Return to The Moonlit World

Read the prologue and first two chapters of The Moonlit World

Available September 15, 2020, in ebook and trade paperback. Pre-order now from:

Amazon U.S. | Amazon Canada | Indigo Barnes & Noble | Penguin Random House |Indiebound 

The third book in the Worldshapers portal fantasy series by an Aurora Award-winning author, in which one woman’s powers open the way to a labyrinth of new dimensions.

Fresh from their adventures in a world inspired by Jules Verne, Shawna Keys and Karl Yatsar find themselves in a world that mirrors much darker tales. Beneath a full moon that hangs motionless in the sky, they’re forced to flee terrifying creatures that can only be vampires…only to run straight into a pack of werewolves.

As the lycanthropes and undead battle, Karl is spirited away to the castle of the vampire queen. Meanwhile, Shawna finds short-lived refuge in a fortified village, where she learns that something has gone horribly wrong with the world in which she finds herself. Once, werewolves, vampires, and humans lived there harmoniously. Now every group is set against every other, and entire villages are being mysteriously emptied of people.

Somehow, Karl and Shawna must reunite, discover the mysteries of the Shaping of this strange world, and escape it for the next, without being sucked dry, devoured, or—worst of all—turned into creatures of the night themselves.

Beneath the frozen, gibbous moon, allies, enemies, surprises, adventures, and unsettling revelations await…

The Moonlit World

Prologue

The silver canister gleamed inside its glass-walled cabinet like a precious artifact in a great museum.

The thought gave the Adversary some slight amusement—as much amusement as he allowed himself. Any thief who might think it valuable and spirit it away would be sorely disappointed. The canister held nothing of intrinsic value in this world, but something of immeasurable importance to the Adversary: a bloodstained shirt, immersed in liquid nitrogen.

Any thief who spirited it away would also die, painfully, over as long a period of time as the Adversary could arrange. Ordinarily, he found torturing a citizen of a world he could Shape a pointless exercise, because the Shaped weren’t real human beings, merely simulacrums of people of the First World. Since the primary purpose of torture was to elicit information, and it was far easier to simply Shape someone to tell him what he wanted to know, why go through the mess and bother and waste of time of inflicting pain on them? (It was different, of course, for denizens of the First World, who could not be Shaped.)

However, the Adversary would have been the first to admit—had there been anyone to admit it to—that when it came to matters related to Shawna Keys (whose world this had once been), the thrice-damned Karl Yatsar, emissary of the criminal who called herself Ygrair, and Ygrair herself, his emotions were unprofessionally engaged. Yatsar had not only helped Shawna escape this world, he had destroyed the Portals: the one leading to the world into which Shawna had fled, and the one leading back to the last world the Adversary had seized, which had been modeled on the work of a human playwright called Shakespeare.

The shirt in the shining canister, stained with Karl Yatsar’s blood, offered The Adversary his only hope of someday opening a new Portal and continuing his advance through the Labyrinth of Shaped Worlds to bring Ygrair to justice. And so, should anyone interfere with that, he would take what catharsis he could find in their slow, brutal punishment, Shaped creature or not.

The Adversary turned from his contemplation of the cylinder to the empty laboratory surrounding it. In the morning, the members of the team he had assembled—and Shaped—to reverse-engineer the nanomites contained in the blood on the deep-frozen shirt would arrive and begin their research.

It would take time: months at the least, possibly years or decades. Shawna Keys’ version of Earth boasted the same technological know-how as the Earth of the First World—which, from the Adversary’s view, and that of the once galaxy-ruling race, the Shurak, to which he belonged (and from which the nanomites had originated, in the distant and interdicted past), was but a baby step up from stone knives and bearskins. Unfortunately, he could not simply Shape the level of technology he wanted into existence, because he hadn’t a clue how the technology worked. He was just a…he supposed “cop” was the closest word English offered for his profession.

What he could do—and had—was Shape the brightest minds of this world to focus on the problem. Eventually, they would crack it. Eventually, they would provide him with the technology the criminal Ygrair, a Shurak like him—though, like him, currently trapped in a human-like body, with all the limitations that imposed—had given to Karl Yatsar: the technology to open new Portals.

Once he had that technology, he would no longer be limited, as he had been at first, to following Yatsar from world to world. Instead, he would blaze his own path through the Labyrinth, moving every closer toward its center—toward Ygrair.

And once he had her, and the stolen Shurak technology that had opened the Labyrinth to her, all these worlds would crumble back into the quantum foam from which they should never have arisen in the first place.

