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The Crimson Cloak
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I pull the arrow until I feel it’s soft, feather tip on my cheek. If I’m going to hit the target, I need to focus. I block out all sounds around and inhale. I release the arrow and open my eyes.
I exhale and smile. Dead center…as usual! I look at my bow and wonder how such a beautiful weapon could ever be in my possession. I admire it’s long, black limb and realize that it has a symbol carved into it. The symbol is a rose inside a random patter of swirling circles. I wonder why it’s so faint. A beautiful pattern like that should really stand out more. I’ll ask my mom about it. She is the one who gave it to me after all. I look over my shoulder and see Tuck doing what he calls his “happy dance”. Really, he’s just doing a bunch of old eighties dance moves… what-a dork. I watch him do the shuffle and the hustle before I start laughing.
Tuck, realizing that I’m laughing at him, stops dancing. He puts his hands behind his head and smiles.
“I mean, uh… Go Luna!” Tuck raises his fist in the air, awkwardly. I roll my eyes.
“Does everything you do have to make you look like a dork?” I ask. I look over at Tuck only to see him staring at me.
“What?! Do I have something on my face or are you just that amazed at my naturally cunning abilities?” Tuck doesn't even realize that I said anything. He just keeps staring at me.
“Okay Tuck. You’re kind of creeping me out now. And I don’t mean old lady across the street that shows off her underwear, I mean stalking you until I know exactly where you sleep kind of creepy. Tuck?” His gaze is still transfixed on me. “Tuck?!” Exasperated, I do the only thing I can think of. “Tuck! That’s it!” I run at Tuck and slap him, hard. So hard in fact that he stumbles and falls back.
“Ow! That hurt!”
“It was the only way I can get you to stop gawking at me! What were you staring at anyway?” This time, Tuck does respond…by blushing. I look at him confused. Why is he blushing? Tuck never blushes. I remember the day when I asked him why he doesn't.
“Hey… Tuck?” I ask Tuck as I wring my hands nervously. I have never talked to anybody about this kind of thing.
“What is it Luna? You look kind of… nervous.” Tuck looks at me with concern filled eyes.
“Well. It’s just that.” Every single well thought out word I had ever planned to say is forgotten and everything comes out of my mouth in a rush. “I never see you blushing, even at things that are really, really embarrassing and I was just wondering why!” Tuck looks at me, surprise written all over his face. Surprise… but not ever embarrassment.
“You don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want to. It was kind of nosy after all.”
“No! No! I guess I was just kind of surprised, by your question I mean. I really haven’t thought about it much.”
“Do you blush when you’re not around anyone else?”
“Do you blush at all?”
“Why are you asking me this Luna? You aren't usually this nervous. Are you okay?” Tuck asks, more curious than surprised this time. I start to blush.
“I was just curious.” I say innocently even though Tuck and I both know that’s not the case. I avert my eyes and look around at the scenery around me. What a beautiful place for such an awkward meeting.
Tuck and I are standing in a large meadow full of beautiful white carnations with pink centers. There’s a waterfall to my right that falls into a shimmering lake. It’s so beautiful. The lake looks a lot like diamonds. Off to the left of the lake is a cave with a delicate veil of pink carnations hanging over the top of the cave like moss.
“They’re so beautiful.” I say looking at the carnations.
“Do you really like them that much?”
“Why?” Tuck presses.
“Why do you ask?”
“Because... I think that you’re much more beautiful than these flowers are.” Tuck reaches out and brushes my cheek. I smile. I grab hold of Tuck’s and lead the way back to the village. Tuck and I slowly make our way back to the village only stopping occasionally to glance at the scenery around us.
“Hello? Earth to Luna? Did you hear what I said?”
“Oh… sorry Tuck. Can you repeat that again?”
“I said that we should be getting back to the village because I have a date with your mom. We have been going out for a while now and I’m thinking about asking her to marry me. Just think, soon I’ll be calling you my daughter.”
