazgan’s plan was as complex as releasing the vampire in a highly populated area to spread the infection. Humanity’s civilization would collapse. Werewolves, specifically the Varcolac, could then take possession of the new world and the bloodservant trade. Felt like they could do that already.
“What else does that idiot need?”
“Need,” Molly said back.
Garvey sighed at her. “That’s going to get very annoying very fast.”
He was waiting for it. Waiting. Waiting. But Molly sat there looking right back at him, saying nothing. As much as Garvey loved the unexpected, the vampire woman was truly starting to creep him out.
“Alright then, Mol. Remember me fondly.”
Those eyes of hers, glazed by milky white cataracts, sharpened as she focused on his face. An unwilling shiver tingled all the way through his body, ending at the tips of his fingers. As if responding to his fear, Molly reached out to place a reassuring hand on his chest.
“Fond,” she said after a bit.
His injuries were not as severe as he had hoped, at least not be-less-discreet bad. Blood from the beating Mazgan had given him smeared nicely on his face. For good measure, he clawed a slit down the middle of his shirt and rubbed some into the tattered edges of the mangled garments.
“Fabricated. Get it, Mol?”
She did not laugh.
“Some pal you are.”
Kijo wasn’t much more impressed. When she opened the door to their meeting place, a shack on the edge of the woods, the look on her face said she’d clawed out of her mother’s womb bored and displeased. Her gaze did linger on the side of his face where Mazgan’s claws had made their mark. Moondogs, or False Moons as the greater packs liked to call them, healed much more slowly. For all Kijo knew about his kind, they didn’t heal at all.
Sniffing the air was a habit, an action as automatic as breathing. The results of Garvey’s brief, unintentional scan surprised him. There were two others there. One of them was a wolf wearing rather expensive floral perfume. But Garvey couldn’t make out the other scent. Kijo caught him trying to sort it out. Rather than express displeasure as Garvey expected, she viewed him with a type of grudging appreciation.
“Who’s the other wolf?” he asked her.
“Her name is Vanu. She is here to witness the existence of the vampire.”
“Ah. And the other thing?”
His sister’s lips twisted in anger. She didn’t answer, which Garvey took to mean she wasn’t in a sharing mood. She gestured to Garvey’s torn clothes and injuries. “I take it Mazgan was upset,” she asked with zero concern, perhaps even a tinge of pleasure. It was hard to tell.
“As expected. Things didn’t go according to plan.”
She sniffed the air, winced. “And this thing is a vampire?”
“I thought there were two?”
She didn’t even blink. “Bring it in.”
Young for a werewolf, this was Kijo’s first time seeing one of the undead. To her, they probably seemed a creature of legend, existing only because older wolves passed on the stories. If Kijo’s expression was anything to go by, the experience was a bit of a disappointment. Molly hopped from one foot to the next with barely constrained agitation as Kijo inspected her. Yellow teeth snip-snapped whenever fingers came too close to her mouth. Like a spooked horse, she reared her head, eyes rolling backward.
“What’s wrong with it?” Kijo asked, lifting her lip. “Is it sick?”
“Hungry,” Molly’s response was wrapped in a drawn-out moan.
Kijo gave Garvey a hard, unforgiving look. “You did not feed it before you brought it here?”
“Totes did, sis. No less than a few hours ago. She can’t be anything other than hungry.”
“Hungry,” Molly echoed, a childish whine to her voice. Garvey felt a stab of pity.
Vampires could survive months without feeding, surviving on whatever magic kept them reanimated, but they were consumers by nature. Created by Atrophia to destroy humanity, Molly’s kind were little more than mindless killing machines forever trapped in an endless loop of torment: yearning, yearning, yearning only to be ever so briefly satisfied right after feeding.
Garvey didn’t want to explain all of that to Kijo. She could pick up a damn book. “She’ll be fine,” Garvey reassured her as Molly continued to snap at the end of her tether.
“Tie the thing up outside. It stinks.”
Molly crinkled her nose.
Kijo gestured to a chair across from hers as he reentered the room. It was as close to playing the good hostess as she came.
Five seconds later, with Garvey’s ass just hitting the chair, she tapped her clawed hand impatiently on the cheap wood. “Does Eresna know? I expected to hear something by now.”
It was on the tip of his tongue to ask his sister if she was really counting on the Boo Hags, the common pejorative for Isangelous wolves, to solve her problems, but he already knew the answer. Kijo, darling of the Varcolac, didn’t trust her pack to make the right decision even if they did know what Mazgan had done. She was counting on the Boo Hags to end the threat for her. Otherwise, she’d simply show the Varcolac Molly. An actual living vampire was as concrete as evidence came. Pointing this out to his sister would only be painful.
Garvey assured her of Eresna’s knowledge. “I had Molly attack her bloodservant. Eresna should know soon enough.”
“That is good. Is her bloodservant dead?”
“No, Molly killed it before it did any serious damage to the human. I guess she didn’t care much for old Tim.” When Kijo’s eyes went golden in anger, Garvey rushed forward. “But the boy was very shaken. He will tell Eresna about it.”
“I told you to be less discreet. I need others to have knowledge of this. This thing”—she gestured to the vampire—“needs to be a threat. Eresna must know of it.”
“I did as you asked. It attacked Eresna’s bloodservant. Plus, I traveled through the portal in the middle of the Boo Hag library.” If that wasn’t less discreet, Garvey didn’t know what was.
Gold eyes turned to black, a transformation Garvey wasn’t sure made him feel much better, as Kijo settled into her chair. “Playing me as well as Mazgan?”
Garvey took a cautious look at his sister, who looked back with hard, unwavering certainty. Her face was relaxed, even serene: no teeth poked out, no claws dug grooves into the wood of the chair, no light—golden or otherwise—touched the eyes. Time to tell the truth. Or die.
“That is surprisingly smart of you.” She leapfrogged over his response and went to the task at hand. “I need you alive as much as you want to stay alive. Play Mazgan. Manipulate him. Treat me with the same disrespect, I will have blood. Release the vampire in Eresna’s compound, make sure to keep casualties to a minimum. Double kill any collateral. Go.” She waved him away.
As Garvey untied the impatient vampire, he wondered how he was going to get out of this mess. Mazgan wanted his perfect moment. Kijo wanted it done now. Not surprisingly, the vampire was no help at all. She wrenched her leash while crying out her hunger. Earlier, Garvey said Molly knew nothing but. He started to think it was true of them all.