The Aliens They Summoned
Lord Viktor and Felix stood outside the castle gates, waiting for the royal guards to arrive. A few days ago, they had gotten a letter stating that the royal guards were on their way, though it didn't explain why.
Lord Viktor had his own theories about this, though he only confided with Felix on this.
"I believe that they want to judge whether or not this forest truly houses the beasts we encountered. To think that the king would send his royal knights to my castle one day... I wish we would have more to present."
There wasn't a lot left, he added silently, or so Felix interpreted the sigh that followed.
"How many knights will come? What did the letter say?"
A letter from the king may only be opened by the one it is addressed to. Not even the close adversaries of the Lords and Ladies may look inside. The King would execute them for this. That was just how secret the information inside a king's letter was.
"A hundred or more," Lord Viktor said, scratching his chin. "At least that's how many will stay. As I told you, the king wants us at his castle. We will depart immediately with a portion of the royal guard."
"So you told me, yes."
To honor their importance, they had been out here, waiting for their arrival since the sun rose. They didn't have a lot to take with them, and Lord Viktor's family had yet to be found...
Felix wondered how he could stay so calm in all of this.
He sent troops into the forest every day, but all they found were dead animals.
The beasts must've chased them farther away, though Felix doubted a one-legged boy and a delicate girl would survive in the wild.
Those thoughts he kept to himself, however.
The guards didn't arrive that day.
It took them a week longer until they arrived. The sun was high in the sky, and Felix sweated in his armor, but his Lord wasn't complaining, so neither was he.
He noticed that their swords were bloody.
"Bandits?" he asked, bowing to the most important-looking man.
His armor was the most expensive. Felix recognized the details on his chest plate and the fancy engravings on his shoulder pads, but what surprised him most is that his armor was dented all over, as well as dirty.
This wasn't how he had envisioned the royal guards.
"Yes, bandits," he said with an air of confidence, quickly moving on to Lord Viktor. They shook hands. "The first beast raged through this place, right?"
"We don't know if it was the first one, but two full moons ago, it was alone, yes," Lord Viktor confirmed, looking frustrated.
"I understand," the man said, bowing his head so little, he could've been nodding, too. "My name is Sir Arthur Samra, the captain of the royal guards. King Gordan wants to see you, and I will escort you back. We must make haste so that I can stand back at his side as soon as possible."
"Is there a chance of us traveling until the full moon?" Felix asked, head still low.
"Not if we don't get swarmed by more bandits. Maybe the beasts drove them out of hiding," Sir Arthur suggested, tilting his head. "Is this knight the only one of strategic significance?" he confirmed, talking down to Lord Viktor.
If he was anyone but the captain of the royal guards, Felix would've drawn his sword.
"Most of my knights and guards were killed during the first attack. I only conspired with Sir Felix from then on," he explained, bowing to Sir Arthur.
The captain didn't seem to detect a lie, so he nodded.
"Great, then let's depart immediately. We have a few miles ahead of us. MEN! INVESTIGATE THE CASTLE AND TREAT THE INJURED! THESE FORESTS MAY NOT BE SAFE, SO BE ON YOUR GUARD! UNDERSTOOD?"
"Sir, yes, sir!"
They traveled day and night as if they were running away from something. Judging from the look on Sir Arthur's face during the night, it was more the worry of a sudden full moon, though the lunar cycle didn't come with any surprises.
"How does King Gordan fare?" Lord Viktor asked one night.
They were resting at the campsite the royal knights had prepared, and it was eerily quiet. Felix sat by his side, not daring to make conversation. It was like his insight was unwanted.
"His majesty the king has nothing to complain about, as the royal staff makes sure that his every wish is granted," Sir Arthur answered, poking a skinned rabbit over the fire. "Him asking us to bring you to him is just another one of those wishes."
"Is his family well?"
"Their well-being is ensured, rest assured."
"I thought the same before the attack on my castle," Lord Viktor admitted, hanging his head. Felix knew where this conversation was going, though he couldn't help but notice how every knight in the vicinity suddenly perked up. Their expressions had changed. "It was a tragedy. Neither my guards nor those of my children, assisted by knights, could slay the beast. Even Sir Walter fell... Oh, Tom! Sarah! My sweet Helga!"
