It dawned on my late last night that I had forgotten to schedule the next bit of Night Hunts. My apologies. Here is the conclusion of Night Hunts
Rodriquez has suddenly found himself in wolf form before he was ready. Afraid and confused, he is fleeing and leaving bodies in his wake. Can he break the spell before his hunters catch up?
Winnie glanced around the Magus’ office at the people gathered there. “We do have some new information. There was another park death last night, in Two Creeks Trail Area. So far the papers seem to be keeping quiet about it, but it appears to match the pattern of the previous two deaths.”
Jim leaned back in his seat and sighed. “What does that tell us?”
“That he has spread out?” Star suggested.
“No. It means that he is trapped in wolf form, and running scared,” Robin corrected her friend.
“Huh?” One of the twins looked around puzzled.
“How’d you get that?”
Robin stood up and walked over to the map hung on the wall for this meeting. “The thing about most of these amulets of transformation is that they tend to “bite” back if used wrong, or too much.” She tapped on the spot indicating the death in Scott’s Run Nature Preserve. “This is where we see a very sudden change in M.O. The body was left pretty much intact.”
“Which is what led the police and the papers to think there are two dogs,” Jeff quietly added.
“Right, but they do not have our information.”
“Do we know that it’s the same person, or dog?” Star asked.
“We have, as they say, reason to believe,” Robin smiled. “After this point,” she turned back to the map, “we see a marked change in the territory. All previous deaths, as well as having had mutilated bodies, were east of Loudoun County. Now, we have several deaths in Loudoun, the bodies are still dressed and are less mutilated. Based on some of my research into the Amulets of Transformation, it can be assumed that the amulet the perp stole has been abused. According to the information, once one of these Amulets is abused, or over used, that person is transformed and is unable change back. Or in the case of one already transformed prior to the spillage, they are simply trapped.”
“Only trapped?” James sniggered.
Robin shot a quick glance in his direction then continued. “A common fallacy among those who would abuse the powers is that if you spill enough “innocent” blood, you can then reverse the transformation.”
“That would explain three deaths within three days, since the previous murders were spaced out more.” Winnie nodded.
“It also has never been known to work,” Robin finished.
“Notice, also,” Jim stepped up next to Robin, “the path our killer appears to be taking. The first of the latest string of deaths happened at Fairfax Lakes, the next was at Claude Moore, and this last was at Two Creeks Trail. If you have paid attention, you will have noticed that this strip of “Parks” are roughly interconnected by the Washington and Old Dominion Trail.”
“So, what is west of Loudoun County?”
“The mountains.” Winnie quickly provided. “If he changes course, and heads a bit more southwest, he could make it to the Appalachian Trial and have free access north or south.”
“You think he is headed there?” Star looked at the map.
“Yes, I do. He’s been staying close to the Washington and Old Dominion Trail, but that ends in Purcellville, after that he’ll have to cross a several miles of open land and suburban community to complete the journey.”
“That puts him out in the open where people can see him.”
“By this point, I don’t think he cares.” Jim turned and looked back at his team. “Guys, I want you and Winnie to go to the scene of the last few deaths. We need to confirm beyond a reasonable doubt that this is the same person. Robin, I want you and Star to dig into whatever resources you can come up with and find me a way to break the transformation. Preferable method would be without killing him. It would be better to let the Mundanes handle him.”
“Like they would believe how the murders were committed.”
Jim opted to ignore the wise-crack from one of the twins. “If there are no more questions, let’s get going. All of you know the procedure for relaying messages.”
One by one the members of his team nodded, stood up, and walked out of the mountain cabin.
“It’s the same, Winnie,” one of the twins shook his head. “Exactly the same readings as the last scene. And the one at the professor’s home.”
“You’re sure? No doubts.”
“I am. Don’t even need to trance here. The energies are still strong.” He glanced over at his brother and received a nod. “It’s the same person doing the killings. We wouldn’t go so far as to say that he has done all of the killings, but unquestionably the same person who committed these murders killed Professor Jacques.”
“Then that’s all we need to know.”
“Good.” The other half of the trance team looked at the paling sky. “I would like to get home to my wife before I have to go to work.”
“Hey, Robin, what’re we looking for?” Star looked up from the books in her lap and stretched against the back of Robin’s chair. “I mean, we’ve been at this for hours, and have found nothing. And, I would like to spend some time with Gabe tonight.
“It’s hard to give specifics. We are trying to find some way to break this transformation. It could be a simple cantrip, an incantation, or require a full ritual. These books,” Robin waved a hand towards the small pile on her desk, “have some types of transformations spells that we need to check. These spells have counters to them; otherwise the person using them would be as trapped as our Mr. Rodrigues. And so far, I’ve yet to see anything suggesting that Absarka really works.”