He returned his gaze to the gleaming cylinder. No, he would no longer have to follow Karl Yatsar. In fact, he would backtrack to the world he had first Shaped himself, and force the second Portal out of it into a world he had not yet visited. But should his path intersect with that of Karl Yatsar and Shawna Keys, somewhere along the way he would very much enjoy visiting upon them some version of the torture he had already imagined for the hypothetical thief.

He turned away from the canister and walked to the exit. Research would begin in earnest in the morning. Shawna Keys and Karl Yatsar had won themselves a reprieve from his attentions, nothing more.

He turned off the lights, plunging the bloody shirt in its gleaming cylinder into darkness, went out, and closed the door behind him.

Chapter One

The new experiences travel offers are said to broaden the mind. I’d had rather more new experiences (and more mind-broadening) than I really cared for since exiting my own world, pursued not by a bear but by the Adversary, and I’d just added a new one I could have done without: being shaken awake in the dark inside a ruined thatched-roof cottage and told, “I think we’re going to have visitors from the castle.”

I admit, I didn’t immediately know a) who was shaking me awake, b) why I was lying fully dressed between far-too-thin blankets on a cold wooden floor, or c) what castle? But it all came rushing back in a moment. In order, a) was Karl Yatsar, the mysterious stranger who first revealed to me that the world I used to live in was one I’d Shaped into existence (though I didn’t remember doing it) and told me I had to flee it due to the encroachment of the aforementioned Adversary (who killed my best friend and would have killed me if I hadn’t instinctively re-Shaped the world to save myself); b) was because, just a few hours previously, we had entered this world from the Jules Verne-inspired one we had just left, sealing the Portal behind us, and this cottage had been close at hand and offered at least a modicum of shelter; and c) was the castle across the valley, around whose towers we had seen mysterious winged things flying. “Visitors” from that castle seemed unlikely to be good news.

Unless…

“Is the Shaper in the castle?” I asked Karl. “Maybe he or she sensed our arrival. Maybe we should just let ourselves be captured. Or walk over there and knock on the gate.”

Karl—in the dimness, just a dark form bending over me, outlined against the stars shining through the hole in the roof—straightened and turned away. “I do not know.”

It was so rare for Karl to admit he didn’t know something I almost stammered my response. “You…you don’t know if…if we should let them capture us, or you don’t…?”

“I do not know if the Shaper is in the castle.” His silhouette against the stars changed shape as he turned back toward me. “I cannot tell.”

“I thought you said you could always sense the Shaper’s whereabouts when you entered a new world.”

“I always have. This time…I cannot.”

I sat up, emitting only a minor, ladylike groan. “So what does that mean?”

“I do not know.”

Two times in a single conversation. Utterly amazing.

“So…why do you think we’re going to have ‘visitors’?”

“The flying things have been patrolling. One of them flew over, then turned and flew over again, lower. Then screamed and flew back toward the castle.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” I had to admit.

“No. There could be more of them at any moment.”

“Right, then.” I got to my feet. I hadn’t slept nearly enough, soundly enough, on a soft-enough surface, or with enough covers. But I’d slept, and our journey to the Portal in the world we had just left had been a leisurely one, so I felt I could function. I quickly rolled up my bedroll and tied it to the top of the backpack I’d brought with me from the last world. (It was nice to enter a world with clean clothes, food, and water, not to mention a good sharp knife and, at the very bottom of the pack, a pistol and ammunition, instead of arriving with nothing, like I had in the last one.)

We hurried out of the cottage. The road to the castle, covered with crushed, pale-white stone, shone in the moonlight.

Wait. What? I blinked up at said moon. It hung, full, and bright, in exactly the same spot in the sky it had been when we’d first entered this world, hours ago. That’s weird…

And that wasn’t the only thing that was weird. That moon was huge. Way bigger than it should have been. The way the moon looks when it’s rising or setting, except that’s an optical illusion. This one looked that big even though it wasn’t too far off the zenith.

“We must not stay on the road,” Karl said. “If that flying thing returns with reinforcements, they will see us for sure.”

The overgrown fields associated with the cottage lay on the side toward the castle. In the direction we turned rose a ridge, covered with a forest of towering pines whose tops glimmered in the moonlight but at whose roots pooled darkness, into which the white road plunged and vanished.

The forest did not look like the sort of place I wanted to be forcing my way through in the middle of the night. “If we leave the road, we’ll be lost in no time,” I pointed out.

