*Part One* The hunterRed POV
I barely made a sound as I crept through the trees. The soft moonlight light my way, and the shadows covered my footprints in the snow, which I would carefully wipe away later. I held my bow and arrow expertly in my hand. The distant sound of wolves howling echoed through the eerie forest. I shivered slightly from the chilly winter breeze, and pulled my hood up closer to my pink cheeks.
The sound of wolves drew closer; I held my breath crouching behind a bush. I pulled
My legs had started to cramp, but I didn’t dare shift to a more comfortable position, for fear of being heard, although they probably new I was hear. I peered through a gap in the thorny branches. Six more pairs of eyes glared back at me. I flipped my long red hair back over my shoulder, and wiped the cold sweat from my forehead.
Slowly the first and the biggest of the seven wolves crept out into the open. He was huge; almost triple the size of a regular wolf, and his coat was shaggy and whiter than the snow that coated the forest floor. He was the leader of the pack. I recognized the black markings above his eyes. I had been told about that, the last man in our village to encounter this beast had lost an arm. I pushed that from my mind, and lifted up my skirt. Bad night to wear a dress, but tonight I would prove them all wrong. All the men had scoffed; they said a girl could never protect the village from the wolves, let alone a teenaged girl.
The rest of the pack came to join the leader, all spreading out to form a semi-circle. They weren’t as big as the leader but still huge as far as regular wolves go.
I took three deep breathes, trying to calm myself. The seven wolves growled in front of me. I stood up, tightening my arrow, and looking the leader in the eyes.
One of the smaller wolves lunged forward, his teeth bared. I whipped around, and let my arrow fly. It hit him square between the eyes. He wasn’t dead, but he wasn’t moving. That was easy, one down six to go.
I got another arrow ready, I was surprised they weren’t attacking as a pack, wouldn’t that be easier?
Two more wolves crept towards me, one was black and one was grey. They weren’t growling. They had a far too human expression on their faces. They looked determined and almost worried, not a lot of people in the village liked to admit it but I was a better hunter then most of the men.
The two wolves crept forward noiselessly, circling me, looking for the best way to attack. The black one attacked first, he had caught me of guard and his teeth dug into my leg, knocking me down. I shrieked, as blinding pain shot up my leg. The snow around me turned crimson, and melted underneath me. I lifted up my upper body before the pain had time to settle and let my arrow go, hitting him under the jaw. He made a gurgling noise, and backed off; I thin line off blood following him. The second came from behind me, ripping a long slash across my back. I withered on the ground in pain, my eyes watering and my vision turning blurry. Blood had soaked my dress; it stuck to me as I struggled to stand up. I swayed slightly, the grey wolf drew closer. He jumped forward before I could get another arrow, sending my bow flying and landing in the snow. His heavy paws were on my chest, crushing me. My breath came in small short gasps, tears ran down my flushed cheeks. The giant wolf growled on top of me, his eyes boring into mine. His claws dug into my chest, it was so hard to breath. I struggled, grasping at the snow praying for something to use as a weapon. My hand found nothing. I was going to die.
Them my hand closed around something; an arrow. Beside us was the black wolf, I pulled on the arrow trying to rip it out from under his jaw. Finally it came out, with a sickening squelching noise.
Holding the arrow in my hand, I plunged it into the only weak spot I could see, right into the grey wolfs left eye. Blood poured down my hand in streams, the wolf howled with pain and furry and jumped off of me, withering around on the ground. I ran to get my bow stumbling over my own two feet.
With my weapon ready again I shot two more arrows into the grey wolfs under belly. He fell to the ground whimpering.
I swayed where I stood; I was tired and weakened with pain. Blood trickled down my leg and back, my dress was wet with blood. The snow around me was slowly turning red from the wolves I had killed and my own wounds. I only had three more arrows left. There were four wolves, the leader had still made no move to help the rest of the pack, the other three ran towards me growling and snarling, their teeth bared and ready. I raised my whistle to my lips and blew hard, the shrill noise echoing through the forest.
I bent down and grabbed a rock off the ground, better to save my arrows as much as I can. The first of the three lunged forward knocking me backwards, my head slammed in to the tree behind me. Before I could feel any pain I brang my rock down hard between the snarling wolfs eyes. He fell off of me, the next one caught me, his teeth digging into my side, I screamed. Where was my help? Didn’t they hear the whistle? Again I threw my rock, breaking his teeth; I scrambled up, and grabbed my bow which I had left by the tree. My arrow ready I let it fly, aiming for his heart. It hit home, and the wolf lay on the ground unmoving.
