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Hunter's Moon (Chapter 28)

"The sacrifice must be blood, death, tears."

"The usual," I muttered.

"Obviously you aren't asking these questions for an afternoon's entertainment," Cora said. "There is a power eater on the loose and the blood moon is coming."

"Yes, n'okomiss."

"You wish to know how to destroy it?"

"That would be very helpful – "

"Wait," I interrupted. "Why the blood moon? Why that night then? Why the same night now?"

Cora turned her solemn gaze to me. "Like time has power. He became more than a man on that night.

On this one he will become more than a beast."

"I don't get it," Will said. "Weendigos are only made on the night of the blood moon?"

"It is the best time for that sort of thing."

"Why?"

"Do you know the history of the hunter's moon? Why it is called the moon of blood?"

I did. I'd spent countless nights researching the full moon that blooms in October.

"In ancient times people would hunt," I began, "then preserve meat for the winter. The hunter's moon was the blood moon because of the amount of blood spilled on a single night."

"And when so much blood is spilled, the earth cries out," Cora continued. "So many souls released to the great mystery. Though necessary for life, the amount of death creates a perfect aura for evil deeds."

"Peachy," I muttered. "So how do we kill him?"

"Will silver work?" Cadotte asked.

"Silver always works."

All three of us let out a sigh of relief.

"But sometimes not as well as others."

Jessie made a rude gesture with one hand. Will caught her fingers and squeezed.

"I don't understand," he said.

"Silver will kill the Weendigo. It should kill the power eater. But the supreme alpha? I do not know.

There has never been one before."

"Never?" Will asked.

"The requirements to become such a thing are intense. Human becomes monster becomes beast. Beast becomes stronger and stronger until he is ultimate, then supreme."

"Sounds like a pizza," I muttered. Jessie snickered.

Cora reached into her other pocket, and I clapped my hand over my mouth.

"What happens on the night of the hunter's moon?" Will asked.

"If the power eater attains all the power that is required – "

"One hundred werewolves."

"Yes. Then he becomes the supreme alpha."

"How?"

She frowned. "He becomes."

" Poof? "I asked.

Cora turned to Will. "What is poof?"

He shrugged. "Magic. One minute he's the power eater; the next he's supreme alpha? He doesn't have to do a ritual? Another sacrifice?"

"Oh, yes. There must be another sacrifice."

"Blood, death, tears? Again?" I asked.

Cora's brow wrinkled. "One would think so, but I have not seen it written. I will search the records and call if I find anything useful."

Jessie made an annoyed sound. Everyone ignored her.

"I would appreciate that, n'okomiss.  I don't mean to rush you, but the moon grows large."

"I understand."

We rose, and she followed us to the door. Once on the porch, I thanked her. She smiled and put a hand on my bad shoulder.

"This means nothing," she murmured. "By giving it power, you are letting him win."

She was both spooky and right. However, when the scar ached and burned like a freshly torn wound it was a little hard to forget.

Jessie cleared her throat, pointed to her mouth. I wanted to toss her a Scooby snack.

Cora snapped her fingers and Jessie started speaking in midsentence.

" – think you are anyway? What's the deal?" She turned to me. "I thought you were on my side. And you." She rounded on Cadotte.

"Do you have any more of that powder, n 'okomiss,' "

Cora smiled and turned her pockets inside out.

They were empty.

"Was she scary?" Jessie asked. "Or was that just me?"

"Scary," I agreed.

We were on our way back to Crow Valley. Jessie had railed on Will until he'd said, "I told you to behave."

That shut her up as quickly as the powder had. If there'd been any powder. I wasn't quite sure about that anymore.

"What did we learn, children?" Jessie asked.

"The night of the blood moon will not be fun."

"I knew that already."

So had I.

"Hector became a Weendigo two years ago by promising to give the forces of evil the lives of your family."

I'd known that, too, but hearing it out loud made me wince. Since Jessie was gazing through the windshield and not at me, she didn't notice. However, Will's eyes met mine in the rearview mirror.

"Jess," he murmured.

"Huh?"

"I'm fine," I said hurriedly. "We need to work this out."

Jessie glanced at me over her shoulder, frowned, then shrugged and kept talking. "Killing them all still sounds good to me."

