Every week Chuck Wendig does a flashfiction challenge over at TerribleMinds, which I love (in fact, when there was a WordPress mishap and it didn’t show up until two days late this week I was very sad, and kept poking the blog waiting). This week’s challenge was called ‘Choose Your Random Words‘, which I did with the aid of my d10 (I keep a small set of D&D dice on my worktable, of course – who doesn’t?) and wound up with the words: Tongue, Wolf, and Legend.
The challenge was to use these words not just in the story but as part of plot, character, or theme. More complicated, also more fun, at least in my book. I rode the line of the wordcount limit, and Under the Strawberry Moon is precisely 1,000 words.
Summary: The sorceress needs a wolf’s tongue for her spell under the strawberry moon. Can Braxas’ packmates save him in time?
Under the Strawberry Moon
“Gods damn it, Braxas, how do you get into these messes?”
Braxas slammed into awareness, gasping, at the whispered comment, thick with exasperation. As soon as he scented the air he wondered how he hadn’t woken before – the smell of his packmate was heavy in the room.
“Sherryn?” he murmured back.
“Finally he wakes up. Did the sorceress drug you or something? I’ve been waiting for almost ten minutes, I swear.” Sherryn swore colourfully as something rattled, and she stepped a little closer.
“No, but she did say I had to be quiet.” Braxas said, with a shrug. A small flame leapt into being, and Sherryn’s slender form moved over towards one wall, complete with its odd wooden. . .
Sherryn snarled under her breath and yanked at one of the wooden panels, and it actually split and came off the wall, revealing a window – and through it, the gibbous moon. Braxas nearly cried as the moonlight spilled over his skin.
Sherryn coughed awkwardly as she extinguished the candle and moved back towards the cage trapping him. “So. . . Why am I not surprised you had to be ordered quiet. What on earth did she threaten you with to get you to obey?” she asked.
Braxas sniffed as discreetly as he could, eying the moon longingly, barely able to think past the ache of finally being under her light.
“Um. . . She said something about if I didn’t she would cut out my tongue, and then she laughed and said that no, she was going to do that anyway. Something about moon’s blood, wolf’s tongue, vampire’s lungs, and snake’s legs for . . . um, some spell?” Braxas faltered, half because he hadn’t really paid attention, half because of the horrified expression Sherryn wore.
She had managed to open the cage while he spoke, however, and Braxas stepped out, hugging her gingerly – Sherryn didn’t always. . . Sherryn returned the embrace with fierce determination, making his ribs creak, and he laughed softly.
“It’s good we came to get you, then.” Sherryn said loftily. “Gods know why, but your mate would be sad if something like that happened to you, even if you did come back alive and otherwise in one piece.”
Braxas eyed her wryly as she headed towards the door, and she laughed, a little wetly, then sniffed, as they made their way down. “Heh, I suppose I can guess at one reason your mate might like you to come back tongue intact. . .” she teased.
Braxas stuck his tongue out, then nearly stopped moving, even as Sherryn tugged him off the foot of the stairs. That was- Tears came to his eyes as the familiar scent felt like it was nearly wrapped around him.
“Aillen?” Braxas breathed, then cried the name, almost desperate in only a few moments. “Aillen!”
It wasn’t Aillen’s voice that answered his call, though.
“Glad you’re so pleased, you scrawny, mouthy, infuriating little pup.”
Braxas’ heart sank, the sorceress’ voice seemingly filling the courtyard, and he turned, looking for her.
“Technically, Braxas would be a cub, we’re not dogs.”
Braxas’ face crumpled at the thin sound of his mate’s voice, but Aillen kept talking, even as the sorceress made an irritated little huff.
“Also, he’s not. Trust me. All fully-grown male wolf, I assure you.” Aillen continued, his voice lilting oddly. “And I would know.”
“His tongue would do as well as yours, and I would be doing the world a favour to silence any of you horrid little flea-ridden dogs.” the sorceress spat. “The legends. . . I need a male wolf’s tongue, cut by the light of the strawberry moon just before full, to complete my bindings . . . I needn’t have yours.”
Braxas’ blood ran cold. “I- No. . .” he breathed.
“Already this one irritates me more than you do – impressive, little pup, for I really did not think that was possible, even for one of your mangy kind.”
Sherryn’s teeth were bared in a sharp growl for that insult, and Braxas stumbled as he stepped forwards. “No, no please, you can’t, I mean- Please. . .” he begged.
The sorceress’ eyebrows rose into her auburn hair. “I’ve had you for over two months, two months, and all I needed to do to get this fear from you, this begging, was to threaten someone else? How . . . compassionate.” she spat.
Sherryn snarled, the sorceress’ blade dropped from Aillen’s lips, Aillen’s eyes widened as he clearly tried to tell Braxas not to do it, and Braxas leapt, yanking his other shape forwards as he moved, jaws wide and snapping.
Marks of fangs decorating her shoulder, her own knife caught in her side, the sorceress rolled away from him, bleeding and coughing. Braxas shook himself, then whipped around just before his enthusiastic mate slammed him into the ground.
Braxas fought briefly with his wolf-shape, and then exclaimed with delight as Aillen bent to kiss his muzzle, his human-shape reasserting itself in time to trap his mate in a kiss.
A moment more, and the pair of them rolled over and over in the grass, snarling softly and nuzzling each other in panicked reassurance after such a traumatic separation, long absence, and horrible threat.
Sherryn coughed after a few minutes, from where she was standing nervously over the sorceress. “I’m, uh, glad you’ve got each other again,” she said hesitantly, not failing to notice the viciousness waiting in two pairs of eyes that were both now bleeding amber, “but before you get to . . . that, can we leave?”
The sorceress stirred just as a heart-stopping shriek of rage echoed from the tower, and in a moment both wolves on the ground were on all four paws and running, so quickly Sherryn had to struggle to keep up.
As soon as they were in the woods, they peeled off – Sherryn back towards the pack territory by the shortest route, Braxas and Aillen for anywhere hidden enough that they could reaffirm their bond.
Anti-harmonised howls rent the night air beneath a strawberry moon, and a vampire’s shadow slipped between it and a bleeding, weak sorceress.
Strawberry Moon is one of the more commonly known and used names for the moon that rises over the month of June.
I’ve enjoyed playing with the weekly TerribleMinds challenge several times before, and those stories will eventually be posted here as well. For now, they are only online under my account on AO3, here.