The last wolf circled me, growling. I had my last two arrows ready, although my vision was foggy and my hair was matted down with blood from my aching head. Before he could attack I let my first arrow go. It went off course and got him in the shoulder. He didn’t show any signs of pain, only fury; he ran towards me, I got my last shot ready. Waiting, not close enough yet. Finally when it seemed he would get me I let it go and hit him it the chest. He fell to the ground withering. I stumbled forward, pulling the arrow out of his bleeding chest and plunged it in again and again until he moved no more.
I stood up; the leader turned and left, leaving his dead pack forgotten. I swayed, black outlined my vision, my hair, and dress, hood, and cape were all soaked with blood. My head pounded, my leg throbbed and my side was still bleeding. I sank to the ground lying on the cold snow. I could hear voices, and see the soft glow of lanterns in the distance. About time, I thought. Finally the darkness won over and I passed out.
I held my lantern up high, trying to see through the overwhelming blackness of the forest. I was farther in than most people, it was easy to get lost in this forest, and I was only in far because I was better with direction then the other men. The light of the village had faded long ago. I couldn’t hear anything besides the rustling of small animals in the snow, and the chirping of winter birds.
I paused when I heard the familiar sound of howling wolves in the distance, I scanned the area. I couldn’t see anything. I listened closely, there it was again, and they sounded like they were heading north. That worried me greatly. That’s where Red was patrolling. Although they sounded distant and Red was always patrolling near the village. Most of the other men didn’t like the idea of a teenaged girl hunting. She wasn’t that much younger then me, maybe one or two years.
I still couldn’t shake the worry from my head though. I kicked at the snow in frustration, I couldn’t leave my post and Red was an excellent hunter, she could take care of herself. The howling was barely audible now. I took a deep breath; nothing would happen to her, she was fine, I told myself.
I let my knife hang loosely by my side, no wolves tonight. That disappointed me; I haven’t seen a wolf in a long time. Not since they attacked the village three years ago. It was when I first started hunting. I remembered the blood curdling screams coming from my house as I ran towards it, my heart thumping so loudly in my ears I was surprised the wolves hadn’t heard it. When I finally reached my house my sister was gone, leaving a bloody trial into the forest. It was a long time before I stopped calling her name in my sleep.
I leaned against a tall oak tree, and closed my eyes for a few seconds. The icy wind made me shiver; I stamped my feet trying to ward off the cold.
I opened my eyes as a growl came from out of the darkness. I immediately crouched down and held my knife tight in my hands. I could see the distant shadow of a wolf in the distance, its eyes glowing yellow. His teeth were bared, and his ears were laid down flat on his head. I backed up, my heart pumping wildly. I barley held back a small laugh; finally some action. Even though my teeth were chattering uncontrollably I couldn’t help but grin stupidly at the wolf. Bring it on. I thought in my head. I would have said it out loud, but that was against the rules; we weren’t under any circumstances allowed to talk to the wolves. Anything could be perceived as an invitation to enter the village. Last time the wolves attacked the village, I had lost my sister and one man had lost an arm. There wasn’t one family that hadn’t lost a loved one in that attack three years ago. Our village would never forget that. The Village to the South is our mortal enemy. It had been like that for more than one hundred years.
The wolf made no move to attack me, it only stood there and growled. I stood up, making my position obvious. The grin had disappeared from my face. I held my knife up and screamed at the wolf, “Attack me!!!” I screamed into the night. My scream echoed, and bounced of the trees. The wolf had an oddly human expression on its face. It could only be perceived as a smile. I frowned; something was very wrong. It trotted away through the snow and into the night until it was barely a black dot in between the trees.
My hands shook, half from the cold and half from fury. I stepped forward, when I heard a cracking noise behind me. It was an obvious noise. The kind of noise you heard in books right before something very bad happens. The sound of a twig breaking under someone, or in this case something’s feet. It was that dreadful noise that told you that something was right behind you.
The blow came so fast I barely had time to raise my dagger. Sharp teeth dug into my neck, blood spattered on the ground like a scarlet spider’s web. I flailed helplessly, and staggered backwards. Warm blood covered my coat and ran down my back flowing from my neck. I dropped to my knees, overcome by pain and the shocking truth that I wasn’t going to die, I wish to God that I was going to die. Something much worse was going to happen to me.