“Are you saying we are not lost now? Do you know where we are?”

A fair point. I sighed. “All right. I guess the forest it is.”

Fortunately, it wasn’t as dark in the forest as it had looked before we entered it. The moon, shining between the spindly trunks, painted the needle-strewn floor with long streaks of silvery light, enough to show us our way. And although it’s true we didn’t know exactly where we were going, the direction we needed to take was abundantly clear—away from whatever might come out of the castle.

The ridge, though not terribly steep, was not not steep, either. I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other and not turning my ankle on one of the fallen branches or loose, flat stones that littered our path, hearing Karl’s steady breathing behind me. I remembered how much more out of breath than him I’d been while climbing a mountain pass back in my own world. Clearly, a few weeks of healthy outdoor activities like running for my life and being shot at had toughened me up.

I’d had no way of knowing, when we’d begun our journey, what time it was. “Middle of the night” seemed to cover it. But clearly it was more like “very early morning,” because almost without my being aware of it, the forest became less black around us, the first hint of the coming dawn—though that full moon continued to shine, in exactly the same place in the sky.

Geostationary orbit? I thought. But that made no sense, for something the size of the moon. What would that do to tides?

Unless, in this Shaped world, the moon was much smaller…say, the size of the Death Star. (Not that I had any idea off the top of my head just how big the Death Star was supposed to be or how big it would look if it were in geostationary orbit. Once again, I missed the internet.) But even then, weren’t geostationary orbits only possible at the equator? Were we at the equator? Since I was distinctly chilled, I thought not. But this wasn’t the real world, it was a Shaped world. So anything was possible…wasn’t it?

A world lit by an extra-large moon hanging motionless in the sky sounded crazy. But so did the idea of a world based on the works of Jules Verne—a world where you could literally journey to the moon in a spacecraft launched from a giant cannon—and I’d just come from such a place.

The trees thinned and the light continued to slowly wax as we approached the top of the ridge. By unspoken agreement, we then paused and looked back down the way we had come…just in time to see four winged creatures alight in the yard of the cottage we had fled. Enough light now finally filled the sky that I could see them clearly. Though it was taking its own sweet time about making an appearance, dawn couldn’t be far off.

My eyes widened as the creatures folded their wings and changed shape. Suddenly, four people stood by the cottage, all naked: three men and a woman. One of the men had dark skin, the others were pale. Two of the men disappeared into the cottage. The dark-skinned man and the woman stared up the ridge in our direction. 

The snowy peaks on the far side of the valley to the west suddenly turned bright orange, as though set on fire. The sun had touched them, but its light still had to crawl down them and across the valley floor before the sun itself rose above the peaks shadowing us to the east.

The men emerged from the cottage. A discussion ensued. Faces turned toward the sunlit peaks across the valley, then turned in our direction, looking up the ridge. They can’t see us, I told myself. Not in this light. We’re too low on the ridge to be silhouetted against the sky.

But I still got chills. “They can’t see us, right?” I asked Karl, seeking reassurance.

“Humans couldn’t,” he said, which didn’t exactly provide it, because although the naked quartet down there currently looked human, minutes ago they’d all been winged and furred.

“Can Shapers Shape intelligent non-humans?” I demanded.

“Of course, they can. I told you about the elves and dwarves I have encountered. And remember the giant wolf you saw when you first opened the Portal.”

I wasn’t likely to forget that monster running toward me along the white-stone road, eyes glowing red.

“You thought it was a werewolf,” Karl said.

“Those things down there aren’t werewolves.”

“No. But if within this world there is one non-human, intelligent race—werewolves—there may very well be…” His voice trailed off as the woman broke into a run in our general direction and leaped into the air, body reshaping itself in an instant into one of the bat-like creatures, arrowing toward us.

“Run,” suggested Karl, and I didn’t argue.

When we had entered this world the night before, we had sought shelter immediately in part because of a weird, winged thing in the sky, whose chilling, wailing cry had echoed across the valley. Now we heard that cry again, from the weird, winged thing pursuing us, and that keening call stabbed itself into my brainstem, the limbic system, the “lizard brain,” and would have sent me scrambling away and up the slope even without Karl’s urging.

I knew the instant the thing flew overhead. We were screened from the sky by trees, but I still felt the terror of its passing, a brief surge of unreasoning fear that would have driven me to my knees to hide my head beneath my arms if it had gone on a moment longer. As it was, my heart pounded. If this world had seemed more Tolkienish, I would have guessed it was a Nazgul.

