When I looked up at the room we had entered, I didn't feel so safe anymore. A dark, vaulted ceiling stretched away into the long shadows above me, dripping with cobwebs that dangled with eerie malice toward the flagstone floor beneath our feet. Grim, square windows threw bars of ghostly moonlight across the hallway, illuminating the bauble at the end of a long bannister stretching up ahead.
Ellie shivered as more werewolves crossed the threshold, into the temple, but I ventured forward, unconcerned. Before I could reach the staircase, however, the strips of moonlight on the floor began to fade. Clouds were scudding across the moon, hiding it from view.
And the werewolves were transforming. Claws were shrinking into nails, hair was receding into the skin, snouts were flattening into noses, and eyes that had burnt blood red mellowed into browns, blues and greys. Before we knew it, we were stood before a village's worth of people, men, women and children, all of whom were staring at me, Ellie, and Roxy, who was slumped on the floor, staring at her hands.
Then a man lit a torch. His haggard face swam into view out of the darkness.
"Who are you?' he demanded.
"Who are you?' I retorted.
"I asked first," he snarled, his upper lip curling to reveal pointed teeth that sparkled maliciously in the torchlight.
"You attacked our friend," I continued defiantly. "I -"
But the man nodded to a young boy, who, quick as a shadow, sprang to Ellie's neck, a dagger sparking to her throat. Ellie gave a quiet whimper.
"I ask the questions round here," snapped the man, grinning ferally. "Why have you come here?"
I paused, loath to obey, but then I saw Ellie's anxious face, and the dagger at her neck.
"Our friend Roxy was cursed," I said quietly,
"A - a sorcerer, we think," I stammered, but the man cut me off.
"And you seek to use Solomon's Gem, that which resides at the top of the tower, to revive her?"
"Yes, and -"
"You lie!" spat the man, waving his torch aggressively.
"They speak the truth, Hawkin," said a wizened old man, leaning heavily on a wooden walking stick. "I see it in her eyes ..."
"Oh, they do, do they, Gerald?" growled Hawkin, who span around to confront the objector. "And that gives them more right than us, we who have waited for ever for an end to our suffering, to Solomon's Gem?"
A frisson ran through the crowd.
"It does not matter, anyhow," sighed Gerald. "None of us know how to work Solomon's Gem."
"I do," said Ellie.
Her captor was so surprised that he dropped the dagger, which dropped into a crack in the flagstones and quivered ominously in the floor. I turned to Ellie in shock, surprised she hadn't told me ... but that could wait.
The man called Hawkin was looking from Ellie, to me, and then to Roxy, who was still on the floor looking dazed. Then his eyes narrowed.
"Alright, then," he said quietly, rubbing his coarse beard pensively. "I'll make a deal with you. You promise to work Solomon's Gem to cure us of our affliction, and we will spare your lives. If not, we shall kill you, as is our custom with all trespassers."
"Not very sociable, are you?" I said, folding my arms.
"Can you blame us?" shouted a young woman suddenly. "When you whole ones shun us as if we are no more than rabid dogs?"
My defiance was ebbing as these words sank in. These people had not chosen to live here, away from the rest of civilisation. It wasn't their fault that they turned into uncontrollable, man-eating beasts at every full moon ...
"Make your choice," growled Hawkin, "before the Eye of Light opens again ..."