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   Chapter 4 iv. The Moon’s Entrails

New London Masquerade By Rian Torr Characters: 22247

Updated: 2018-10-21 12:03

Luna soon now began to throb in Devin's temples. His cell buzzed in his pocket—and he noticed it was Barb. He let her leave a message—unsure he wanted to feign composure at the moment, given the circumstances.

Cadence was on his own phone, talking to his wife Elena, explaining the strange situation--and how he would be getting in late that night.

After he hung up, he said: "It was my last haul. I've got ten days off … She can wait a few more hours to see me if need be. God bless her heart—she understands completely--and passes on peace and luck to you."

"You both are too much. How do you ever find such heart for helping? I could have flagged anybody back there—but it had to be you."

"I'd been feeling hollow lately, " Cadence offered. "I asked God to show me the way, to where I could make a difference. Then I saw you."

"That's astounding. Truly. But Gavin is not someone you want to cross for anybody. I think it's best if you stayed in the truck at all times."

"Not on your life. I'll feel safer with my feet on the ground and trigger ready. I've seen two wars, son. Purple hearts on my lapel and parades in my name—but the biggest gift I got out of it was the experience gained in handling a gun and aiming. Show me to the wetworks, boy."

"Well then—just try to keep your mind on the moment. Gavin has a way of stealing your thoughts from you—so you forget your body and hover off—and then he picks you off with his rifle. All he has to do is look in your eyes for more than a second—and he has you. I'm warning you."

For a moment, Cadence gaped—as if he were beholding a madman—but then his expression broke—and he split into a lighter laughter, shoving Devin in the side. "You kidder, you almost had me!"

Devin shook his head slowly side-to-side.

"Bring it on. I'll put one between his eyes."

Devin chuckled, taking a momentary break from all seriousness. Something about Cadence's mad personality made him laugh. He appreciated the company—and he suspected there might be something to the trucker's prayer--because this was certainly a boon for saving Sadie.

"Glad to hear you laughing, " Cadence said. "Life's a circus, son. You got no choice which hit is better--or which is bitter—so you might as well take them all and sort out the sour in the end—after the curtains."

"I used to think that way, " Devin replied. "Always living in the moment—never looking back at what shaped me. But then the distance catches up to you—and you wake up realizing you haven't really been evolving at all—and whatever you fled is still right behind you.

"So sometimes, when my mind is set on something, nothing else matters. I do not deviate until the task is done—during which time laughing ultimately saps the tension—when what we need is ice."

Cadence nodded. He understood completely.

Just then, a shooting star blazed across the horizon before them, lighting up the highway—and they slowed down to watch it go.

"Make a wish, " Devin said grimly. "We may need it."

Cadence shifted down—pulling onto the shoulder.

Another meteor lit up the sky just then—and then two more. It was the Season of Starshowers. Sunfair Fortnight started that coming weekend—when thousands would gather to worship Sol—wearing costumes of all kinds, especially for the final event--New London Masquerade.

Devin made his wish, to hold Sadie in his arms again. He swore to God that he would never go back to Barb—as long as Sadie survived.

Suddenly, a meteor struck down onto the horizon before them, blazing into the distant woods, illuminating night's mantle in a sublime flash, blinding them both for a moment. Their minds also reeled—each of them flooded with feeling. Cadence thought of his daughter, suddenly fresh with remorse--while Devin thought of Sadie—concerned for her safety.

They drove up the next rise and on toward where a column of smoke had begun to billow. Their curiosity overtook them—but as they carved through the woods, weaving along a dizzying stretch of the highway—a shroud of dark emotion settled in over them. Cadence suddenly became unsettled, for he had been close to heavenly bodies before—and they were not so pretty as a blazing light when seen up close. He had this sinking feeling—because there had been meteors the night his daughter was taken from him—and despite decades without sign of a return, every Starshowers he could not help but look out into the night and wonder where was Claudia.

They were just about upon the area where it appeared the smoke was born—when Devin heard demonic voices in dialogue floating out from between the dense crooked trees. He made Cadence pull over.

"Do you hear that?" he said, pointing far side of the road.

"What?" Cadence said, too restricted by his human ears.

"Whatever they are—they're getting closer. Over there ..."

Cadence shook his head, but could see Devin was serious.

Devin could understand them—for their powers were his.

'[Be sure to come see us before you begin the Clearing.]'

'[But the time to take Earth has almost passed …]'

'[Patience … We must wait for Motherbird Zero Nine.]'

'[Understood—but stalling will just sacrifice surprise.]'

'[Let us discuss this after we reconnaissance the city.]'

'[Agreed—but then if there is no sign—we must decide.]'

"What do you hear?" Cadence asked, nervously touching his gun under his jacket—staring at Devin's silent, stern expression.