"Me, too," I agreed.

"Who knows? We might get lucky and pop Hector without even trying."

"We might." But I doubted it.

"Anything else occur to you while Sister Spooky was talking?" Jessie asked.

I told them my theory about Hector's enemy – petite blond women.

Jessie considered for a moment. "That makes sense, except for one thing."

"What?"

"Why didn't he kill you?"

An excellent question.

"I guess we could ask him when we find him. Or just kill him and forget about it."

"I choose the second thing."

"Me, too."

We went over everything Cora had told us, but we came up with no brilliant ideas for ending the power eater's plans before the hunter's moon. Unless Cora got back to us with something better, we were just going to keep shooting wolves and hope we got lucky.

Not the best plan, but the only one we had.

When we arrived at the tavern, the moon was up and the place was swinging. Jazz poured out of the windows, as usual. Lucky I slept in the daytime. Once in a while.

"I'm going to go back to our place and do some research," Will said.

Jessie retrieved her rifle and ammo from the trunk. "Leigh will give me a lift home, right?"

I nodded. Will drove off in a puff of dust and gravel.

I glanced at the tavern door, resisting the urge to go in, say hi, kiss Damien. With Jessie on my ass, that would be hard to do.

"I'll get my things." I ran upstairs and into my room.

Jessie followed. "One of us should tell Mandenauer what's up."

She was right. I called but got no answer. So I left a message outlining the visit to Cora. I also gave him the details on the mine, asked if he knew what that was all about, and finished with a question: "We still haven't found their lair. Any ideas?"

When I hung up, Jessie lifted a brow.

"What?" I asked.

"You didn't tell him."

"Yes, I did. You heard me."

"You didn't tell him about Hector."

"We aren't sure it's him."

"I am."

Well, that made one of us.

"You should tell him, Leigh," Jessie said quietly.

"No. And I don't want you telling him, either."

I'd gone from wanting Edward to come back and help me to suddenly wanting him to remain far away from here. If our power eater was Hector, he'd like nothing better than to kill, slowly, the man who'd taken me from him.

"Edward told me to handle this. I will."

Jessie stared at me awhile longer; then she nodded. I had a feeling she knew exactly what I'd been thinking without my saying anything. And she called Cora Kop-way spooky.

Moments later, Jessie and I headed into the woods. I was supposed to be training her, but in truth, she was ready to go. She was a better tracker than I ever hoped to be. She'd dealt with werewolves before.

I couldn't tell her much she didn't already know. When we were through here, she could handle her own assignment with ease.

The night was uneventful – if you call four kills and a couple misses uneventful. But we didn't see the white wolf or the brown one.

We'd been trailing a few females we'd seen from afar for over an hour and gotten nowhere fast. The trail ended less than a half a mile from the tavern, so we decided to call it a night though dawn had not yet come. Jessie and I climbed into my car and I headed toward town.

"Five days until the full moon," she said.

"I can count."

"Cranky from lack of sleep or need for sex?"

I didn't bother to answer.

"Remember what the witchy woman said – this thing can shift in ways we don't even know about."

"Meaning?"

"Damien could be Hector."

I nearly drove off the road.

"Hadn't thought of that, had you?"

"She said he could be different animals, different shades of wolf, shift in the daytime. She never said he could be two different people."

"She never said he couldn't."

What Jessie was suggesting was impossible, wasn't it?

Not really.

"I stared into Hector's eyes. There wasn't anyone home. Back then, I didn't know what that meant. I do now."

"Hector wasn't a werewolf until the night your family died. Before that he was just a man."

"He was a serial killer. A cannibal. How can evil like that not show in someone's eyes?"

"Ever seen a picture of Bundy? Dahmer? Such nice-looking young men."

She had a point.

But in Hector I'd seen the face of evil. I know I had. The truth did not live only in my nightmares. In Damien's eyes I'd seen love – as well as sadness, regret, a little bit of guilt.

Hell.

We reached Jessie's apartment. "Be careful," she said.

"Always am."

She lifted her brows but remained blissfully silent on that subject. I watched until the door to her apartment building closed securely behind her, and then I went back to mine.

I wanted the hunter's moon to be tonight. I wanted this to be over. I wanted to go on with my life. Or at least know that I couldn't.