Star giggled softly at the obscure reference and looked back at her book one finger twining a lock of hair round and round. “Well, all I am finding is the usual gloom and doom associated with werewolf. No suggestions on changing them back, except for killin’ them.”
“That may be our only alternative,” Robin sighed. “Or, it may be that I simply do not have the right book.”
Thad looked up from his paperwork and hit the record button on the remote as “America’s Most Wanted” began. He may have had something currently occupying his mind and attention at the moment, but that did not mean that he was going to miss the show. After all, one never knew who was going to be on the show; it might be someone he knew. Spread out on the coffee table in front of him was clippings from the newspapers, a few departmental reports, and an area map. Markings on that map showed the locations of all of the recent “Killer Dogs” attacks along with the date and approximate time of attack. Peeking out from under the map was the upper corner of an old leather bound book. He picked up a copy of the most recent departmental reports and studied it. Unlike most of the others, this one had nothing to do with killings of any type. Rather, it referred to a loose dog in the area of WO&D bikeway, in the general area of Claude Moore Park. The dog was described as rather large, greyish in color, and looked as if it did not have tags. The complainant had claimed that the animal had tried to attack her when she attempted to approach the apparently lost dog. There was a second report of a stray dog, with a similar description, that had attacked a child, but had run away when the father charged the animal. This report had the animal located a few miles northeast of Fairfax Lakes Park. So far Animal Control had been unable to locate the dog in question.
Picking up his pencil, Thad drew a line connecting the two locations, noting that the path almost exactly connected the sites of two of the last three deaths and followed very close to the WO&D. On a whim, he dragged the pencil tip westward, following the bikeway to Purcellville, where it ended. To the west of that was the Shenandoah Mountains, beyond that ridge line was Winchester and access to the Appalachian Trail. Between that last reported sighting and Winchester lay over a dozen miles of open land with a couple of small towns, if he followed Route 7, and possibly hundreds of civilians, any one of whom could be the next victim. If he turned southwest, he could reach the Shenandoah River and follow it deeper into the Shenandoah Mountains, with its campgrounds and parks. If Rodrigues were allowed to reach either, the reign of death would continue, and the Amulet would probably be lost forever.
‘He’s running scared, not sure of what has happened to him. He thinks if he has time, everything will right itself. He wants to be alone, but where he can also hunt. He doesn’t appear to know the area well, so he is following obvious trails. If I were him, I’d stay close to route 7, then turn south at the river.” Thad softly mused, lifting the book from beneath the map and flipping open to the marked page. ‘Which means, he’ll have to go around Sleeter Lake. That is where he has to be stopped.’
Thad scanned the marked pages one more time, and then carefully put the book and his papers, away. He took his jacket and car keys out of the hall closet and headed out the front door. Sunset was nearing, and he wanted to be at the lake before Rodrigues was.
“Jim?” Winnie walked into the den. She paused and quietly studied the man standing next to the wall map. He was barely thirty, but his receding hair line made him look years older. That there was no grey showing in that close- cropped brown top kept him from looking too much over forty. He turned to look at her, his smile lighting even his eyes.
“Hi. Any news?”
“Uhum,” she walked over and slipped an arm around his waist. “The boys say it’s the same person that killed the professor. Wouldn’t go so far as to say that it has been the same person all along, but implied that they believe it to be the case.”
Ducking his head a fraction, he kissed her forehead. “So, what did our other terror twosome have to say?” Winnie released Jim and stepped back a half pace to look at the map.
“That if a counter to the transformation does indeed exist; Robin does not have a book containing the spell and neither does John.”
“And, without an alternative detransformation method, we’re going to have to kill him to stop him.”
“So, what are we looking at here?” she indicated towards the pins stuck in the map.
“I expanded a bit on the other night’s observations. Each pin marks the location of one of the kills. If you look, you can see the probable course of travel.
“If I’m right, he went to ground around Paeonian Springs this morning. He’s been making roughly seven to ten miles a day; apparently hiding during the days, hunting at dusk and traveling at night. So we start here, around the Bluemont and the Snickersville areas, which should be in front of him, and work our way eastward. Pray we find him.”
“That’s a bit of ground to cover. You’re not suggesting that just the two of us attempt the search.”
“No, I intend to call in some of the others. I want to have four teams, each having a Talent and an Adept. The Tal’s I want are all ‘Paths or Clair’s. And all the Adepts can handle the binding spells.
