VI. THE LUNAR COVENANT
I am sure you are curious why I asked you to meet me here, on a bridge in the middle of nowhere, at midnight.
This is an old place, with old customs and languages. This is strange to many, because the country and its borders and government are so young. Flags and anthems were imposed from outside, and adopted from the inside. We’re near the border with another young-old nation-state. The reason is simple: In-between things are natural to our discussion.
You are right. The river does smell “funny.” You’ve always had keen senses, of course. It could not be otherwise.
I’ve read your book. You say that you have found signs of strange things in the world, and they disturb you. You speak of the paranormal, and again, you find it troubling. I assure you, there is nothing to be troubled about. We are here, and safe, on a beautiful night. I have new information to share with you. You think you will not find another publisher for your “sensational” stories that “cannot be corroborated.” Again, I assure you, you have nothing to fear.
Ah, yes, the movement below us, in the water. Do not be alarmed, you and I have nothing to fear. The movement heralds something important that you needed to see as part of your initiation tonight.
I have a great interest in your writings. Not only do I have information that can aid you, but I am even friends with a publisher in the capitol. We do not have many publishers anywhere on this continent, and it is hard to find books printed in our own language. I, for one, am weary of reading in French or Portuguese. The local tongue is more comfortable for me, and what is more, it is better to convey the things you need to share.
There is, in fact, money for such books as yours. It is not a great deal, but it is enough to keep you supplied with what you need to live a, ah, normal life. As I say, I will introduce you to the right people. Your books will quietly introduce others of the right people to the right ideas. No, no! I am not part of some spy network! I do not work for the secret police! I work for secret things, but… not police.
You are impatient. Very well, I will tell you what that is in the water. It is Grandmother. Mine, yours, and so many others…
It may surprise you to find that there are many people in the world who are not quite people as you know them. You may be further surprised that even many of them do not know this! It is hard to communicate the reality of this situation to all of them in a quick and easy way. There is a need for a good, clear voice that does not give too much away all at once. I think you have such a voice, in your writing. That is one reason for our meeting.
A mass of slime?! Hahahaha! I’m sure she will like to hear you speak of her that way when you are introduced!
Hahahaha! No, the introduction is not a joke! But she is not in the publishing business, either! Hahahahaha! Oh come now, my friend, it is a good night to be alive and you have nothing to fear. Do not edge away from me, we have business to discuss. It is urgent, for if you leave me here I may not find you again for many, many years. I could wait that time, but I would prefer not to. So please, stay with me and let us talk while matters take shape below us.
We can go to the capitol together, and negotiate with my friend for a series of books, locally published. He does not care what currency you wish to be paid in, and he will give you a good price for your work. Good enough, in any event. The biggest money is in the industrialized world, but there are those who build dark empires in that world, and I think we should stay away from them.
Eh? Of course, you do have a valid point. She is a shapeless form, but this is only one of her forms. Does this seem at all familiar to you, my friend?
I believe you have many of the right ideas about what is happening in the hidden world, unknown to most people. You probably have made many connections that seem so uncanny that only a handful believe you. You seem to barely believe yourself! The photographs you put in your narratives, blurry and indistinct… they convince nobody, but they have a strange sense of the uncanny. Have you noticed that in many of them, the blurry shape of the unknown creature is the only indistinct part of the image? You say that the subject of the photograph was in motion, causing the camera to register only a blur. That is one explanation. But what if the thing the witness sought to photograph was actually blurred at the moment they took the picture?
You tell me that I am not making sense. Permit me to try to explain all of this in a way that will “make sense” for your college-educated brain. Your fancy European college… This requires me to go very, very far into the past. Please be patient with me. I am not the storyteller that you are.
As you may know, life began on Earth long, long ago—much longer ago than even the most recent scientific evidence shows. And as the most recent scientific evidence shows, it “may” have begun in more places and ways than only one. Seas and lightning here, deep places and volcanism there, chemical compounds on meteorites, et cetera.
In each of these places, times and chemical cauldrons, chemicals joined together into the building blocks of “higher life.” And from this biological broth came cells, which learned to join together into all the different shapes of life.
Most of those cells joined together into the life we see all around us. Plants, bacteria, fish, mammals, birds, and all of these shapes molded by natural selection—that which can live, will live.