"My Lord, I'm sure our people will find them," Felix said, rubbing Lord Viktor's back. He should really change the topic... though he wouldn't be able to, the knight suspected. The royal guards tried to hide their interest, though they failed miserably. What they didn't fail at conveying was their annoyance with his presence. Sir Arthur had even asked for more people with insight into the affairs of Lord Viktor, how could they act like this? Felix sighed. He knew when his presence was undesirable. Even Lord Viktor had that air about him some times... this 'leave me alone' tension Felix didn't like very much. Between the sobs and convulsions of his Lord, Felix soothed him with meaningless assurances and unproven statements, until he was back to his old self. With a cough, he stood up. "Excuse me, my Lord. Gentlemen."
He pretended to go to the toilet.
If he concentrated hard enough, he would probably get something out... not that it mattered.
"Sir Harry, if you would-"
"Please, I am also a knight," Felix interrupted, getting irritated. "I can defend myself."
Sir Arthur's gaze said it all.
That's not why we're sending a knight after you.
Nonetheless, he nodded.
Before he could change his mind, Felix disappeared into the woods. The conversation broke back out behind him, and he already missed the warmth of the fire. He snuggled deeper into his coat and went further into the forest until the voices behind him turned to whispers, which turned to silence. He could still see the lights, so he was probably safe...
Steps behind him.
A silhouette, shaped like a triangle, approached him. The tip was shaved off and donned a lot of spiky hair, flowing in the wind... it took Felix a moment to realize that the triangle-form came to be because Sir Harry's coat was floating behind him.
He tried to be silent, but his steps were audible and the curses of having to do a meddlesome task were a dead give-away.
One of his hands was on his sword.
Felix rolled his eyes, hiding behind a tree.
He had been through this very same routine many times, already.
Sir Harry went past the tree and deeper into the forest. After a while, he looked left and right, assuming that Felix shook him off.
After a moment of conflict, he went right, putting even more distance between him and Felix.
Felix heaved a sigh of relief.
Having escaped the strange fate of being watched while relieving himself once again, his gaze fell to the ground, searching for a suitable tree... when the sparse light illuminated the outline of a hand... then an arm... then a face...
It was a corpse, and one he recognized...
What was little Tom doing out here? What was his corpse doing out here?
It looked like he only just died. His features were still clear and childish... but when Felix nudged him with his foot, he was stiff as a board.
He died some time ago.
Felix chose a different tree, then deliberated his options for a while after that. He wouldn't tell Lord Viktor, but maybe... he should tell the King.
Or the guards...
Though he suspected that bandits weren't the biggest threat to his Lord's life at the moment.
It was about a week until the next full moon.
Felix had never been to the capital before, but if any place could hold the beasts back, it would be these walls, twenty meters thick, and these soldiers, armed with bows and arrows, swords, pikes, spears, fire, shields, and crossbows.
The main attraction here were the siege weapons, catapults, ballistae, trebuchets, and oil barrels. Light those last ones on fire, and a hundred attackers would burn at the same time... though Felix wondered how useful these would be against enemies as fast as the beasts.
Then again, they worked against horses, too, and combined with the superior man-power and training of the capital soldiers, he had high expectations.
The capital would hold out against an all-out assault of the beasts, no doubt!
It was far away from the previous outbreak, too, so the closer forts would be overrun first.
Felix thought about these things as his Lord slept in a hammock in the cart. The rocking of the cart as it drove over the paving stones didn't bother him in the slightest.
The King would meet with them later that day, so he had a while to relax, still.
"Let me show you to your quarters," Sir Arthur said, leading Felix and an exhausted Lord Viktor through the castle.
Felix wondered whether he would sleep with the other knights.
He was happy for the chance of finding out how a knight slept in the King's castle, but they went past the knight's chambers, down some stairs.
There were even more rooms down here, though Felix wondered why that was.
Maybe the visitors were safe from robbers down here, or something. He pondered the issue as they went past even these rooms.
He first knew that something was wrong when bars started to separate them from the interior of the rooms.
"Uhm, what is the meaning of this?" Lord Viktor asked carefully, shifting behind Felix. Sure, Felix had a sword, but in a direct fight with the captain of the Royal Guard... "These are prison cells."
"Hm..." Sir Arthur groaned, apparently searching for the right words. "It's a precaution. A safety measure. We don't know who... what we're dealing with, after all."
He nodded to himself as if justifying this behavior.
