The fading sunlight was bright on his eyes. Too bright. His head ached as another of the countless bumps shook the cart, setting the running line rattling. Manacles bound his wrists, on the one side, the running line secured him to one of his neighbors from the village. On his other, his little sister. She was gaunt,her cheeks were hollowed out, sunken. She was shivering in spite of the warm evening. All of this because she was slowly starving to death. When the men in red had come to the village, they killed all who resisted, including their parents. They burned down all the buildings, the shrine, the houses and the barn, and those they didn’t kill were in the cart with him. The place where they were being taken, he had heard about it. Whispers and rumors were few and far between in the North, but it seemed everything that came from the South was of this place, this Rome.
He could guess the reason why they had come, he hoped that wasn’t the reason. He knew it was though. Through the cart’s small window, he saw little of this Rome. What he did see, didn’t make sense. Towering buildings made of stone of all things. Why use stone for that? Stone belonged to the earth. These people seemed to flaunt the fact that they live in the bones of the earth. The Goddess would be mad at them. He traced a symbol in the air to ward off Her fury.
The cart rolled to a stop and men began to shout, the sound of a crowd gathering could be heard. The entire back wall of the cart opened into the fading daylight, causing his eyes to hurt. The wall made a ramp to the ground they could walk on. The fat one with no hair came up the ramp and pulled on the running line and started shouting in his language. No one in the cart moved. He shouted louder, this time brandishing a whip. The old one nearest him, stood and motioned the others to do the same. Everyone stood, except his sister. She was far too weak to do such a thing. The fat one shouted at her, drawing back to strike with the whip. He moved to defend his sister, taking the hit himself. An angry red welt rose on his chest, he stood defiantly between the fat one and his sister. He bent over and picked her slight form off the floor. She looked at him with a smile full of love. He managed a smile back, for her sake.
Two in red came around and grabbed the end of the running lines, and led them to a platform, a man was shouting over the crowd, waving and gesturing like a lunatic at them. He didn’t understand. Why was this happening? They had come to his village after their monthly ceremony, tonight would have been the next, if they were still at home. The old one was let off the chain and led up to the shouting one. The shouting one seemed apologetic about the old one for some reason. Did they not respect their elders in this Rome? Few in the crowd shouted back, but eventually a few shiny round things were handed to the shouting one. The old one was led away.
An hour had passed, the sun had now set. Only he and his sister were left on the chain. They came for his sister. They tried to take her from him, but he resisted them. A spear butt to the base of his skull allowed them to take her. He lay on the ground, dazed and crying. Then the call began.
A painful heartbeat shook his entire body, clearing his head instantly. He glanced around wildly, the full moon had just risen above the stone buildings. He suddenly felt as though he was partially removed from his body. His senses now sharpened to a razor like quality. The stink of the sweaty crowd, the sound of hearts beating, the feeling of the tension in the air prickled his skin.
The chains were broken, how? He was free, why?
The fat one with no hair, the shouting one, and all the rest were looking on in horror. He lunged at the one in red who took his sister. He didn’t remember what happened next as the call took a stronger hold.
When he regained his control, his muzzle and paws were covered in blood. The ones in red lay in pools of their own blood and entrails, their metal shirts torn open. The fat one with no hair had his head laying by his feet, a horrified look frozen on his pudgy face. The shouting one had been disemboweled where he stood. Most of the crowd had been killed in similar ways. The remaining people had run off to find more of the ones in red. He could smell them gathering nearby.
His sister was sleeping quietly, looking peaceful for the first time in nearly a month. The others from his village came back to stand around her. The blood of the ones that took them away fresh on them. They stood as a circular vigil around her. And as one, they howled their triumph to the sky.