“Now,” he turned and tapped a spot on the map, “I figure you and I can handle Stoneleigh Golf and Country Club by ourselves. At its widest point, it’s only slightly over a mile. I know for a fact that our combined ranges can exceed that distance. If he hasn’t made it that far by then, we start moving back east. The others can start from Snickersville and Telegraph and work northeast. There’s a lot of open land there, so they should be able to get clean readings. Another group can start at Charles Town and Hillsboro and work south. If no one finds him, we meet up in Purcellville and do a small grid search.”
“You are assuming that he will be sticking exclusively to the parks and open areas. He may decide to opt for the more direct course.”
“Staying out of residential areas appears to have been his pattern up till now. Pray he follows it for one more night.”
Winnie looked at the map, and did silently pray. There was no way they could hope to find him if he took the shortest path.
“Let’s get moving, babe. We’ve got about an hour and a half drive, and the sooner we get there the better our chances are to actually catching him.”
A waning crescent moon was rising as Jim and Winnie parked their car near the water treatment plant in Round Hill. The water plant put them about half way between the northern and southern ends of Sleeter Lake, on the eastern shore. Another team was on the west side while a third team was on the south side. The fourth team was north, in Round Hill proper. Jim and Winnie each grabbed a heavy maglite flashlight and a light jacket as they exited the car. Across the street, an 1850’s farmhouse showed as a dark area against the trees. Before locking the door, Jim reached back inside, pulled out his cell phone, and slipped it into the pocket of his jacket. From the trunk, he withdrew a compact, large bore firearm.
“What in the Hell is that?”
“This is a Mossberg Maverick 88 with a Bullpup conversion.”
“A Shotgun? For a Werewolf?”
“Why not? It has takedown power. Plus I took the precaution of loading each shell with almost half a roll of old silver dimes.”
“Just to be on the safe side, right?”
“You got it.”
“Okay,” Winnie shook her head slightly and started away from the car.
Jim closed the trunk lid after dropping spare shells into his jacket pocket. A few quick steps brought him alongside his partner. “Shall we get started?” She only nodded and flicked on her flashlight. A few short moments spent attuning themselves to the natural ‘feel’ of the park and the pair started walking in a southeasterly direction. The idea was to try and feel the presence of the werewolf as unnatural.
A few minutes later, as they passed a boat launch, Winnie reached out and tapped Jim’s left hand. He stopped and followed the direction of the beam of her light.
“Something, over that way.” She flicked her wrist and moved the beam a few degrees to the left.
Jim nodded and flipped off the shotgun’s safety. Their pace, already a slow walk, became more of a series of two or three short steps and a stop as they extended their senses to the limit.
The question of the source of that “something” was answered with a series of loud snarls. Following those sounds, they came out from behind a small stand of trees and saw what looked like a dog fight.
The crescent moon, and their flashlights, cast the only light. It was just enough to make out that there where at least three canines involved in the fight. The first, and most obvious, was a very large, dark animal. It easily matched the size of a Great Dane. Virtually no details could be seen; it appeared only as a shadow moving through the night. The second was smaller, had some paler areas and looked like it could be a good-sized German Shepherd. The third, the smallest of the group, was about the size of a herding dog, and was the easiest to see with a light grayish coat. This third dog was trying to defend itself against the other two. An act made difficult by the obvious size and weight difference between it and the first dog.
Jim swore softly as the shepherd dart behind the victim and made a grab at a hind leg while the Dane feigned a lunge for the shoulder region. The herder turned as the Dane passed and lunged for the bigger dog’s thoat throat. A mid-body impact from the shepherd sent the herder tumbling to the ground. Darker patches on the coat showed where the two larger dogs had managed to score. If there were any wounds on the other two, the watchers could not see them. The smaller animal scrambled to its feet and dodged out of the path of the shepherd as it made a straight in charge. The watchers looked on as the larger dog moved up behind the herder, while the shepherd kept up a series of head rushes, effectively distracting the victim from any activities to the rear. Too late it realized that one of its two opponents was missing. It tried to turn out of the way, to avoid the worst of the anticipated attack, but was unable to move fast enough. A blind side dive for the neck connected. The Dane managed to grab hold of the back of the neck along with part of the shoulder. Using its larger frame and mass it hauled the smaller animal off its feet and drug it backward shaking it. The shepherd unexpectedly backed off, letting the first dog continue the attack undisturbed. When the Dane finally dropped the other dog, it lay limp for a moment then tried to stand up. It only managed to push the upper body part way erect, the left shoulder badly drooping. A glimmer of white suggested that it had somehow managed to find the strength to bare its fangs and growl at its attackers. An act of bravery, or stupidity, that was essentially useless. The Dane allowed it to straighten up only a bit more then lunged for the throat. A strangled yelp told that this time the attack was successful. The struggles ceased within seconds.
