The Lorelei Signal
Written by Austin Worley / Artwork by Marge Simon
Watcher Arlise Dun pitched her torch at the werewolf’s feet. It yelped, terror-stricken eyes locked onto the flames as it backed down the tunnel. Just like the books had taught, thank the Mother!
That wretched creature still stared at the torch when Arlise thrust her starmetal blade through its neck. Wrenching the pale sword free, she spattered the cave with blood. Growling, gurgling, the monster collapsed. _That’s the last of this pack._ She sheathed her weapon and snatched up the torch.
Pity welled in her heart as light danced over the werewolf. A female. Mother have mercy on her soul. The cursed woman should’ve kept to the woods, to deer and boar instead of people and cattle. We never would’ve come for you then. But the Order of Watchers couldn’t ignore two dozen butchered men, women, and children.
Arlise knelt beside the hunched, furry corpse. The dead woman was just as much a victim as those her pack had slaughtered. After all, werewolves’ minds were stolen and warped. How did you turn? Accidentally trespassing on cursed Tyrian ruins, or bitten by another unfortunate soul?
A whimper scattered her thoughts. She raised her torch, revealing a mound of dirt and sticks at the tunnel’s rear. A…nest?
“Hello?” Arlise drew her blade, crept closer, and peered inside. A tiny ball of fur slept huddled against the muddy wall.
She gasped. A pup?! The Order’s books never mentioned infant werewolves. What do I do? Dreadful things followed whenever she dealt with the unforeseen. Arlise’s mind turned back to Laufenden, when she was a noblewoman. A shiver swept down her back before she banished the memories and refocused on the sleeping child.
Knight-Lieutenant Carsten’s orders were to end the threat, nothing more. Without his pack, the pup would starve. Or freeze. Or get eaten. What threat could such a little creature pose?
Then reason spoke. What if someone stumbled on him, got nipped, and started a new pack? What if he grew up somehow? Kill him. Better safe than sorry. Arlise drew back her arm, ready to deliver a lethal thrust. She froze.
Disgust welled up. I used that logic before. Arlise remembered Laufenden. At the time, burning that village to flush out the Usurper seemed the lesser evil. The safer option. Walking amongst one hundred and eighty-seven slain innocents showed her how wrong she’d been.
Guilt and regret twisted her innards. The woman I was is dead. She died when I joined the Order. Despite only half believing it, she clung to the words. Only hope for redemption drove Arlise to get up every morning.
She glanced back at the pup. Efforts to break werewolf curses might’ve proven fruitless so far, but how many subjects had the Watchers ever captured?
He could bite you on the way back, reason chided.
But that didn’t matter. No more innocents would die by her hand. The woman I was is dead. Sheathing her blade, Arlise scooped up the cursed child and cradled him in her arms.
A native of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, Austin Worley writes speculative fiction and poetry. His published stories include heroic fantasy following Arlise Dun—noblewoman, mercenary, and a Sister in the Order of Watchers—on her quest for redemption, Weird Westerns inspired by the rich history of his home state, and genre-bending tales starring the vigilante Whippoorwill.
When he isn’t writing, Austin enjoys amateur astronomy and astrophotography, video games, and reading (especially speculative fiction).