I shut off the motor and something thunked onto the hood of my car. I glanced up and found a wolf staring back at me.

A thud on the roof, then one on the back end, signaled he wasn't alone. More wolves filtered out of the trees; hackles raised, they stalked stiffly toward my car.

I reached for the rifle in my backseat. The wolf on the hood, a huge gray beast, snarled.

"Too bad, so sad," I muttered.

He smashed his snout through the windshield. Shards erupted inward. The others attacked at the same time, and glass shattered all around me. I flinched, ducked my head reflexively, then remembered the gun.

I shot the gray wolf in the chest. Fire blazed, blinding me. I sensed movement to my right. Another wolf was crawling through the passenger window. A quick glance into the rearview mirror revealed one coming in through the rear.

I'd left my Glock in the trunk. No need for a handgun hunting in the woods. Now I cursed the long, unwieldy rifle in my hands. But the weapon was all I had – until it came down to the knife in my boot.

Hot breath brushed my neck, I turned, and a wolf snarled through a too-small hole in the driver's side window. He reared back to smash the glass again and I shot him. Sadly, that broke the glass. Could things get worse?

Another thud on the hood. The brown wolf straddled the center. Hector? Or someone else?

Hard to tell; he was staring at something above my head. How many wolves were on the roof?

The beast lifted his head and howled. The others froze.

What was he telling them? That I was his? He might think so, but I'd already vowed never again. I checked my ammo. Plenty left for a few more of them and one for me.

The brown wolf clambered onto the roof. The rest ran. The parking lot was deserted, except for the cars. Jazz still blared from the tavern. No one would have heard the wolf's call. Even if they had, they wouldn't have cared. Wolves howled in the forest every damn day.

Suddenly the brown wolf leaped from the roof. He hit the ground running and disappeared into the trees in the wake of the others. I was alone, with a smashed car and a full rifle.

What else could I do? I shoved open the door and followed him into the woods.

Probably not one of my better moves, but as I said, I wanted it over.

Dawn was just a hint in the sky. The wolves were no doubt headed for their lair. Maybe that's what the brown wolf had told them.

Not Leave her alone. But Get your butts back before you change.

Excitement made my breath hitch. What if I found their lair, killed them all? I could save myself, my friends, the world. Not bad for a night's work.

I could hear them ahead of me. They were moving fast. If they wanted to lose me they could. I'd never be able to keep up on foot.

After a few minutes, the sound of them panting, growling, pushing through scrub faded. All I could hear was the wind through the leaves and the birds waking up with the sun.

Suddenly they stopped twittering. Icy cold dread skittered down my spine seconds before a caramel-shaded wolf rocketed out of the trees to my left. I only had time to shift my weight before he hit me and knocked me on my back.

I let the gun go so I could use both arms, but the thing was huge and pinned my hands beneath me with more skill than a professional wrestler. I braced, expecting my throat to be gone the next instant. Nothing happened.

Slowly I opened my eyes. The wolf lay on my chest, tongue lolling, grinning into my face like a big, dumb dog. Then he licked me – one huge slobber from my neck to my forehead. His breath smelled like blood.

Now I did.

A howl drifted toward the descending moon. The wolf tensed; his attention shifted toward the fading melody. When he looked at me, his expression had changed. He snarled, pulled back to strike. This was it.

Aarp!

He yelped as he was dragged away. I scrambled to my feet the instant I was free. The brown wolf killed him in a single vicious yank at the throat. He was really very good at that.

Blood sprayed the ground like in an out-of-control Monty Python skit. I turned, searching for my gun, pouncing on the thing as if it were a buoy in the middle of a vast ocean. When I spun around, rifle at the ready, the only animal in the clearing was dead.

Blood trailed into the woods.

A few hundred yards away the trail petered out. But I could hear him crashing through the trees in his haste to retreat. Time was against him.

I burst into the clearing, got him in my sights, and the sun sparked auburn highlights through his fur. He howled as if in pain, and I hadn't even shot him yet.

I'd seen plenty of men change into wolves, but I'd never seen one change back. It wasn't a pretty sight.

The contortions, the grunting and the gurgling, the snapping of bone and stretching of muscles. I stood there, fascinated, amazed, horrified. I knew that ass.

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