Jehudi paused before entering the Gneiss Grotto. His ears strained toward the sound which had arrested his progress. The wind soughed at his back, enhancing the rasp of his breathing, muffling all else. Mentally, he reassessed the rumours of the werewolves. Physically he rejected them but emotionally he speculated on the reports of disappearances of men from the outlying villages. With a small head shake he turned back to the Grotto, ducking as he stepped forward.
Immediately aware of the welcoming warmth he laid aside the weapon in his hand, calling a softly spoken identification to warn the group gathered around a small fire. A shuffle of movement allowed his entrance to the circle. Enquiring faces turned his way.
“What news?” A murmur rippled through the waiting group.
Jehudi looked from one to the other reflectively before he replied: “Little enough. True, there is some talk of the return of the werewolves, but there is no–one prepared to say there has been a real sighting. Talk, yes, but only talk. Talk of fetishes, voodoo and black magic. Talk of men disappearing and reappearing in forms of beasts; talk in whispers behind concealing hands; talk enough to cause avalanches of fear and despair. But,” his voice rose and he lifted clenched hands, “that is all that I could find. Fear and talk. Talk and fear.”
His eyes challenged the eyes fixed on his. Brotski thrust a youthful face to the fore. He brushed an errant curl from his eye.
“What is it that a werewolf is supposed to do?”
There was a ripple of movement as the eyes switched back and forth. Hands were raised, heads shaken. A murmur of words: vampires, witches, depravity. All wore question marks. There was no certainty, no definite knowledge.
“It is said that a werewolf sucks the lifeblood from a man, making him a werewolf like himself.”
Jehudi shrugged that aside. “Be that as it may, it seemed to me that though the talk that I heard was of werewolves, the signs were that of the chimera.”
There were knowing looks and nodding heads among the raising eyebrows. He elaborated, “The chimera is not fully beast, it is partially human in its form, but it prominently bears the tail of the Serpent. It has no life of its own but gathers life from the minds of men. Herein lies our danger and this is the war we must wage.”
He turned and moved back to take up the weapon he had laid aside. Among the shuffling and the stretching he saw that others had retrieved their weapons and brought them to the fore. Brotski remained empty-handed. The older man beside him looked down at the youth.
The boy looked up. Beak mirrored beak.
“Where is your weapon your father left with you?”
“Th-the chillax? I-I don’t know, Uncle ...”
Stern, the old man reprimanded him: “Your weapon is the most important thing in your life. It was bequeathed by the Burning One when he came to destroy the werewolves and cleanse the forests of our hills and gorges. It is our defence as well as our offence. It is a guiding light in the darkest night and a shelter when the storms come. This is all we have to defeat and destroy the werewolf and the chimera. How can you esteem your inheritance so lightly?”
The consternation of the boy reached him. He extended his weapon across the boy’s knees.
“Here, hold onto mine with me. It’s big enough for both.”
Grotski leaned into the older man’s shoulder, laying his smooth fingers alongside the gnarled knuckles holding the weapon.
As one the group leaned back, hands resting on their weapons, faces upturned, relaxing in the firelight. The flames at their feet flickered and leapt while the men stilled and waited. The light grew, illuminating the weapons until it seemed that the light and the warmth came from them, highlighting the prominence of the cheeks and the caverns of the waiting eyes.
They waited, alone in their multitude, until the flames danced upon their foreheads and they were ready for the war ahead.
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