A sense of uncleanness and foreboding grew thicker the higher I climbed, a palpable presence. Here I saw no other living thing. The air ceased to stir.
I came at last to the temple site. The structure itself had long since collapsed, long before my time. Its walls lay in pieces now, broken slabs scattered over the ground. Grass, dead and brown, poked up through what had once been the flagstones, in the places where these were not covered fully by the gray soil. The stumps of columns, broken and jagged, listing to one side or another, protruded from the dirt like rotted teeth from diseased gums. Here I heard nothing, not the wind, of a certainty not the birds, nothing but the buzzing of the flies.
The place felt sick, or caused me to feel that way; felt unclean, as indeed it was; unholy; desecrated.
Centuries past, the people of this land had sacrificed human lives, human flesh to the lord of this mountain. They had provided libations of living blood, the blood of the dying, hot, but cooling as it spewed free from living bodies. The citizens of Arcadia had long neglected the worship of Lycanon, but they had not forgotten him. They could not. He remained still here.
I sat down on a piece of the fallen walls. I waited. I prayed. God waited with me. I knew that Lycanon would come. He would not refuse the challenge. I also knew he would not reveal himself until nightfall, until the coming of darkness and the rising of the moon.
The moon would come to its fullest that night.
The moon arrived first. I watched it as it first peeked at me from behind a black crag of mountain, orange as a pumpkin, then crawled slowly up into the darkening—almost black now—sky. I had seldom seen it look so large, so close to the earth, or more beautiful. Many still called the moon Artemis, the Huntress; Diana; Selene. But I knew that God had fashioned the moon and dangled it from the sky at the beginning of all things. How, then, could something so beautiful, something formed by God’s own hand, comprise something evil? Perhaps, I mused, the transformation from man to beast occurred as preordained not by God but by Lucifer at the time when the moon appeared fullest, and thus most beautiful, in mockery of that beauty.
I felt the change coming. Like worms wriggling beneath my skin, gnawing at my bones from within, something in the marrow seeking to dig out. I reached down, unfastening my sandals, kicked them away. I stood, removing my robe; I tossed it aside. I would no longer need clothes.
The one thing I kept on, my single adornment—the crucifix on its chain around my neck.
A wave of nausea so violent it caused me to retch presaged Lycanon’s appearance.