"Hold ..." Devin implored quietly. He finally heard footsteps approaching the edge of the wood—and then pointed to the fringe fifty yards on--where two monstrous, shadowed figures shortly emerged.

"My God, " Cadence cursed, frantically pulling his gun out—triple-checking it was fully loaded. "It can't be … It can't be them ..."

"What do you mean them?" Devin harshly demanded.

"Claudia's captors. I never thought I would see this day."

The figures crept onto the highway--into the moonlight—revealing their true forms. They were black as the night sky. Their arms were hook-horned along the lengths of them—triple-jointed legs were sheathed in razor scalloped sleeves—eyes burned blood—shoulders hunkered under brawn. Their heads were of the goat—with long twisted horns as white as snow.

They strode together under a wicked gait--up the road away from Cadence and Devin—toward New London's neighboring town of Trollope—apparently unaware of the human pair parked back a distance behind them—shrouded in the shadows of the shoulder—observing a terran arrival.

Their cloven hooves clopped along the asphalt—as they pumped their strong legs—mounting the steeply sloped road in short order.

Devin unstrapped his seat-belt and pulled out his cell. Barb was buzzing him again. He tried to shut it off, but the buttons were getting mixed up—so he just pulled out the battery with shaking hands.

But it was too late—and the alien duo stopped in their tracks, looking at each other—one of them glancing back.

"OH--Sh-i-i-it, " Cadence hissed.

Devin reached across to settle the old man down—resting his hand on his gun—saying, "Wait … Wait …"

They watched in tense anticipation as the Devilbillies appeared to deliberate over what they had heard.

"Don't move a muscle."

"I couldn't if I tried."

"I feel them. Feel it …?"

"Yes—like a dark wet ..."

"It feels … so … Evil ..."

Devin swallowed. He sensed kinship. He felt a bond he could not utter. It was as if they were his brothers.

"You got any bright ideas?"

"There's something else."

"What do you mean, boy?"

"I had no reason to tell you."

"Tell me what? Spit it out."

"I've managed to hold it in."

"Hold what in? What is up?"

"The moon is—and I am on the hunt, " Devin said, flashing his Wulfmoon eyes—sending the old man reeling.

Cadence opened his door—tumbling out onto the shoulder. Devin had not meant to frighten him. He had been keeping his Wulf in check so far without sweat—but now that danger loomed—he knew it was best to let the lunar forces have their sway on his soul—for both their sorry sakes.

"Wait--it's still me, " he growled, even as fur ran over his skin—fangs ripped out of his mouth—ears grew pointed—suit tore away from his body—and frame bulked in the cab of the truck so he barely fit.

Cadence didn't know whether to look back or forward.

The star-spawned Devilbillies were now headed back toward them—cautiously, yet confidently—coming on ready to rip up a fray.

Devin crawled across to the driver's seat and leapt out onto the ground, landing before Cadence, who scrambled backward, away from the monstrous Wulf into which the hitchhiker had suddenly transformed.

Devin roared at the full moon—fully alerting the Devilbillies to his presence—but also sending a clear signal to them that he was no prey.

Cadence ran across the road into the woods. The Devilbillies split up—one chasing Cadence—one approaching Devin, slowly circling in.

Devin drooled--lowering to all fours before the Devilbilly.

'[We are the Sons of Dogstar, ]' it said. '[We have come for the human. We have no interest in engaging the likes of you—Wulfchilde, ]' but Devin did not understand their words—although he still felt connected to them--sensing it at a gut level—underlying intuition.

"Take me then, if you dare, dark one, " Devin snarled, frothing at the mouth—panting on the promise of a fresh pounce.

"The human does not die on my watch."

The Devilbilly suddenly struck forward, lowering its horns to Devin's chest—who grabbed them with two fists and twisted it down.

He pinned the black beast to the ground, slashing at its scaly midriff--as its razor-edged legs scissored violently into his abdomen.

Devin unlocked his jaw and clamped it around the Devilbilly's neck. The thing cried out as he crushed the air from its voice-box. It pulled its Sungun and fired three bursts into Devin's furry chest—blasting him back.

Devin recovered himself on the road—eyes set like hell-makers on the target at hand—the only obstacle between him and helping Cadence.

He charged it square on in a flurry of legs flying front and back.

The Devilbilly fired three more Sunblasts—but then got its legs under it and sprinted toward the wood—clearly shaken despite its armed upper hand. Devin shrank into wolf form—in order to gain ground on the quicksilver creature—but although he was swifter this way, he was also more vulnerable as a quadruped—with less height for leverage, strength and sight.

He bounded up on the thing just beyond the timbered fringe—when it spun around and fired again—striking him down into the brush and stone.

He reverted to his human form, as Devilbilly hovered over him.

He looked up at it helplessly—once again sensing the blood tie.