Jim and Winnie were trying to understand exactly what they had seen when the Dane turned and looked at them. Seeing the sudden, direct, attention from an animal that he had just seen kill caused Jim to bring his Bull-Pup up in line with the dog. He was too far away to read the animal, or let it know that they were not a threat. For several heartbeats, he stared into the dark face. In the dim moonlight, all he could see was a black face and yellow glowing eyes. But he could tell that, despite the frame size and apparent mass, this was no Dane gone rogue. This was something far more deadly. It reminded him of old Nordic legends that spoke of a Great Wolf.
Neither party moved for several seconds. Man and beast staring at each other until the shepherd let out a soft bark that distracted the monster canid. With eye contact broken, Jim looked over at Winnie. She also had noticed that the dog had been watching them. But she was not watching it; she was looking at the body of the victim. Jim looked to see what had attracted her attention. The body lying there was not that of a dog, but rather one of a man. Surprised, Jim turned to look at the dog that had killed the werewolf. Both it and the shepherd were gone.
Jim slowly walked over to the body. The throat of the body was torn out, leaving part of the spine visible. A large puddle soaking into the ground told him that most, if not all, of the victims blood was drained from the body. After a pause to study the face in the light beam, it became obvious that it was their werewolf, Rodrigues.
Winnie walked up and looked over Jim’s shoulder. “He’s dead, Jim.”
“So, what do we do now?”
“I’d suggest we, as they say, remove the evidence.”
“Why? Why not simply leave him here? Be a lot less trouble.”
“Uhun, we have enough unexplained deaths in the area right now. Do we really want another one? Especially one that does not fit the M.O. of the previous “killer dog” deaths.”
“Okay, so what do you suggest?”
“Load him into the trunk, take him up to the back country, and bury him.”
Winnie looked at him for a long moment then decided that he was not kidding. “You really want to carry this,” she pointed at the near headless body, “to your car and put it in the trunk.”
“I’ve got a gut bag in the trunk. We can put him in that.”
“Okay. You can go get that bag, cause if you think I am going to help you carry that thing exposed all the way to the car, you are out of your mind. In the mean time, I’ll see if I can find the Amulet.”
Jim nodded, turned and set off at a trot for the car. He returned a few minutes later carrying the bag in place of the shot-gun.
“Nada. Hard to really see right now though. You think that other “dog” swallowed it?”
“I doubt it, but anything is possible. I’ll have Robin and one of our other Clairs come in and have them go over this area just to make sure. I don’t want to take any chances.”
Once they had the body loaded into the bag, and the bag zipped, Jim placed the call. A brief conversation later he closed his cell phone and looked at Winnie.
“Robin said she should be here in a little while, the others will be here in slightly less than an hour.”
“It’s going to be a long night,” Winnie sighed.
Several weeks passed with no more attacks in the local parks. No one had been able to locate the dog, or anyone who knew what might have happened to end the attacks.
Thad quietly slipped through the trees of Prince William Forest. He was off duty, so the night was his. And he intended to have some fun, as soon as he took care of a little business. Spying the one he sought, he altered his course a fraction and slowed to a trot. Coming up to the County Councilman, he silently nodded his head in a deferential greeting.
“You have the item?” Thad nodded and turned over the Amulet he was carrying. “Good work.”
“I had a little help.”
“No,” he shook his head, “I have good reason to believe that everything was taken care of. There were others hunting him, apparently.”
“Did they see you?”
“From a distance, too far to really see anything, and they didn’t seem inclined to follow. My only concern is that one of them was a cousin.”
“We’ll look into it,” the councilman nodded, dismissing him.
“If I may?”
“What happens now?”
“We have a new Guardian waiting in Mexico. A courier is coming to take the Amulet to him. He should be arriving soon.”
“Good. I am glad that it will not be in our area any longer. Too many have learned of its existence.” Thad nodded once again to the councilman then started to turn away. Pausing, he looked up at the full moon, took a deep breath, feeling and smelling the air, and glanced back over his shoulder. “It’s a good night for a hunt.”
The end … for now. Night Hunts was originally written to expand on the universe of the Collegium. By the time it done some of the characters had started to take on real personalities, just as Robin and Star did when we started the 4 Winds stories. Thad has informed me that he does not intend to now return to the shadows. So he, and one of two other members of his pack, will be returning – I just don’t know when.
Thank you for reading. To paraphrase Red Skelton, if I have provided some small bit of entertainment, then I have done my job.
If you are so inclined, let me know what you thought. 🙂