It was late when Emily tiptoed into the room. Unlike most of the other rooms in the abandoned monastery, this one was well-lit. Several oil lamps surrounded the table on which the corpse laid and pushed back the darkness that seeped from the stone walls.
Marcus’ back was to her, his shaggy light coloured hair hung over his eyes as he bowed his head toward the table. So engrossed in his work was he that didn’t notice her enter. His forceps moved methodically, gently separating the human flesh from the parasite that had infiltrated the now deceased body.
She cleared her throat gently.
Marcus turned and jumped from his stool in surprise. Quickly, he covered the body on the table with a sheet.
“Emily, I’m so sorry. You do not need to see this.”
“Don’t worry dear, I’m afraid I’ve gotten used to it by now,” she smiled at him uneasily and smoothed a stray lock of brown hair behind her ear.
“Yes,” he replied averting his eyes to the corner. “Yes, I suppose you would have.”
It was only too true. In the last months she had seen more death and carnage than she could have imagined, and much if it at her own uncontrolled hands.
“Have you found anything helpful yet?” She asked trying to move beyond the awkward silence.
“Little of use,” Marcus replied looking at the sheet covered table.
“The parasites seem to penetrate every organ. Many of their own organs are scattered throughout the host. I have yet to find two that are arranged in the same manner in the inside. There is no surgical way to get at them in a live body, and I have no clues on how to stop this epidemic.” He replied as he wiped his hands excessively with a cloth, still clearly unnerved by her presence with the corpse.
“You will find something soon, I’m sure of it.” She approached Marcus to lovingly put her arm around him and rested her chin on his shoulder. “In the meantime, you should get some rest. You’re other will become cross if you neglect yourself.”
Marcus sighed heavily.
“It’s your werekind I worry about. I threatened mine into submission before it overtook me. But yours could emerge at any moment. How can I think of rest when that thing still lives inside of you?”
Emily withdrew, “You talk as though I am a monster.”
“Are you not? Are we not all beasts here?”
She glared at him with her deep brown eyes. Despite his brilliance in medicine, her time with the wild werekind of the Highlands taught her far more about the creatures than his dissections ever could. They were not monsters, nor was she. How could the man she loved be so naïve? Her pale soft skin flushed as she retorted.
“Monster or not, I still say you need rest. But, I will leave you to your work. Good night Marcus.”
Before he could respond, Emily turned abruptly and left.
Once out of the room she immediately felt a twinge of guilt. After all, he was working so hard on her behalf. There was so much he had risked for her. Nevertheless, she knew it was pointless to apologize while she still fumed over his ignorance.
She wandered the many dark halls of the abandoned monastery. In a quiet room she found a small group of other residents huddled close together. They spoke in whispers and refused to acknowledge her presence. She knew they were werekind, like her, she had met them before. She also knew they whispered because of her. Because she was different.
Unlike the werekind that camped here, Emily had suffered many months under the control of her savage other. The werekind with them in the monastery had been found out early and trained before the creatures emerged. They dominated and tortured their werekind into submission from the start. But, she learned another way. It was Heinrich, leader of the wild werekind, that took her in and taught her more gentle ways taming the beast within.
She shivered as she passed on through another cold corridor. Sadly, Heinrich’s better means did not justify his twisted ends.
Marcus only barely convinced the others in the group to allow her freedom within the stone walls she now walked. He pledged on his very life that her werekind was not a threat, and took on all the responsibility for her presence in the group.
Emily soon wandered into the large kitchen lit with the cheerful orange glow of a fire in the hearth. There she found one of the few friends she had made since her rescue from Heinrich’s camp. The hulking Gordon smiled up at her from his work at the butcher block.
“’Ello Miss Barrows. Are ya hungry? I’ve got a side a beef that’s nearly done. Keepin’ up with feedin’ this lot is a bloody chore I tell ya.” Gordon laid his butcher’s knife aside washed his large hands from the bloodstains that nearly matched his tightly cropped hair.
“No, thank you Gordon. My other isn’t hungry now.”
Gordon paused and his forehead furrowed, “Now, why is it you call it like that?”
“What do you mean?” Emily responded looking equally confused.
“You called it yer ‘other’, I never heard anyone talk about their werekind like that.”
“I had never really thought about it. That is what was said among Heinrich’s people,” she paused a moment. “I guess they see it more as a part of them, of who they are, instead of something that came on them.”
She felt a sudden twitch through her arm. “But it is a bit restless. Where do you let them stretch around here?”
“I, err. . . Beg yer pardon?”
“You know, exercise. Flex your limbs. Let them breathe a little.” Emily waved her arm as she spoke, allowing her hand and forearm to take on the change. A good stretch would do much to sooth her other, not to mention her own strained emotions. Gordon looked on in confusion at the strong claws and savage appearance that came over her limb.
A sharp female reprimand came from behind her.
“They do not breathe here. They are servants, not playthings,” Emily turned to find the dark glaring eyes of Chin. Both Chin and Gordon had been there when Marcus took her from Heinrich’s grip.
“Says who?” asked Emily playfully. Something about the Asian woman’s rigid disposition evoked the most juveniles of temptations in Emily.
“Mr. Otto trains us all. He knows how to control the werekind.”