And then…it was gone. The sky felt empty…clean. “Why didn’t it land and attack?” I gasped out to Karl as we hurried on through the forest. “And what was it?”

“I do not know,” he said.

That, I thought, is becoming tiresome.

We topped another ridge. Looking back, I could no longer see the cottage where we had spent the night. Four winged creatures were hurrying away from us in the direction of the castle, the highest tower of which the sun chose that moment to limn with gold. “Maybe it’s the sun.” I blinked. “Whoa. Winged bat-like things that don’t like the light, in a world where werewolves are real…are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“I am not a mind-reader,” Karl said.

“I’m thinking vampires.”

Karl shrugged. “Anything is possible.” He turned away from the castle. “In any event, since whatever they are, they do not seem to like the sun, I suggest we make the most of the day, and get as far away from the castle and whatever those were as we can while the sun shines.”

“We have to find the Shaper,” I said. “Can you tell where she or he is yet?”

“No,” Karl said shortly. “I cannot sense anything.”

“Why not?”

“I do not know,” he said…again. “Nor do I have a clue why I do not know.”

He started down the slope. I followed a few steps behind. Great, I thought. Last world I entered, my all-knowing guide was missing. This time I’ve got him…and it turns out he’s not all-knowing after all.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” I muttered.

Chapter Two

Eventually, the sun rose above the eastern peaks.

The sky turned blue.

The moon stayed right where it was.

After descending the ridge, we hurried on through thinning trees, trying to put as much distance as possible between us and the patrol from the castle. Just because we couldn’t see them didn’t mean they weren’t following. We entered cleared land, though so overgrown it was obvious no crops had been planted there for years. We passed more ruined cottages. We didn’t talk much, because what was there to say?

And still, as the morning passed, and the sun climbed, the moon didn’t move. It hung in exactly the same spot in the sky it had hung all night: pale, washed out, but visible. “What’s with that?” I finally asked Karl, when we paused to eat some of the dried meat and fruit and drink some of the water we’d brought from the last world. It wouldn’t last long, but I’d already seen several streams and larger bodies of water, and with snow-capped mountains surrounding us on every side, it seemed unlikely water was going to be a problem going forward.

What would be a problem going forward, of course, was figuring out what the hell was going on in this world. It looked not all that different from parts of Montana—a fertile valley nestled among mountains, although these mountains put the Rockies to shame—but in my world, and presumably in the First World, the moon rose and set.

“I do not know,” Karl said, looking up at the pale sphere in the bright blue sky.

Stop it, I thought.

“Clearly it is something the Shaper wanted,” he continued.

“Well, duh,” I said. And then I suddenly felt like an idiot. “Of course! This must be a werewolf world. Werewolves can only change when the moon is full, so the Shaper made this a world where the moon is always full.”

“Perhaps,” Karl said. “A reasonable supposition, at least.”

Thanks, professor. “Still no hint of where the Shaper is?”

“I do not have a clue,” he replied, which at least made a nice change from “I don’t know.”

He lowered his eyes from the moon the valley, peering into the distance. I followed his gaze. There was nothing to be seen we hadn’t already seen: more ruined cottages, more abandoned farms, more overgrown fields. “What do you think did all this?” I said.

“War, perhaps. Or, simply, time.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask you about that.”

“About what?”

“Time.” We were resting in the shade of a tree at the edge of a farmyard. Like the cottage where we had spent our interrupted night, the farmhouse had only three walls. The roof had collapsed. Weeds grew all around it. An old wagon, one wheel missing, slumped against a split-rail fence, itself on the verge of falling flat. “None of these Shaped worlds are more than about a hundred years old, from what you’ve told me.”

“A hundred years in the First World,” Karl said. “Yes.”

“So if time did all this,” I gestured at the ruins, “it was fake time. Something the Shaper included to give the appearance of age.”

“Did not your world contain antiquities?” he said. “And yet, in First World terms, it was no more than ten years old. You copied your antiquities from the First World, but you could also have simply willed them into being.”

“And they would have seemed ancient no matter what tests archaeologists performed on them?”

“Within the context of your world, they were ancient.” Karl spread his hands. “You didn’t just Shape physical objects, when you Shaped your world. You Shaped your world’s history. Your world was as old as it appeared to be. The time within it was no less real than the objects within it. The people you knew who were fifty or sixty years old were fifty or sixty years old. Not in the time of the First World, but in the time of your world, Shaped into existence just as the world itself was Shaped.”

