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Hidden Moon (Chapter 35)

I hit the speed dial for every phone Grace owned with one hand as I drove hell-bent with the other.

"She's on patrol," said her dispatcher.

I reached voice mail on both her home and cell phones.

"Meet me at the lake," I said. I left out the part about the ruvanush. Time enough to explain that when she arrived.

Malachi's people had been calling him werewolf right under our noses. Not that anyone would know what the heck it meant, or bother to find out.

Until me.

What would he say when I confronted him? For all I knew, he followed the path of the strigoi de lup and killed anyone who knew the truth.

Except why hadn't he killed me? From what I'd read online and heard from Doc, werewolves were evil. They were unable, or perhaps unwilling, to keep their murderous natures at bay. Yet Malachi had been nothing but gentle and patient with me. He'd never hurt me; in fact, he'd healed me.

If he was a werewolf, how had he been able to remain in human form night after night? Unless only the approaching full moon brought out his beast. What then was the excuse of the other guys?

And how had Malachi managed to keep from burning when Grace had thrown the silver bullet at him? How was it possible that he wore a silver earring?

Either werewolf was a nickname or perhaps the test of silver was worthless.

The sun filtered through the trees, throwing dappled shadows across the front of my car and sparking blinding flashes off the windshield. When I shot over the last rut and slid into the clearing, I was left blinking as much from the reflections as the sight that greeted me.

"When they say they're leaving, they don't fool around." I got out of the car.

If it hadn't been for the trampled grass, both in the parking lot and at the base of the lake, as well as the indentations where the performance ring had been, I would have thought I'd imagined the Gypsies.

I strode back to my vehicle. They were traveling in wagons drawn by horses; they couldn't have gone far.

I reached for the door handle just as a shiver of movement appeared in the window glass. I began to turn and –

Bam! Out went the lights.

I awoke to a darkness so complete I was disoriented. The throbbing agony in my head didn't help. I lay on a cool, smooth surface. Not the ground. Not home. Where had I been? Where was I now? Who in hell had hit me?

I remained still; the pain wouldn't permit anything else. I must have slipped back into unconsciousness, because I awoke again – minutes, hours, days later, I had no idea. But I could sit up without wanting to shriek. I still couldn't see my hand in front of my face, even though I sensed the movement.

Crawling across the floor, I swept one arm out and struck something thin, metal, with a space between it and another just the same. Bars.

I shoved my arm through all the way to the shoulder and swung it around. Nothing but air.

I began to get nervous that I was not in a cage but outside of it, which would mean I was sticking my arm inside – to be torn off by Lord knew what – and I skittered back, smacking hard against a solid wall about six feet away.

Running my palms over the surface, I reached a corner and slid down another solid wall. I was inside a menagerie wagon from the feel of it, which meant there should be a door on the far side.

I managed to get to my feet, then shuffle across, arms still waving in front of me. The idea of running smack into Hogarth – in either form – almost made me go back to the corner and cringe. But I was done cringing. It felt so much better not to.

I stumbled into something and waited for the inhuman roar. Nothing happened.

Lowering myself to my knees, I reached out, then snatched my hands back.

That had felt like a body. But the skin had been warm.

Not dead then, or not dead for long.

I needed to know who it was. Biting my lip, I reached out again.

Long, silky hair, strong blade of a nose, full lips. I knew the truth even before my fingertip brushed his earring.

"Mal?" I patted his cheeks. No response.

"Mal!" I put my hand on his chest. He was breathing.

Unconscious, but how? Clocked in the head like me? He was immortal – although we hadn't really gone into details on that. Technically, "immortal" meant unkillable. It might not preclude getting knocked out.

But why had someone knocked us out and locked us in a cage? Where could we be that was large enough to house a menagerie wagon yet small enough to close off completely from any source of light?

Malachi moaned and began to move. I reached out to help, then inched back. I'd come looking for him because I'd discovered his people called him werewolf and we had a werewolf stalking our town. Now I was locked in a cage with him and the full moon was…

Well, depending on how long we'd been here, it could be full and rising any minute now.