The wolf let go of my neck, and stood over me. Our eyes met, there was an expression of noticeable remorse and regret in his, no her eyes. Darkness crept into my vision, making everything look disoriented. I groaned; anyone but her.
“Why did it have to be you Jane?” I whispered. My eyes began to close against my will. The wolf bowed its head in shame. The shrill sound of an attack whistle echoed through the forest. A pang of horror shot through my chest just as I passed out. Only one person was forced to bring an attack whistle with them, and only one person was sensible enough to use it.
I banged my fist on the wooden table, making all the other Council members jump. The candle light sent shadows scurrying into the corners. The moonlight glared in through the windows playing across the 13 men’s faces, that were all now staring at me, some with shock, the younger ones, who were still getting used to my demanding personality looked downright terrified. I held back a smirk, and sat down slowly in my chair at the head of the table.
“Clearly we have a problem,” I said slowly, looking into the faces of all the Council members. “The wolves cannot be simply fought off with weapons, two men have already been killed, and increasing the number of night patrollers won’t stop that.” I said. I could see the fear in the eyes of the elders. Some of them had noticed that I had used the word “killed”, when we all knew that that was not the case. No bodies were ever found, the men were simply abducted, but they were dead to me.
“What do you mean Rowan? The wolves would not dare penetrate the village again! We are safe here; we have no need for the Hunter! It would only raise panic!” Taro said, barely a whisper, he was shaking, I couldn’t tell whether from rage or old age.
“We have no choice! They will never stop coming, we can only fight them off for so long, and eventually they will break the village walls and attack again! It’s only a matter of time now. They are looking for her, and they will find her, this time. Then we will be defenseless!” I ranted, raising my voice.
“Fine, then I trusts that you will be her trainer, and the rest of the village will know nothing!” Taro said, finally defeated after weeks of debating the subject.
I nodded, not wanting to press the subject further. “Agreed, I will talk to her mother tonight. Lisera won’t be happy.” I said, standing up from my chair as the rest of the Council silently nodded in agreement.
Twigs and leaves crunched under the thin layer of snow beneath my feet. I could see my breath in foggy spirals in front of my face. Lanterns flickered in front of wooden houses, casting a soft glow across my path. I counted the houses as I walked down the winding streets; candles were blown out as I walked by, and curtains were drawn, fluttering slightly in the chilly February breeze. As I finally came to the right house I took a deep breath in; it was going to be a long night. Lisera was a long time family friend; she was almost like a sister to me. When her husband was taken by the wolves three years ago it changed her. Her daughter was the only thing she had left and I was about to take that away from her.
I knocked on the door. “Hello Lisera.” I said when she opened the door; I plastered a fake smile on my face. She sighed when she saw the smile; I couldn’t hide any thing from her.
“Would I be fool if assumed you only here to visit?” Lisera asked, for once her age showed on her face. We had both known now for over fourteen years that this would come. I stepped inside and looked around; she still wasn’t back yet. My confusion probably showed on my face.
“Her shift ended about ten minutes ago, she is probably out with that boy Travis.” She said as she led me into the living room. I could tell that she didn’t fully believe what she had just told me; she was worried that something must have happened to her.
“It’s time to tell her.” I said. Lisera paused, her back was to me. “The village is under attack again, and we are growing weaker by the second.” I whispered. I didn’t mention that I was the one who had made the decision to take her daughter away from her, and give her the most difficult responsibility of her young life.
“I don’t exactly have a choice in this do I?” Lisera said miserably. She turned around to look at me.
“No, you don’t.” I said, hating myself. “Training begins in two days, enough time for her to pack her stuff and say good bye.” Lisera nodded. I opened my mouth, and then closed it again. There was nothing I could possibly say to make things better.
“When will she be - Did you hear that?” Lisera paused listening. I listened too, I could hear something; a bell. It was an attack bell; it meant that someone had been bitten, bad. I ran from the house leaving Lisera behind me, and the door wide open.
I ran right past the hospital that wasn’t where we would take someone if they had been bitten. They could infect the other patients. I didn’t stop running until my legs burned and my chest ached with pain. At last I came to a halt in front of a large building. The Council Hall was over 100 years old and the stone it was built with had slowly crumbled over the years. It was the biggest building in the village, and only certain people were aloud inside; Council members, our best doctors, our most honorable warriors, and people that had been attacked. I opened the gigantic oak doors, and immediately the sound of panic and pain reached my ears. I followed the horrid sound down the dark torch lit hallway, my footsteps echoed of the marble floor, and my breath came in sharp gasps. The noises got louder; I could make out some of what was being said.