Appearance of age. I remembered thinking, in the last world, about how Creationists argued that the scientifically accepted age of the Earth meant nothing, because God could have created it with the appearance of age. It might have been created in seven days just a few thousand years ago, like the Bible said, but appear far, far older.

What hadn’t occurred to me until just then was that, if God created the universe with the appearance of being billions of years old, how was that any different from it actually being billions of years ago and aging through all that time? God was, presumably, outside time: like space, it was just another bit of clay He spun on His potter’s wheel to make the universe.

I shook my head. “And yet you say Shapers aren’t gods.”

“Nor are they,” Karl said. “God created the First World out of nothing—ex nihilo. Shapers are only shaping imitations of it, making variations, like a pianist improvising upon a theme.”

“I didn’t say you said Shapers aren’t God. I said you said Shapers aren’t gods. Small ‘g.’ But within their worlds, aren’t they?” I gesture vaguely back in the direction from which we’d come. “Robur styled himself as one. He Shaped his world’s religion to make his people worship him.”

“I am no pagan, to believe in multiple gods,” Karl said shortly.

I cocked my head at him. “Does that mean you believe in one God?”

He said nothing, continuing to gaze down the valley. A few miles away rose a massive ridge, much larger than the last one we had crossed, an outthrust shoulder of the eastern mountains that we would soon either have to climb or go around, but I didn’t think he was planning our route. “I think I do,” he said at last.

“A First Shaper for the First World?” I said.

“If you like.” He looked back at me. “You must have figured out by now that I left the First World a long time ago.”

“I have noticed you’re not exactly up to date on pop culture,” I said dryly. 

He nodded. “I was last in the First World in 1910.”

Even though I’d expected something like that, his flat statement came as a shock. “How is that possible?”

“People of the First World,” he said, “do not age in a Shaped world.”

I blinked. “What?”

“I thought what I said was quite clear.”

“But that means…you’re…”

“One hundred and sixty-one years old. More or less. It is difficult to count birthdays when you visit worlds with wildly different calendars.”

“But…but I was getting older in my world!”

He shrugged. “An illusion. To the Shaped of your world, you would have seemed whatever age you were supposed to be. But you yourself would never have felt the effects of aging. Nor would you have died of old age.” He snorted. “Which, considering you forgot you were a Shaper, would eventually have caused considerable consternation.”

My mind was officially blown. Again. But I hadn’t forgotten the question I’d asked that had taken us down this rabbit hole. “Okay, so, you’re from the nineteenth century. What does that have to do with my question about you believing in God?”

“I was raised in a religious family,” he said. “In fact, my father was a preacher for, and elder of, a church in Kansas. I believed in God without question when I was growing up. Later…I had doubts. But the more I travel the Labyrinth, the more I am convinced that He…or at least, a Supreme Being of some sort…must exist.”

I opened my mouth to ask why…and then, suddenly, I knew. “‘So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them,’” I quoted from Sunday School memories. “You believe the fact Shapers are capable of Shaping worlds is proof that they partake in the creative spirit of God—that being creative is part of being created in the image of God.”

Karl’s eyes actually widened. “I am…impressed,” he said after a moment. “I did not expect you to make that leap without my guidance.”

I ignored the compliment…if it was a compliment…because I’d thought of something else. “Back in my shop, when we first met, you said creativity arose alongside intelligence—’however it came about, evolution or God.’ Now you say it’s God?”

“You asked me what I believe,” he said. “That is what I believe. I do not expect or ask you to believe it.”

“Fair enough.” I fell silent. I’d just learned more about Karl Yatsar’s personal background in five minutes than I’d learned in the past two worlds we’d been in. His father had been a preacher? “The only one who could ever move me was the son of a preacher man,” sang through my mind. Karl didn’t move me that way. But it was still nice to know a bit more about the companion with whom I was theoretically going to boldly continue to explore strange new worlds and seek out new life and new civilizations, for who knew how long.

A five-year mission? I shuddered. God, I hope not.

God. Did I believe in Him/Her/It?

Sunday School God? I didn’t think so. But Karl had a point. I’d thought of J.R.R. Tolkien earlier. He’d called the act of making stories “sub-creation,” and surely the act of Shaping worlds was an even greater example of that. The fact we had this capacity to sub-create, the fact it was an innate part of human nature…did that speak merely to some evolutionary benefit, or to something far greater?

I scrambled to my feet. “Let’s get moving. All this thinking is giving me a headache.”