I skittered to the far wall and listened. Groan, shuffle, curse. Still, silent, then –

"Claire?"

I didn't answer, couldn't move, tried not to breathe, but it was useless.

"I know you're here," he said quietly. "I can see pretty well in the dark."

"S-stay where y-you are." I sounded terrified, and that wasn't good. Animals sensed fear.

"How did you find out?" he asked.

"Find out what?"

"That I'm a werewolf."

I hadn't expected him to admit it. But then, he'd never behaved as I'd expected.

"Ruvanush," I said.

"Who translated for you?" ,

"Internet."

He sighed. "They've been told not to call me that, but after a few centuries, it's hard to stop. And before you, no one was around enough to notice. Before you, no one cared."

Though my chest hurt, probably from my heart breaking, anger began to trickle through the pain. Sure, I'd hoped I was wrong, that ruvanush was some sort of nickname. But it wasn't, and I had to deal with that, and with him.

"No one cared that there were people missing from their town? No one noticed that there were suddenly wolves where wolves weren't supposed to be?"

"There weren't."

"What do you mean there weren't? You haven't killed or bitten people in other places? Why is Lake Bluff special?"

"Wait a second; I haven't attacked anyone here."

"Then how do you explain werewolf tourist, werewolf Balthazar, and dead Josh?"

"It wasn't me."

"When you shift, do you even know what you've done?"

I couldn't believe I was having this conversation, but lately that happened a lot.

"I'd better explain exactly what kind of werewolf I am."

"There are kinds?"

"Hundreds. Thousands. I don't know for sure."

"You weren't made by Mengele for Hitler's werewolf army?"

I sensed a swift movement in the dark and reared back, my head smacking against the wagon wall, making me see stars in the ever-present darkness. But he hadn't moved toward me; his voice still came from the other side of the cage.

"How did you find out about that, anyway?"

"The doctor who examined Josh was in the war. He saw them."

"I've been a werewolf longer than that. Remember, I was cursed over two and a half centuries ago."

"That was true?"

"You think I lied?"

"Mal, you've been lying to me since we met." I sounded so defeated I wanted to smack myself for letting him know how much he'd hurt me.

"I didn't lie outright; I just didn't tell you everything."

"A lie just the same." I rubbed my eyes, which ached from the strain of trying to see in the dark. "Never mind that now. Finish what you started."

"I didn't go anywhere near Germany during World War Two. We traveled throughout Europe performing, but we heard about the camps, knew that others of our kind were being incarcerated and used in Mengele's sick experiments."

"Do you know how? Why?"

"We're magic, Claire. You think Mengele could construct a werewolf army without using supernatural means?"

"I don't know how he made a werewolf army at all." And I wasn't sure I wanted to.

"Lycanthropy is a virus, passed through the saliva like other viruses, which is why biting infects the victims. Although eating the flesh will only make them dead. Mengele mutated viruses and combined what he discovered with the blood of the pure Rom to create a werewolf."

"Where do people come up with this stuff?" I muttered.

"Evil people perform unbelievable atrocities. Werewolves weren't the only things Mengele made."

"What else?"

"Anything you can imagine, and a lot you couldn't. Beings that should only live in nightmares, but now they walk this Earth."

"Now?" My voice wavered.

"He released his creations before the Allies found his lab."

"Why did Mengele bother to make a werewolf? According to you, they've been around a long time. Wouldn't it have been easier to nab a few and proceed from there?"

"I don't know what he was thinking. Maybe he could exert some sort of control over the wolves he created. We'll never know since he destroyed his records."

"What happened to him?"

"Escaped Germany under a false name. Lived the rest of his life in South America. Died of a stroke in Brazil in the seventies."

"That sucks."

"You don't think he should be dead?"

"I think he should have been hung, drawn and quartered," I muttered. "Not allowed to live any kind of life. Did you ever hear any rumors about Hitler being a werewolf?"

"There were always rumors. When people are beyond evil, and they thwart many attempts to kill them, tales like that will spread."