“He has been bitten badly; I don’t think we can do anything.” I recognized this mans voice; his name was Alex, he was a renowned doctor specializing in wolf bites. My stomach knotted when I heard this; bitten badly, in other words he was doomed to a fate worst than death. “I’m not sure about the girl, she is pretty beat up. This is not the job of one wolf; it looks like she was attacked by a whole pack. It’s a miracle she is even alive. She must be better than I thought.”
“None of the venom looks like it got into the blood stream, so there may still be a chance.” I froze when I heard the word “girl”. I heard no word of wolves entering the village. Outside it was dead quiet, if there were wolves it would be pandemonium. I got a terrible feeling in my chest. There was only one girl that he could be talking about. I ran down the rest of the hall ignoring the stabbing pains in my chest, and I burst through the door.
The room was a small well light room, crowded with doctors and odd tools that made me cringe a bit. I always hated going to the doctors when I was little. They only glanced at me before they all got back to work. My stomach turned when I saw the twin tables in the room were covered in dark, dripping blood. I could see a limp lifeless body on each table. One was obviously a man; I couldn’t see his face, because of the doctors scurrying around his body. The other body was also quit invisible, except for a mass of dark red hair that spilled in loose curls over the edge of the table. I closed my eyes hoping that the image would go away, but when I opened them I still saw her motionless body in a pool of blood. I moved closer; my feet felt like boulders. I could faintly see huge bloody teeth marks on her side. I groaned and looked away.
“Is she a friend of yours?” Alex asked as he pulled off a pair of blood-spattered rubber gloves and through them in the trash.
“Yes I did. Her name was Red; she was the daughter of a good friend of mine.” I whispered. I didn’t mention that she was the only one that could save this entire village from a nightmarish attack from the wolves in which no one would be spared.
“You did know her? You still do! She is going to be fine.” Alex said and I let out a breath of relief. “She is going to have a few bad scars and some err . . . side effects but other wise she will be fine.” Alex finished his sentence quickly. I paused.
“What do you mean side effects?” I whispered slowly. Alex didn’t answer me at first. My mind raced; side effects? Nothing like this had ever happened before.
“She will have urges. It will be hard to control at first, but with time she could learn to hold it back. It could take years though, to learn that kind of self control, I suggest that she stay away from people around the time of the full moon.” I shook my head in a desperate and foolish attempt to clear my head of this hideous information.
“She can’t stay away from people for the rest of her life! And we don’t have time to teach her self control! For god sakes you’re a doctor can’t you do anything?” Alex was too astonished by my outburst to say anything. The other doctors in the room jumped and turned to look at me. I was too angry to be embarrassed. This was absolutely ridiculous! The wolves could attack in as soon as a month. An attack this big meant that it was almost definitely a full moon tonight.
I knew before my outburst that there would be know cure, If there was a cure for this sort of thing then we wouldn’t be in this situation and we would have won the war all those years ago. I leaned against the wall as the gravity of the situation pressed in on me. Now that there was a good reason not to finally use our one good advantage, the Elders would for sure take back what they had said. We would be right back at square one; with the wolves growing steadily stronger, and the Elders absolutely refusing to admit that the situation had gotten out of hand.
A few female nurses screamed and Alex jolted my shoulder causing me to jump and open my eyes. The boy that was on the table had sat up.
The pain had ebbed away, leaving only numbness and a strange empty feeling. Thoughts drifted through my head like white noise. For a moment I had remembered the wolves, but the thought quickly vanished, leaving me in the dark. I felt around in the blackness, my fingers touched only air. Finally I felt something, it was warm and furry and soft like silk as it brushed up against my fingers. Two hazel eyes glowed at me from the shadows. I jumped back in surprise. I knew those eyes. I giggled and ran forward towards them. Why is Travis running from me? I frowned and ran faster.
The darkness seemed to have no end as I ran, it only suffocated me. I could hear Travis running ahead of me. His footsteps sounded uneven and I couldn’t figure out why. We were best friends. “Travis!” I called his name, my voice sounded strange in this never ending night. It felt like I had been running forever. How long had I been here? Decades it seemed.
Finely Travis stopped at the sound of my voice. “Travis please, I thought we were friends?” His beautiful hazel eyes drew closer. My breath got caught in my throat when I saw him. No, this wasn’t right; this must be some sort of mistake. A large wolf stood in front of me, his fur the same color Travis’ hair used to be; dark chocolate brown. His eyes, his human eyes stared into mine. And suddenly I was suffocating. Choking on the blackness around me, I kneeled down fighting claustrophobia. The dark slowly melted away, and my memories came back.
