Chapter 9:

Human IV

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.Bookmark here

Lord Viktor had his own theories about this, though he only confided with Felix on this.Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

There wasn't a lot left, he added silently, or so Felix interpreted the sigh that followed.Bookmark here

"How many knights will come? What did the letter say?"Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

"So you told me, yes."Bookmark here

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...Bookmark here

Felix wondered how he could stay so calm in all of this.Bookmark here

He sent troops into the forest every day, but all they found were dead animals.Bookmark here

The beasts must've chased them farther away, though Felix doubted a one-legged boy and a delicate girl would survive in the wild.Bookmark here

Those thoughts he kept to himself, however.Bookmark here

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The guards didn't arrive that day.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

He noticed that their swords were bloody.Bookmark here

"Bandits?" he asked, bowing to the most important-looking man.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

This wasn't how he had envisioned the royal guards.Bookmark here

"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?"Bookmark here

"We don't know if it was the first one, but two full moons ago, it was alone, yes," Lord Viktor confirmed, looking frustrated.Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

"Is there a chance of us traveling until the full moon?" Felix asked, head still low.Bookmark here

"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.Bookmark here

If he was anyone but the captain of the royal guards, Felix would've drawn his sword.Bookmark here

"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.Bookmark here

The captain didn't seem to detect a lie, so he nodded.Bookmark here

"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?"Bookmark here

"Sir, yes, sir!"Bookmark here

"Let's go."Bookmark here

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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.Bookmark here

"How does King Gordan fare?" Lord Viktor asked one night.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

"Is his family well?"Bookmark here

"Their well-being is ensured, rest assured."Bookmark here

"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!"Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

He pretended to go to the toilet.Bookmark here

If he concentrated hard enough, he would probably get something out... not that it mattered.Bookmark here

"Sir Harry, if you would-"Bookmark here

"Please, I am also a knight," Felix interrupted, getting irritated. "I can defend myself."Bookmark here

Sir Arthur's gaze said it all.Bookmark here

That's not why we're sending a knight after you.Bookmark here

Nonetheless, he nodded.Bookmark here

"Alright."Bookmark here

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...Bookmark here

Crunch. Crunch.Bookmark here

Steps behind him.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

One of his hands was on his sword.Bookmark here

Felix rolled his eyes, hiding behind a tree.Bookmark here

He had been through this very same routine many times, already.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

After a moment of conflict, he went right, putting even more distance between him and Felix.Bookmark here

Felix heaved a sigh of relief.Bookmark here

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...Bookmark here

It was a corpse, and one he recognized...Bookmark here

"Tom...?"Bookmark here

What was little Tom doing out here? What was his corpse doing out here?Bookmark 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.Bookmark here

He died some time ago.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Or the guards...Bookmark here

Though he suspected that bandits weren't the biggest threat to his Lord's life at the moment.Bookmark here

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It was about a week until the next full moon.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Among others.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Then again, they worked against horses, too, and combined with the superior man-power and training of the capital soldiers, he had high expectations.Bookmark here

The capital would hold out against an all-out assault of the beasts, no doubt!Bookmark here

It was far away from the previous outbreak, too, so the closer forts would be overrun first.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

The King would meet with them later that day, so he had a while to relax, still.Bookmark here

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"Let me show you to your quarters," Sir Arthur said, leading Felix and an exhausted Lord Viktor through the castle.Bookmark here

Felix wondered whether he would sleep with the other knights.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

There were even more rooms down here, though Felix wondered why that was.Bookmark here

Maybe the visitors were safe from robbers down here, or something. He pondered the issue as they went past even these rooms.Bookmark here

He first knew that something was wrong when bars started to separate them from the interior of the rooms.Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

He nodded to himself as if justifying this behavior.Bookmark here

"What do you mean by that?" Lord Viktor demanded.Bookmark here

Sir Arthur ignored him.Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

It was a beautiful room for a prison cell, Felix noted.Bookmark here

"Don't give him your weapon!" Lord Viktor squeaked with a high-pitched voice.Bookmark here

"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.Bookmark here

"My Lord, we should better listen for now," Felix advised, handing his weapon over.Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

The last Felix ever saw of his Lord was his back as he was being led away.Bookmark here

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Late that evening, the King arrived.Bookmark here

He walked gracefully, his coat barely floating above the ground, not getting dirty. They came from the direction of Lord Viktor's cell.Bookmark here

"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?"Bookmark here

Felix decided that he would tell King Gordan the truth about everything.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

"The next morning, many were dead, and even more crippled. It was a massacre," Felix finished.Bookmark here

King Gordan waited for the quill-wielding man to finish with his notes, then continued the interrogation.Bookmark here

"What was the damage to the castle? How did solid stone do against the brutality of the wild?"Bookmark here

"Not very good, your majesty. It easily..."Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

All of this was about the first attack.Bookmark here

"Hmm... and you said that both attacks happened on a full moon?"Bookmark here

"Yes, your majesty."Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

He didn't sound very sincere.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

"It all started with this strange nightmare-"Bookmark here

"Nightmare?" the King confirmed.Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

"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.Bookmark here

"Yes, I just hope that they survived the attacks," Felix said.Bookmark here

"And every location you sent soldiers to was attacked?"Bookmark here

"Undoubtedly, your majesty."Bookmark here

"..." 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."Bookmark here

"Thank you, your majesty."Bookmark here

Like that, Felix's first meeting with the King was over.Bookmark here

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During the following week, the King, Sir Arthur, and other random people came by very frequently, asking questions and talking with Felix.Bookmark here

He was glad for the distraction.Bookmark here

Life behind these bars, though comfortable, still restricted his movements. They wouldn't even let him out for a walk or anything.Bookmark here

It was terrible.Bookmark here

On the day before the full moon, the King informed him that shackling his limbs and restricting his movements were necessary.Bookmark here

Felix didn't resist.Bookmark here

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...Bookmark here

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At some point, he had fallen asleep.Bookmark here

The nightmare was back, more vivid than even the last time.Bookmark here

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...Bookmark here

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.
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Felix threw his body against the bars, but they wouldn't budge.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

It sounded sad, angry, in pain...Bookmark here

At some point, it stopped...Bookmark here

The beast saw only red as it fought against its confinement.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.