What you have not been told is that for some of these cells, there was also a process of unnatural selection. Life sprang forth from Mother Earth much earlier than humanity suspected, and so did self-awareness. For these masses of undifferentiated cells, a kind of biology and consciousness came into existence that is unknown to most. A consciousness that could reach into the world around them by instinct, acutely sensing their environment and subconsciously learning its strengths and weaknesses… feeling the emotions and thoughts of the life all around them.
Like certain jellyfish, these biomasses were immune to the passing of time. Like the octopus, they could write and rewrite their genetic code. Like certain microorganisms, they were incredibly tough, immune to the ravages of most of their environment. The regenerative strength of many species was reborn in them.
You do not yet seem bored. Do I dare imagine you find all of this familiar? And important?
Over the course of many millions of years, they became able to learn from the world around them. Retaining memory in bizarre configurations of matter and energy inside their kaleidoscopic bodies, leaving no fossil record of their existence because they could not die, these astounding creatures made use of the lessons learned by other animals. From a pool of ooze, they assembled strong muscles, tough bones, teeth—claws—all the parts they could need to live among the single-bodied.
Yet they could still return to their primal nature, if they wished. This they often did, under the light of the moon, which they loved more than the sun it reflects. The moon is cool and gentle. It does not pry or scold.
Your eyes do not deceive. Grandmother is greeting the wading leopards below. She has a face for each of them. You say they are not leopards? That something looks wrong about them?
“Wrong” is a subjective thing, don’t you think, my friend?
Are you sure you find them “wrong?”
What happened to these amazing creatures that take on many shapes? They moved through the world, multiplying and living as other things do. For a time, many of them wanted to become creative with their gifts—some liked to combine the lion and the eagle, others the deer and the hawk, snakes with bats, and so forth. But with the advent of homo sapiens, most learned to love the merger of beast with man—while truly being neither.
I can practically see the images in your mind now. Perhaps more than “practically.” The sphinx, the manticore, the satyr, the naga, the mermaid, the minotaur, the… werewolf.
You’re right. They are mating below us, in the shallow black water of the river. It is rare that young emerge from such unions; only one is “birthed” in a matter of decades. That is not all that mating is for, my friend.
Hahahaha, yes, you are right, Grandmother is also Grandfather!
Shall I return to our story? You do not seem as discomfited as you protest you are. I think you are beginning to find all of this very familiar.
The more exotic forms, like many-headed serpents, shapeless things in lakes, winged wolves and hairy forest-men, faded into legend both elder and urban. But the creatures that had worn those shapes remained—they do not die, but can only be killed, as you will recall—walking among humanity in the shape of humanity. And at need, taking another set of shapes related to a well-loved animal, almost a totem, really.
You might call them werecreatures, though that hardly means anything. They are not human at all, and even their beast-shapes are not their real forms. They are undying flesh given self-willed purpose, grouped together as they align with their favored biological designs. You could never say they were families, nor tribes, nor nations, nor sects. They are more… unions of likeminded souls.
You seem unable to take your eyes from the writhing mass in the moonlit water. Should I leave you to think on them? No? I suspect I have no real secrets left for you now, but I never really did. You see, we forget ourselves. Long eons of thought and feeling and experience become a sort of fossilized data in our protean cells. We forget who we have been and what we have done. But the shock of recognition frees our thoughts and we know ourselves again.
You need a little more? Very well. Only do not trouble yourself to look away from what so obviously fascinates you. It fascinates me as well.
Even formless, elder life that passes among humanity like the tiger through the jungle must join in some sort of culture beyond the physical. Shapeshifters are thinking beings, feeling creatures that wish for more than empty, eternal survival. Each shapeshifter has their own goals and their own feelings. One night, long before the primates first used tools and language, we entered into a species-wide pact. We agreed under the beloved moon that we would each be free to rove the whole world and partake of any of it we wished. All would share everything in perfect kinship, denying nothing to a sibling and standing together in mutual defense. This was the Lunar Covenant.
The shapeshifters of the land, the sea, the air and—if memory serves, but it is so erratic!—other, stranger climes all agreed and swore by the powers within themselves that the Lunar Covenant would be upheld until the world died. It was a wordless oath of love and harmony that should never have been broken.
We have always been at war with the Myrmidons.