“Uh huh. Very cool Tuck.”
“You’re not listening to me… are you?” Tuck looks at me with a little bit of agitation in his voice.
“I’m sorry. No… I’m not.”
“Sometimes you just get lost in your own little world.”
“Sometimes? I almost never get lost in my own world! This is probably the first time you have ever seen me in ‘my own little world.’”
“Well… I think it’s one of your cute qualities.”
“You know, a cute quality… a lot of girls have them.”
“Oh… so now I’m just like any other girl huh!”
“That’s not what I meant!” Tuck says flustered. I turn away from him to hide my smile. I love teasing him like that. His true colors show when tries to make a smooth cover up for any mistake.
“Smooth move Tuck. I’ll just remember this comment later when, no… if, you ever get a girlfriend and just remember, I know every…every single embarrassing thing you have ever done in your life.”
“Oh yeah! Like what!”
“Remember that time when I was teaching you to shoot an arrow and-“
“I knocked my father’s wig off… yeah. I remember.” Tuck lowly chuckles. “He still won’t let me go hunting with him.”
“I don’t blame him.”
“What’s that supposed to mean!”
“Let’s go back to the village. It’s getting dark.”
“Hey! Seriously! You haven’t answered my question yet!”
“I don’t intend to!” I call back and skip the rest of the way back to the village.
“Tuck. You may be a goof ball… but you’re the best friend a girl can ask for.” I say once we enter the village. I grab Tuck’s hand and smile at him warmly.
“Look.” Tuck points to the entrance of the village. I look over towards the only church in the village. The church is the biggest building in town. The walls are made of white, marble stone with spires that seem to go on forever into the sky. I walk over and peer into one of the many stained-glass windows.
There, I see a family of five. A mother with short orange hair kneeling in front of a statue of an angel…whispering a prayer. I see three kids the age of about ten, crying and being comforted by their father.
“The Maysen’s daughter was taken by the wolf earlier this morning. She was supposed to be married in May.”
“That’s only two months away. I wonder how her fiance feels right now.”
“Well… here’s your chance to find out.” Tuck says, looking at an approaching figure, dressed completely in black. He has black hair and startling blue eyes.
“Um… are you-”
“Arana’s fiance? Yes.”
“I’m so sorry. You must be feeling awful.”
“Don’t be sorry. There is nothing for you to apologize for. You couldn't have done anything to help. After all… you’re just an ordinary girl.” Tuck glares at the boy and steps in front of me. I touch his arm.
“It’s okay Tuck. Why are you talking to me if I’m just an ordinary girl?”
“Because you’re pretty and I wanted to tell you not to be shy. After all, every ordinary girl loves Adrian.” Arana’s fiance says, cockily pointing to himself. So that was his name. The name sounded cocky, and arrogant with a little note of a snob. In other words, the name fit him perfectly.
“You little-“Tuck starts.
“He’s just an idiot Tuck. You just lost you’re fiance and already you’re hitting on another girl. Why would I date someone like you? I deserve someone better than a pile of filth… don’t you think?” The boy stands there, mouth open, staring at me in disbelief.
“Come on Tuck. We don’t want his stupidity to wear off on us.” I grab Tuck by the arm and pull him to my house.
“It’s okay Tuck. I’m fine. He’s just an idiot.”
“He’s wrong about you. You’re prettier than you realize… and not only that. You have the strongest willpower I have ever seen in a girl.” I snort at that.
“I think the word you’re looking for is stubborn. Thanks though. That does make me feel better about myself.”
“What can I say? I am incredibly charming.”
“You have about the same charm as a pig.”
“At least I don’t snort.” Tuck and I both start to laugh. I look up and see that we’re now at my house.
“Bye Tuck!” I call towards him over my back as I enter my house.
“See you tomorrow! About seven in the morning. I know it’s early but we need to start hunting before winter comes.” I shut the door behind me and sigh. Winter. Even though it’s months until the rising ceremony, I still get nervous.