“I have noticed you have an aversion to it,” Karl said, rising. As he led the way toward the ridge looming ahead of us, I followed a few steps back, wondering if I had just heard that rarest of things: a Karl Yatsar joke.

The afternoon passed. The sun crossed from left to right, which meant (presumably, unless the Shaper was just messing with us) that we were heading south. The mighty ridge ahead of us rose higher and higher, but before we reached it, the sun slipped behind the western peaks.

“That winged thing from the castle could appear again any time,” I said as the light began to fade.

“There is another ruined farmhouse up ahead. We will take shelter there.”

And so we did. Or, rather, we took it in the stone barn, which stood right where the slope of the ridge began. Unlike the previous night’s lodgings, it had an intact roof, although a hole in its back wall looked big enough to accommodate a bear, which I rather wished I hadn’t thought just before bedding down.

We dared not light a fire, lovely though it would have been to ward off that the night chill…not to mention a clammy mist that rose from the ground and flowed over and around things as though it came from a dry-ice fog machine on a Broadway stage. When I’d first gazed into this world through the Portal from the last one, I had thought it looked straight out of an old horror movie. That impression was growing stronger all the time.

We heard a howl in the distance as night became full, echoed by another: and then the weird wail of the thing that had winged its way over us just before dawn—or another just like it—once more shivered across the sky. “Werewolves and vampires,” I said to Karl. “Has to be.”

“You may be right. But it is still just a guess.”

“I’d rather keep it as a guess if proving it means either disembowelment or exsanguination,” I said. “But it seems to fit the situation. Which means we’re probably looking at a Shaper inspired by horror movies or books.”

“If a Shaper still remains in this world,” Karl muttered. He sounded more peeved than I’d ever before heard him. “I still sense nothing. Nor do I sense the location of the next Portal.”

Come to think of it, neither did I. I reached out with my mysterious Spidey…um, Shaper-sense. Nada. “What does that mean?” I said, then answered before he did. “Never mind. I know what you’re going to say: ‘I do not know.’”

“If you knew what I would say,” he grumbled, “why did you ask?”

“Just making conversation.”

He snorted. “I suggest getting some sleep instead. I’ll keep watch.”

“Fine,” I said.

“Fine.”

I closed my eyes and tried to make myself comfortable on the dirt floor. My bedroll provided little padding, and my backpack made a lumpy pillow, but the effects of a long day of hiking after a short night and an early start did the trick, and I dozed off…

…only to awaken, yet again, to Karl shaking me, which was another thing I was getting tired of. “Our friends are back,” he whispered. “By the farmhouse.”

I sat up abruptly. “What do we do?” I whispered back.

“Flee. Out that hole in the back wall.”

I scrambled up and bent toward my bedroll and pack, but he grabbed my arm. “No time!”

I followed him, on hands and knees, through the aforementioned hole, glad now it had been there, despite my earlier worry about nocturnal bears. We scrambled up-slope in the dark. I didn’t look back until I had to take a break to catch my breath. Then, I saw in the moonlight, down at the abandoned farm, four naked people, three men (one dark-skinned) and a woman—if not the same as those who had pursued us the evening before, indistinguishable from them at this distance. Two went into the barn…where, I knew, my pack and bedroll remained, proof we weren’t far away.

Hellmy blankets are probably still warm. Blood-warm.

Considering what I suspected those things were, that thought gave me the impetus I needed to catch up to Karl, who had never stopped climbing. I suddenly realized he wasn’t wearing his pack, either. In just two nights, we’d managed to lose all the supplies from the previous world I’d felt so smug about having…including the pistol. We weren’t literally naked like the things chasing us, but we certainly were metaphorically: naked and defenseless.

We clawed our way up a near-vertical rock face, and at the top of it, paused and looked back. I could just make out the naked quartet, congregated behind the barn, clearly discussing matters. In a moment they’d be winging their way up to us…

And then the howls we’d heard earlier repeated, but they were no longer distant. Instead, they came from directly below us, ululating, bone-chilling, and bloodthirsty, as four giant wolves with glowing red eyes, like the one I’d seen the first time I’d looked into this world, burst out of the trees and leaped at our pursuers.

Karl grabbed my arm. “Run!” he shouted. Turning from the melee that had erupted below, we scrambled up the slope.

Vampires and werewolves and Shapers, oh my, a corner of my brain insisted on chanting.

You’re not helping, I told it, and then concentrated on escaping with my life.

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