The empire of the Cold-Bloods is an obscenity. This is the primal division that sundered the Lunar Covenant: The Myrmidons, the treacherous insect warrior shapeshifters, wished to take and keep… everything. They learned from the colony insect and the ancient human empire builders, and the lesson they kept closest in their hearts was a selfishness masked by their so-called “communities.” After countless cycles of the Earth around her sun, the Myrmidons decided that they could no longer share with the other shapeshifters. The world would no longer be held in common. Some would own, others would owe. A great and brutal hierarchy would be imposed upon every living thing, and every earthly resource would be weighed and priced.
We who upheld the Covenant could not fight fire with fire, as we had in the past. To become like the Myrmidons and their allies—the hungry ichthyoids of the ocean, and the scheming web-spinners—would be to abandon the Covenant ourselves. It was plain to see that the Myrmidons’ strategy was strongest, and that chaining themselves together in harsh order gave them the solidarity they needed. They overcame our opposition at nearly every turn.
The Covenant and the Myrmidons continue our shadow war to this night. We heal our wounds and celebrate our love in the hidden places by moonlight, hunting and devouring outsiders when they happen upon our Festival. We take away a little of the pain of our memories with our unions… as you see.
I think your memory has reemerged. This is a good thing. You and I have both Manifested many times, my friend, more times than either of us could count. When our minds try to apprehend all of the things we have seen and done and felt, we go… a little mad.
But there are only so many of us in all the world, and all our joys and grudges are mountains upon our shoulders. We will re-Manifest again and again, from the dark places and the wombs of other species, into eternity—so it is good that we share and share alike. Many hands make light work, and many hearts make light souls.
There are so many hearts below, in the water. The moon is beautiful tonight. I will take on my other face, the Leopard, and join them. It is your face, too, dear friend. Come with me. Let us go to the Festival of the Lunar Covenant.
When the joy has passed, we must plan further in our Eternal War.
The Lunar Covenant are supernatural creatures, but they are not of the human era, or even of the pre-human era. They emerged from the earliest formation of life on Earth, parallel to literally every variety of organism ever formed on the planet. They share the oxygen-carbon biochemistry of normal life, but not genetics, chirality or any other esoteric scientific measurement. The Covenant are more alien to humanity than a palmetto tree, a tarantula or a retrovirus. They partake of the magical qualities of reality, but on their own instinctive terms. Or are they instinctive? One truth of the Covenant is that they are so old, even they do not fully comprehend themselves. Each of these creatures has countless lives buried in the fossil record of their souls, and each of them is internally a parliament of endless voices.
It would be fair to say that any given shapeshifter is billions of years old. They can limit themselves to this shape or that shape, building a personality out of everything they have ever been and carefully damming away everything that they “are not.” They mimic the lifecycles of other species, even building relationships with them, but there are only so many shapeshifters in the world and very few die or are born at any time. Normally, they live for a time and then decline, withdrawing and breaking back down into their primordial mass—which disgustingly slithers away to gestate itself in seeds, eggs and wombs of unsuspecting non-shapeshifters. Raised like cuckoos in the nests of other birds, the Covenant’s shapeshifters slowly reclaim the portions of their oozing plasmic bodies, secretly returning to full strength. Eventually, when their instinct tells them to do so, they return to full consciousness of their nature—they Manifest.
Transforming from one shape to another is something they can do anytime, but it always carries the risk of stirring up unwanted feelings in them. When this happens, they may forget what they came to do in their current Manifestation, or even go violently berserk. They might remember a “past life” grudge, or forget it, or mistake you for someone who wronged them in the past. They feel a sentimental, almost sexual, urge to transform when the moon is brightest.
In their earliest eras, the shapeshifters were of almost godlike power and potential, able to adapt to any environment and turn themselves into anything they needed. This faded away well before warm-blooded life existed, as they became creatures of habit and sentiment. Their “species” of shapeshifter are their cultures and banners—to be a Wereleopard is to cherish everything that being a Wereleopard is, and to prefer it for oneself over any other option. It would take unimaginable centuries for a shapeshifter to rewrite themselves to become anything else. But within the spectrum of human-to-leopard (for example), a Wereleopard can take a huge number of biological liberties. Even incredibly grotesque possibilities loom, like a man-leopard with drooling fanged mouths in place of hands, or a leopard-centaur, or leopard head and human head side by side, or… well, the possibilities are vast.