"If you're not one of Mengele's wolves, what are you? Why doesn't silver affect you? Does silver work at all?"

"On wolves infected with the virus, yes. For me, no. I was cursed by a witch. She called on the moon to make me a beast, and I became one."

"And then?"

"I killed her."

His voice was cool, detached, terrifying coming out of a darkness so complete I could see nothing, yet he could see me.

"You said you hadn't killed anyone."

"I said I hadn't killed anyone here!"

I shivered. "You chose to be a wolf?"

"That was chosen for me."

"Why a wolf?"

"Her name was Rhiannon."

"Stevie Nicks complex?" I asked, before I remembered that this Rhiannon would have been born centuries before Stevie ever heard the name and wrote a song and twirled and twirled her skirt as she sang.

I guess it was true that in times of panic the mind goes to its happy place. Or maybe I was just so upset, I could only think in gibberish.

"She'd been named after the Celtic goddess of the moon, and she worshipped it as we did."

"I still don't see where the wolf comes in."

"Rhiannon was the Celtic counterpart of Diana and Artemis."

"I got a C in mythology."

"Goddesses of the hunt, they command the moon and the night. Patrons of the wilderness and the werewolf."

That made a little more sense.

"If I was a wolf, she thought she could control me, but – " He broke off.

"It's a little hard to control someone when you're dead."

"In truth," Malachi continued, "though she was mi'zak, wicked, she had great power. It's understandable that she might think she could control the wolves; she did command the moon."

A short bark of laughter escaped me. "She did not."

"On the night she cursed me, Rhiannon lifted her arms, and the moon went red."

"I don't understand."

"You've never seen a hidden moon?"

I suddenly recalled the card Edana had shown me – the moon flaring red, a hidden moon.

"A total eclipse," Malachi continued. "They're very rare."

I suddenly understood that Malachi hadn't just stumbled into town on a whim; he'd come here for a reason.

"What happens to you when there's a full eclipse?" I asked.

"The moon takes my soul, and I become an evil, murderous, uncontrollable beast."

"The moon can't take your soul, Malachi, any more than Rhiannon caused that eclipse. You have learned something in two hundred-odd years, haven't you?"

"I learned that on the night Rhiannon hid the moon, astronomically speaking, there shouldn't have been an eclipse."

Hmm. I didn't like the sound of that.

"The Rom believe that Alako, our god of the moon, takes our souls at death."

"You're not dead."

"I was. When she cursed me, when the moon went red as blood, life left my body, and I was reborn as a wolf."

"You're saying you can only shape-shift during a total lunar eclipse?"

"Yes."

"Then who – ?"

"I don't know!" His voice rose with frustration. "There is no wolf in my caravan. I was sentenced to be alone – the only wolf when wolves are pack creatures. Even though my people are cursed to remain with me, they're different animals, and they blame me for an

eternity of wandering. They respect me as their leader; they fear me as the ruvanush, but they hate me, too."

"Where are they?" I asked. "You said they couldn't be away from you."

"Not more than a mile or two, at most, five. As animals, they need to roam."

"What happens if they get too far away?"

"They feel as if they're walking on hot coals. Their heads ring; their chests erupt in agony. No one's tried it more than once or twice."

"If the werewolf isn't a Gypsy, then why the rune?"

"I don't know. Rebirth points to shape-shifter. The swastika brings us back to the Nazis, and since we know they were creating werewolves with the blood of the Rom…"

"It's too much of a coincidence that you all wound up here on the eve of an eclipse."

"Yes."

"Someone's up to something and we don't know what it is."

He hesitated as if he meant to say more, then sighed and merely repeated, "Yes."

"Something that has to do with you?"

"I wasn't sure, but since I woke up in a cage – "

"Probably."

He didn't bother to comment.

"You said there wasn't a cure."

"There isn't."

The lights came on with a thunk.

"But there is," said a woman's voice I'd never heard before.

When my eyes adjusted to the sudden light and I saw who'd turned them on, I understood why the voice was so unfamiliar.

"Sabina?"

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