'[My Sungun was only set to stun, Wulfchilde. You will recover in short time—but not quick enough to save your friend, I'm afraid, ]' it said. '[My advice is take cover here in the woods for the weeks ahead—because your planet is about to fall into a very b

ad way--very shortly. Just watch for the lights in the sky. When the clouds look like they are crawling in bugs—then you know we have arrived. Stay here—in your were form—where no one will find you. Otherwise, you will be killed—for the Snakequeen Devildoe does not tolerate survivors—even if you do wield the force of Sirius.]'

Devin watched as the Devilbilly faded away into the forest.

He closed eyes--praying for Cadence—counting the seconds.

Meanwhile, Cadence plunged through the bush, stumbling headlong over shrub and sapling--angling dexterously—desperately--between crooked trunks—over jagged rocks and river nooks—not stopping for anything--not even a glance back—not even one curious eyeful of the foulness afoot.

But the Devilbilly followed nevertheless—closing the gap between them effortlessly. Cadence's human legs were simply no match for its lightning limbs. His agility held no candle to the thing's mercurial gait between the trees. Cadence came to a cliff-face and desperately flung himself at the tree roots that jutted out up its mid-section to the high ridge. He climbed for his life, despite thorn in face and mud slipping out from under sole.

The Devilbilly, however, mounted the rise like gravity was inapplicable to it—and before Cadence could counter, it grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and yanked him up the rest of the way—where it held him.

Cadence struggled to get free—but the Devilbilly's grip was inexplicably tight, for forces on its planet were much stronger than Earth—so while here, it enjoyed powers beyond those it normally possessed.

"GET OFF ME YOU MONSTER!" Cadence cursed and spat, reaching for his gun—but the thing was on to him in a flash. He held Cadence's right hand down and then smashed it with a nearby rock. Cadence wailed like a dying coyote—nearly passing out—when the thing grabbed his other hand, apparently to do the same. Then through the pain, memory of Claudia flooded back to him—and the moment froze into flashback.

Cadence saw his daughter standing there in the cornfield, when the lightning storm was beginning—and the clouds parted like rings of the river ebbing out—when the giant spider ship descended from the skies—suspended by a pervasive electric field that crackled through the firmament.

He remembered running toward her, screaming for her to get down and out of sight. His eyes seemed to defy him, delivering this vision of an otherworldly craft—but his instincts to protect Claudia kicked in nevertheless--yet his intent ran aground when she began to trot toward him—instead of ducking for cover. The ship veered directly over her—and two Devilbillies alighted on giant black winged goats—flying down through the stormy night air. Their eyes sucked up what light the night unleashed—as they zeroed in on Claudia—each hellbent on snatching her up in its claws.

Cadence would come to mostly block out these memories. He would not tell the police of what he saw, for it was too strange. He was too sure they would call him crazy and send him in for a brain exam. So he held it back—only ever informing Elena of what really happened that night.

Over time--he heard Claudia's cries less and less. The visions of her stumbling away from the Devilbilly—and then being quickly pounced upon—began to fade. The sight of her reaching out to him--as she was stolen skyward—began to draw back from his mind. Through the years, the replays grew fewer and fewer—of how he fell to his knees, unbuckling his night jacket—jamming his hand into his holster--flipping the latch—spinning the chamber—counting three bullets left—aiming, firing twice.

He would forget how the first bullet just grazed the lead Devilbilly—how the goatman recoiled, but his Goatsteed landed safely. It decreasingly resurfaced--how the other Devilbilly landed just when his second bullet struck it in the chest—how it fell back off its Goatsteed--and there seemed to be hope yet. The snapshot would fade—of when he shot the third round, in squinted precision--tapping cosmic font to make one time count.

His dreams would no longer wake him in the night—seeing the bullet's pointed tip scorching through the air, slamming the remaining Devilbilly directly between the eyes—felling it like a tree in timber, so that it toppled off its Goatsteed--landing on its back staring up at the stormy skies—as its deep black orbs rolled back into its head--and it shortly died.

But for many years, the memory would stay, of how Claudia had tripped and fallen—hurting her ankle. For the moment he thought she was safe—and in a deluge of relief he believed she had been spared her life.

Yet then, to his sinking horror--and the dawning specter of the rest of his forlorn and mournful existence over the matter—the second Devilbilly stood up again--staggering, but not mortally wounded--for like all its brethren, it had two hearts—and on Earth, one was enough to keep going.

So it stalked on—hunting helpless Claudia—who was unable to move due to twisted joint and paralyzing terror—while Cadence was all empty on ammo and hope. He watched as the Devilbilly enfolded Claudia in its arms--fetching her away to the skies—firing up to the Arachnicraft.

Cadence ran underneath, futilely waving his arms—but the ship was soon gone—leaving him thunderstruck under the lightning—leaves lifting up all around him in the gusty tumult—consciousness reeling at the loss.