“Yes, I’ve heard a lot about this Mr. Otto,” Emily spoke coyly as she wandered toward a large iron kettle that rested near the butcher’s block. “But, I have yet to meet the man.”
“Otto’s a right busy man these days, what with the werekind spreading ‘cross Scotland and all.” interjected Gordon as he checked his beef that cooked above the blazing fire.
“Never know when he’ll show up.”
“Well then, in the meantime why not have a bit of fun?” In one swift motion, Emily deftly lifted the massive kettle with her beast-like arm and sent it sailing through the air towards Gordon.
The brute of a man caught the kettle with a grunt and a smile. He threw it back straight at Emily, who caught it, this time with two powerful, clawed hands. Still, the force of the heavy pot pushed her back and she braced herself on the floor by the claws that from sprung feet.
“Gordon!” scolded Chin as Emily returned the throw again. “You stop!”
Chin stepped between Emily and Gordon. The back of her head, with its tightly pulled back hair, blocked Emily’s view as Chin continued Gordon’s reprimand. Emily took advantage of arrangement and leapt to the high arched ceiling where she clung from a rough-hewn beam by a single hand.
Chin turned to address Emily, while from above Emily silently motioned for Gordon to toss the pot up to her. Surprised by the disappearance of the young woman Chin turned back to Gordon who merely raised his now empty hands in feigned ignorance.
“Look out below,” laughed Emily as she sent the kettle back again toward Gordon before dropping gracefully to the center table between Gordon and Chin.
“Aw c’mon Chin’y,” the big man grinned between his red mutton chops. “Don’ be so uptight.”
He leaned his large frame to the side and threw the Kettle past Emily right at Chin, forcing her to catch it by releasing the long slender arms of her own werekind. Chin and Gordon had worked alongside one another for a long time. It was clear to Emily that he knew how to get at her.
Chin paused for a moment before allowing herself a small smile. She threw the kettle high over Emily’s head, and the game was on. ‘Piggy in the Middle’ had been one of Emily’s favorite childhood games, but she never imagined playing it with a pair of half-monster adults and an iron kettle weighing nearly as much as she did!
The raucous of their frivolity must have traveled through the halls of the quiet monastery. It wasn’t but four passes before Marcus appeared. His brow furrowed and his face turned red as he stared at the scene.
“What in heaven’s name is going on here!” he shouted over the laughter. Emily was in such high spirits that she hardly noticed the severe tone of his voice. She thought it must be a comical scene for him to encounter three grown adults playing Pig with monstrous disproportionate limbs. Gordon who needed no help from his other was the only one of the three that remained unchanged. Emily chuckled at the thought and faked a throw toward Marcus before tossing the pot toward Chin.
“Stop this foolishness this instant!” Marcus raged. Chin was laughing hard as she sent the pot sailing high again.
A ferocious roar resounded and the laughter stopped. A gray blur intercepted the pot at the peak of its arc. Marcus and the pot came to the ground with a seething growl on the opposite side of the room.
“I said STOP!”
Almost fully transformed into his most monstrous self, Marcus swung the kettle violently against the stone floor. The sound shook the rafters and splintered shards of rock flew in all directions. The solid iron pot split down one side.
Emily, Gordon, and Chin stared as Marcus knelt and gripped the floor with his hands. He strained against his werekind as he willed it back into hiding within his human form. Emily rushed to his side as soon as she thought it safe.
“Marcus, I’m sorry. Are you alright?”
“Miss Emily Barrows I presume?” came a terse and unfamiliar voice.
Emily and Marcus looked up to find a bald man in spectacles standing in the doorway of the kitchen. Despite his small stature, everyone felt his commanding presence as he entered the room.
“Mr. Otto!” Gasped Chin casting her gaze shamefully at the floor.
“Would anyone care to explain this childish and unbelievably dangerous scenario?” Though the German man barely raised his voice, a hot anger bled through his words.
“I . . .” stuttered Emily.
“It’s my fault.” Marcus quickly finished composing himself and rose to face the man. “I should have explained our rules to her more clearly.”
“So it would seem,” replied the Otto clearly dissatisfied.
“I’ve been preoccupied with my research. I should have taken more time to . . .”
“See that you do,” interrupted Otto. “You are well aware of the consequences.”
Otto’s icy glare felt like it went straight into Emily as he spoke the last of his warning. The rigid man turned abruptly to walk from the room while he continued, “Gordon, Chin, we have news on the epidemic that will require your action. Please follow me.”
The two werekind followed their leader without hesitation, leaving Marcus and Emily alone in the kitchen.
The moment everyone was gone Emily embraced Marcus tightly. She buried her face in his shoulder. “I’m so sorry Marcus. I just. . . I didn’t mean to. . .”
He returned her embrace stiffly at first, then more softly as he spoke. “No, I’m sorry. He should not have treated you like that. He may be a brilliant man, but he is cold and hardened by years of the torment we all suffer.”
“I know you’ve done so much here, so much so that I could be here. Maybe I don’t . . . ” chancing a glance into his grey eyes, she pondered her place in his world. Everything had changed when they were bitten. Their paths since that time had been so different. How could he ever . . . ?
“Your place is by my side and I will not let anyone say differently. Ever.”