Magic manifests itself in their flesh and minds. They do not need spells or magic-tech, they simply do magical things. Mass flows into and out of their bodies by means of magic; in ancient days, the shapeshifters could be any size, from the microscopic to the gigantic. When they transform, it is a sickening, nightmarish sight—less of a Universal Studios horror film, and more of a Lovecraftian hallucination.
They are not immune to attack. In addition to the many ways conventional and unconventional weapons can harm them (despite their astounding abilities to adapt and regenerate), they share a weakness with many microbes and fungi: Silver. Ordinary silver is toxic enough to them that it causes them severe pain and injury, though it isn’t instantly fatal. (No bullet through the heart is enough!) The two stable isotopes of silver and 28 radioactive isotopes of silver are rarely encountered, but they are immediately lethal to a shapeshifter.
There are two main factions of the shapeshifters: The Lunar Covenant and their enemies, the Covenant Breakers (as the Covenant calls them). They are divided neatly between the warm-blooded and cold-blooded societies of shapeshifters.
The Wereleopard and Werejaguar of Africa and South America spearhead the Covenant, allied with the Berserks (Werebears of Europe), Werecoyotes of North America, Weretanuki of Asia and Werecetaceans of the ocean. Lesser alliances are had with Werelions, Weretigers and Selkies (Wereseals of Europe).
The Empire of the Myrmidon (shapeshifters modeling themselves on the ant, the termite, the wasp, the bee, etc.) expanded from Europe to North America and all the rest of the world—wherever Europeans have colonized. The Myrmidons themselves do most of the work for their group, though they have the alliances of Weresharks in the oceans and Werespiders in hidden places.
Three more sorts of shapeshifters—the Werehyena, Werefox, and Werewolf—do whatever they wish, honoring neither group’s laws and serving nobody’s side. All three are almost bandit-like toward non-shapeshifters, killing, manipulating and exploiting as they wish. All will flee before the massed power of either the Covenant or the Myrmidons.
Even with their bitter, ancient internal war, the shapeshifters still have more in common with one another than anything else they meet. It is not uncommon for them to set aside their differences to smash an outside threat, and then return to savaging one another.
Outsiders talk of the Lunar Covenant’s affinity for Earth religions and ecological awareness. This is true, but it is only part of their nature. They feel a true kinship with primal Earth that a human (or human-derived entity) or fleshless spirit simply cannot feel. They venerate Earth as the only bed that truly gives them rest and the moon as they only light that ever eases their spirits. But this is a primordial love. They have no special love for non-industrial humans, or even for animals and plants. They were here before any of the rest of Earth’s biosphere existed. If the billions of species of their cousins were to all be scoured away and the planet left as nothing but roiling skies, boiling seas and naked rock, the shapeshifters would continue on alone.
Why do you waste my time asking me about frivolous human bodies continuing to twitch after their deaths? They’re shortsighted and stupid. They suck blood out of living humans and imagine they’re not fleas. What difference do they make?
The fleas of the fleas.
Soft, weak thoughts and feelings coalescing around the world like a mist. The dead humans don’t want to go, but they can do so very little if they stay. Their saving grace is their long memories. They remember things when we forget. When you find one that does this for you, spare them a little love.
Idiots. They want to play with the balance of life and death and change the natural cycle. They might as well want to make every season last ten thousand years. If they appear to be near their goals, just kill them.
More idiots. They want to call foreign creatures that do not belong in this ecosystem to take part in it. Like cattle asking tigers to swim over the ocean to displace wolves. No, more like cattle asking giant octopi to displace wolves. Ughhhh… just kill them!
Another group of fools that want to change the natural order of things. These ones are particularly annoying, so gut them before killing them.
You’ve never heard such lecturing as these “witches and wizards” offer. They do have an odd admiration for us, treating us as some sort of “nature totems.” If they’re respectful, there’s nothing wrong with cautiously tolerating them.
Of the human factions, the only ones with any real interest. They try to destroy us, which is a good way to keep our skills honed. Apart from that pastime, they work to keep the population of “supernatural” idiots under control, and that cannot be bad. Let them live unless they go too far.
The other factions are varying sorts of strange and troubling. As details emerge about them, we must address them.