He snapped out of the memory just in time to pull his gun with his good hand and squeeze two calculated shots into the Devilbilly's hearts.

He had learned his lesson long ago—and now served payback.

The Devilbilly fell upon him—leaving him breathless but alive.

Devin lost count around the twenty minute mark—when the stun wore off and he sprang to his feet again—but the moon was hidden now.

He started to look for a clearing where the satellite might be brighter—but the clouds were growing heavier with every second—shrouding the heavenly body from the naked eye—behind a canopy of thunderheads.

This far from New London, it was not enough for there to be a full moon—but he needed to see it. He needed to feel it on his face to tap the need to feed. The heavenly vibes were not coming through strong enough.

So he was stuck in human form for the moment—unsure of his next best move—when he heard branches snapping through the limbs. He looked to see the Devilbilly stepping up, through the long grass—across the open way toward him. He dropped to one knee—bowing his head—saving the last of his energy for the impending melee—however outmatched he now remained—for he was never one to give up before the last star fell.

'[Look at you now, Wulfchilde—not so powerful without your cratered muse. I see now you are no pure dog—but some strange mixed breed. You had me fooled—terran shapeshifter. Now DIE!!!']

But just as the Devilbilly summoned its lightning scythe—in order to slice Devin down and reap his soul from the plane of this backwater planet—the clouds began to thin out again—and Devin's Wulf returned.

Devilbilly swung—Devin ducked and charged—the dark beast fell—and the two of them battled about in the grass for a grim bout—until all motion settled—and Devin arose, blood streaming from his maw, having just ripped out the creature's neck with his teeth. Its blood burgeoned in his veins—its tendons burst from the sides of his mouth. Now their taste was on his tongue—and now he was on the hunt. He could only describe the flavor of their life-force as that of moon entrails and starblood. It was already addicting him—for he was craving another feast immediately, even in the aftermath of the gorge. He shrunk down to wolf again and padded the wood bed, sniffing for signs of Cadence or the other Devilbilly.

Finally he came across some very old scents that yet held the promise of growing stronger the longer that he wandered west.

He came upon Cadence dragging the Devilbilly behind him—looking like Hell himself—but at least blessed to look half-alive.

Devin reverted to his human skin and walked up.

"Thought I'd pull it out to the road for the world to see, " Cadence said—face twitching between grins and teeth-gritting grimaces. He had wrapped his broken hand in a tear off his shirt. It hurt white hot, but he could still manipulate it in small ways by ignoring the searing pain.

"If more are coming, as I heard them say, Earth is in dire trouble, " Devin said. "We need to warn the planet. This is going to be ugly."

Cadence nodded. "I dare say Armageddon is upon us."

He paused for a moment in deep thought before going on. He owed it to Claudia to stop the Devilbillies if it was the last thing he ever did.

"Why do you think they came back here out of everywhere?"

"They likely prefer the pervading ley lines in these parts."

"What do you think they want? Why return now? For what?"

Devin rubbed his chin in contemplation. "It seems to coincide with Comet Leonid—and a handful of other cosmic alignments. Perhaps they traveled here in Leonid's wake—or maybe the comet is a ship in disguise."

"I saw one of their ships the night they took Claudia—and there were others off in the distance—all of different insect shapes. It was so surreal, bizarre—grotesque … soul-changing. I felt sick deep in my spirit just from beholding them—hearing their distant buzz. My body went cold and shivered violently. I swore I would never go outdoors at night again."

They stared up into the sky together—equally aghast at it all.

Cadence looked at Devin closer now. "What happened to you?"

"Devilbilly almost got me. I thought you were a goner for sure."

Cadence laughed. "Guess you underestimated the old man, boy."

"I suppose, but don't get cocky—we still have to deal with Gavin—and all by himself he's as much to worry about as a fleet of aliens. He's evil incarnate. He's the purest malice. Let your guard down and you will die."

Cadence nodded. "I'll follow your lead son, you're the damn Wulf. I'm just a geezer with a gun and a good eye. But I got your back. This time yesterday I would have guffawed at the thought of being in league with a dog monster chasing a demon who stole his bitch—but that's life I guess."

"That's only the surface, old man. Wait until you see the abyss."

"One league at a time, my friend, " he said—patting Devin's back.

They walked out of the wood together. Devin carried the dead Devilbilly over his shoulders—then dumped it at the side of the road. They climbed back into the long hauler and headed further on—glad to leave that detour behind them, on a night that would never let up on insane full moon interludes—perhaps due to the fact that galactic shift was on their doorstep—maybe because of the strange influences of Gavin throwing mischief in their way—possibly due to mere chance or coincidence—but neither of them could believe the episodes they endured were random—for they were far too impossible in odds to be anything but the work of divine, meddling fingers.

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