The wolves the fight, I blew my whistle, but know one came. I opened my eyes. Every thing was blurry and confusing. I didn’t matter though, I know what I had seen; Travis had been bitten and he was a wolf. I had to save him. I sat up; a rough hand pushed me back down. I could hear voices; there were people here, why wouldn’t they let me go find Travis? I had to help him! He was trapped in the blackness, I had to go back and help him! I struggled against the hands that held me in place. I could feel myself moving, I was on some sort of table on wheels. I tried to focus, to see where I was, and where they were taking me. I still couldn’t see anything. Finally I stopped moving, a bright light was directly above me, I squinted against the harsh light.
A rubbery hand grabbed my wrist; I fought against it, two more hands pushed down on my shoulders making it impossible to move, or to find Travis. I shrieked as I felt a sting on my wrist. Suddenly I felt woozy and sleepy. I fought with myself, trying to keep my eyes open. Finally my eyes drooped, and the noises and voices around me faded into nothingness, and I dreamt of a human Travis.
I could hear voices; they seemed distant, so distant, at first. There was a terrible pain in my head. Would they please shut up? It was probably some visitors my mom had over. Who would visit us anyway? I silently begged the voices to be quiet; the throbbing pain in my head was almost unbearable. The voices grew louder, and I could distinctly hear a man talking, the rest were just quiet murmurings. I opened my eyes the tiniest bit. There was a very bright light above my head, and it made my eyes burn. So I wasn’t home. Where was I? I thought back, I could remember leaving for my shift guarding the village walls. I remembered saying good luck to Travis. Okay so far so good. I thought harder. I could almost remember the wolves. I could just barley remember the wolf with the black markings on its fore head, and then nothing.
I thought with a sinking feeling that I must have been attacked. I was in the hospital. No not the hospital, if I had been attacked by wolves then I would be in the Council Hall. I had trouble moving any of my limbs; they were all numb. I willed myself to twitch my finger; I felt human. So I hadn’t gone through the change yet, maybe the attack hadn’t been bad enough to change me. But I felt different, I couldn’t explain it, I felt stronger, like something about me was better, despite the aching pains all over my body. It didn’t matter anyway, if I had been attacked bad enough to be in the Council Hall then they would never let me do night patrol or hunt again. They would be grateful for the excuse. I thought bitterly; not a lot of people liked a teenaged girl doing a “mans job”.
The sound of someone yelling made my thoughts evaporate. I tried to open my eyes again. I ignored the burning pain (I wish they would move me away from that horrid light) and looked around through squinted eyes trying to see what was going on. Faintly I could make out the blurry shape of my moms friend Rowan. He was yelling at a doctor about something. I only knew the doctors name; Alex I think his name is. He was talked about a lot in the village.
I frowned why would Rowan be yelling at the doctor? My eyes wandered the room; no one had noticed yet that I was awake, all the doctors and nurses were watching Alex getting yelled at. I could see a lot of blood on the white sheets that were covering me. My dress and cape were gone. I was only slightly embarrassed by the fact that I was in my underwear. I could see a table beside me, and the lump of a body underneath. I couldn’t see his face; it was covered with a sheet. I grimaced at the body, poor guy, he must have been bitten badly, and I could see a few large needles on the tiny metal table beside him. I recognized the drops of greenish liquid as a very strong type of tranquilizer. He must be close to the change. Soon they would tie up his wrists and a big wagon would take him to a small cabin deep within the woods and they would lock him in and leave him there to starve. Of course “locking him in” was an understatement, and so was “cabin”. It was more like a big underground jail with a heavy door reinforced with silver. I had never seen it, but when I was a kid my friends used to tell stories about it at school.
My stomach flipped at the thought. I wondered if had known the guy that was under that sheet. It wouldn’t matter anyway, twenty-four hours from now he would be in an under ground jail, withering in pain, doomed to die of hunger. Either that or he wouldn’t be strong enough and his body would fail him halfway through the change. Personally, if I could chose it would be the second option. I would rather die human than a monster, even if I was only half human. The yelling had stopped there was an odd silence about the room; I could hear a clock ticking somewhere nearby. I listened to the tick-ticking of the clock as it lulled me back to sleep. As my eyes begun to become heavy, a nurse screamed, and I jerked awake.