Luna had forgotten when she had last felt her left arm. It was as numb as a block of ice. The little linen swathed bundle in it heaved up and down, gently, like a flower blooming and closing. She felt the infant’s forehead. The fever had raised its hood again. Her little round face was losing its iridescent glow with every passing minute.
The darkness around them was getting denser. Dancing lights and festoons in the distance mocked Luna. She tried to reach for the lights, in a moment of mad hope that if she could, everything would be okay. But the devastation behind her was the truth. She couldn’t stop, not for a minute. The Moon Marauders would soon find her and the baby.
“Choiron, find Choiron!” Queen Selene’s last words hadn’t made sense to Luna, but she had hurriedly swaddled the baby and fled. The Marauders had decimated the Kingdom of the Waxing Moon. They were now coming after its only heir, the little princess who was asleep in Luna’s arms. Soon they would swoop down on them, their black cloaks spread like bat wings and the gibbous moon would turn convex, like the stomach of a starving child before completely disappearing into their cloaks.
Luna pulled her hood over her head, her lips pursed in resolve. She would get the princess to Choiron, to safety, even if it killed her. Her bleeding soles screamed for rest, but she pushed through the dunes of moon dust, focusing only on the lights in the distance.
As she neared the bazaar, the brightness almost fooled her into happy thoughts. She could smell the warm notes of cardamom and incense mixed with the acrid stench of moonshine from the bordello. Silks rustled, laughter tinkled and voices haggled with vendors. How blissfully unaware they were of what was coming.
“Are you lost, my dear?” A slimy voice asked. Luna instinctively drew the baby close to her chest. A bony hand with discolored nails and a precious gemstone on every finger clutched her shoulder. Luna turned around slowly, shuddering to see what the hand was attached to.
Fingers digging deeper into Luna’s skin, the oracle lifted her turbaned head upwards. Her pupils rolled back into her head, revealing only the whites of her eyes. “Darkness is coming! Everything will turn into dust!” Her tone changed into a gruff whisper, as if she was possessed.
Luna stepped back in fear and broke into a run, bumping into people on her way. She turned into an alley and finally came to a stop with her back against a brick wall. The baby was breathing, but the glow on her face was fading fast, which could only mean one thing. The Marauders were fast approaching. The Moon was probably just a pearlescent sliver now.
“Choiron!” she whispered in a desperate prayer.
“The cure for everything is here! Step right in!” A shrill voice hawked. It came from a tent on her right. “From insomnia to infertility, from your bald pate to the cold heart of your mate, we cure everything!” It looked like a quack’s makeshift dispensary.
Luna was drawn to the dusty tent by an unknown force. Bowing her head down, she stepped inside. Bottles of colored liquids were stacked on top of each other in pyramids.
“Choiron?” She whispered. What was she doing here?
From one of the bottle towers, emerged a being with a pig’s face and a human body.
“Who wants to know?” He snorted, stroking his long beard.
Luna simply showed him the baby’s face. “Princess Chandra! It is as I had feared then. The peace treaty between the Waxing and Waning kingdoms broken!”
He took the princess in his arms. “Only you, little one, can save the Waxing Moon now.” He whispered softly into Chandra’s ears.
“You’ve done well, Luna. But we have to leave. Now.” He opened a leather drawstring pouch and stepped inside it. He stretched his arm out for her.
Luna nodded her head. “A soldier never leaves her post. Godspeed, Choiron!”
Just as Choiron and Princess Chandra vanished into the pouch in a flash of bright light, Luna drew her sword and stepped out of the tent.