"What do you mean by that?" Lord Viktor demanded.
Sir Arthur ignored him.
"We have prepared a cell for you ahead, Lord Viktor. This is yours, Sir Felix. I ask you to hand over your weapons first, though."
It was a beautiful room for a prison cell, Felix noted.
"Don't give him your weapon!" Lord Viktor squeaked with a high-pitched voice.
"If he can fight his way past me and out of the castle, sure, he can keep his weapons," Sir Arthur jested, stretching out his hand.
"My Lord, we should better listen for now," Felix advised, handing his weapon over.
"A wise decision, young knight. Don't panic, Lord Viktor. Your cell is prepared to meet royalty's standards. It should be to your liking."
The last Felix ever saw of his Lord was his back as he was being led away.
Late that evening, the King arrived.
He walked gracefully, his coat barely floating above the ground, not getting dirty. They came from the direction of Lord Viktor's cell.
"And you are Sir Felix?" King Gordan inquired, looking into the cell with a mix of curiosity and apprehension. "What happened during the night of the first attack?"
Felix decided that he would tell King Gordan the truth about everything.
He spoke of how the beast was suddenly there, biting everyone in sight. He talked about how their weapons did nothing to hurt the beasts, how their armor did nothing to stop it. The King's eyes lit up during the tale, and he signaled a man behind him to take notes.
"The next morning, many were dead, and even more crippled. It was a massacre," Felix finished.
King Gordan waited for the quill-wielding man to finish with his notes, then continued the interrogation.
"What was the damage to the castle? How did solid stone do against the brutality of the wild?"
"Not very good, your majesty. It easily..."
After that, the King asked many more questions. Most were on topics he had little knowledge about, like how the castle had been built and if it had been brittle. Felix could say describe how the dungeons were built, though, which seemed to make the King happy.
All of this was about the first attack.
"Hmm... and you said that both attacks happened on a full moon?"
"Yes, your majesty."
"So, how did it go the second time? Were you chased out of your castle when you couldn't escape from a single beast the first time? I am sorry for your Lord's family, though."
He didn't sound very sincere.
Felix suspected that Lord Viktor has wailed about the loss of his family during the whole interrogation of the second attack, so he had some understanding there.
"It all started with this strange nightmare-"
"Nightmare?" the King confirmed.
"Yes, we all had a dream of transforming into one of the beasts, running through the forest..." Felix shuddered. "It was so vivid, so real... it was scary."
"I'm glad you were able to get over it," the King said, glancing at the man behind him. He was taking notes at a rapid pace, now. Felix continued to tell the King about that dreadful night, about how the town had been rampaged and about how the locations around had been attacked, too. The king tilted his head when they reached that point. "Say, do you remember how many soldiers you sent to each location?" he asked.
"Yes, I just hope that they survived the attacks," Felix said.
"And every location you sent soldiers to was attacked?"
"Undoubtedly, your majesty."
"..." The King pondered some matter or another as the man behind him began to scowl. It didn't seem to come from the effort of writing, but because he realized something. The king had a similar look on his face. "I believe that's enough for today, no? Rest for tonight, Sir Felix."
"Thank you, your majesty."
Like that, Felix's first meeting with the King was over.
During the following week, the King, Sir Arthur, and other random people came by very frequently, asking questions and talking with Felix.
He was glad for the distraction.
Life behind these bars, though comfortable, still restricted his movements. They wouldn't even let him out for a walk or anything.
It was terrible.
On the day before the full moon, the King informed him that shackling his limbs and restricting his movements were necessary.
Felix didn't resist.
On the eve of the seventh night, he looked out the window, dreading the rise of the full moon. He prayed for whatever place had to deal with the beasts tonight...
At some point, he had fallen asleep.
The nightmare was back, more vivid than even the last time.
He transformed into an ugly beast, furred and gigantic. The beast was angry at being imprisoned, and there was so much human flesh to bite around him...
It fought against the shackled, so tight around its wrists, its feet, its torso... With reckless abandon, it bit, ripped, smashed it against the walls, until they finally broke.
Felix threw his body against the bars, but they wouldn't budge.
Rage filled every pore of his body as he scratched and thrashed and raged, but to no avail. He howled at the moon, and somewhere in the castle, another beast answered.
It sounded sad, angry, in pain...
At some point, it stopped...
The beast saw only red as it fought against its confinement.