Every September, every man who is eighteen years or older is forced to go out and try to kill the wolf. A group of fifty, half of our village, go out. Every September… only ten to fifteen of them return and so far, every eighteen year old has died. Tuck turns eighteen in August. He’ll be going out with them this year. He has no chance of surviving. I doubt that the wolf will spare him even if I pray every day but, I will still pray.
I feel tears start to stream down my face. I still remember the day I met eight-year-old Tuck in the forest. I remember it was May twenty-eight and I had just gotten my new bow for my seventh birthday…
I ride through the forest on my horse, Flame, to the new target arena my father had built. I can just see it through the trees straight ahead. I raise my bow instinctively just as a scream rings out loud and clear through the forest. I tug on the reins of my horse towards where the scream echoed, never once lowering my bow. I pull the e reins, ordering the horse to stop. Startled, the horse throws me of its back, as I release an arrow, sending it into a tree instead of the figure in the shadows that scared my horse.
I cautiously move over to the figure. A boy with fair, golden hair and dark lashes a girl would kill for. He seems to be unconscious. I notice blood on his arm and remove the pouch from around my neck that my mother gave me in case of any emergency. The pouch carries a bunch of herbs and a fresh vial of water. My mother taught me a little about medicine but I still haven’t tried to heal any one before.
Hastily, I pull out a few herbs out of the pouch and clean the wound with water. Then I place the herbs on my hands and my hands, in turn, on his arm. I mutter a quick prayer asking for the strength to save the life of another and focus. I concentrate on sending my strength and health into the boy through my hands into his body. I open my eyes and look down at my hands and yelp in surprise. My hands were glowing. This never happened when my mother healed others. I look over at the boy and see the gradually rise and fall of his chest. The boy opens his deep, brown eyes and stares at me. He looks down at my hands, and wordlessly sits up to examine me.
“How are you doing that?” He asks finally, confusion and amazement in his voice.
“Honestly… I don’t know.” I say, shaking my head. My black, wavy hair falls into my icy blue eyes. I take my hands away and instantly, they stop glowing. I look at the boy and smile before collapsing in exhaustion.
“Jeez. I never knew that saving lives would be so draining.” The boy laughs. I sit up.
“I’m Tuck. Tuck Panami.” He says, outstretching his hand.
“Luna.’” I say shaking it.
I have been friends with Tuck for ten years. Ever since we met that day, he’s been the only person I have shared everything with. I have less than six months to say goodbye to Tuck. After that, I probably won’t see him again. Ever… A slight tapping on the door makes me jump.
“Yes?” I say, brushing my eyes with the back of my hand and press my ear to the door.
“Who is it?”
“Luna? Luna! Is that you? I need your help! Please let me in!”
“Arana? I thought you were… they said you were dead?!” I open the door and sure enough, there stands Arana in a long red, silk cape that seems to shimmer when she moves. She has the hood of the cloak pulled up around her head to obscure her face. The cloak flows down and around her like a blood-red river. I move to the side to let Arana in.
“This is for you. To protect you from the wolf.” Arana takes of the cloak and hands it to me. “Use this to button it at the top. Your mother wanted me to give it to you before I died.” Arana says coolly as if she were telling me about her fiance.
I look at the button Arana gave me. The button is clear with a flat bottom and a round, bulging top. It’s probably the biggest button I've ever seen! Inside the bulge of the button is a symbol. A simple red rose stands out from the center of a pattern of golden swirling circles.
“So… you are dead?” Arana nods her head. “Then how come I can see you?”
“You don’t know as much as I thought you did. You can see me because of this.” Arana pushes up my shirt and points to the mark on my stomach.
“Looks familiar doesn't it?” I look over at my bow leaning against a wall. Then look at the button I’m holding. They both have the same mark. I look down again at my stomach. The same mark on my bow and the button is on my stomach. I put the cloak around my shoulders and fasten the button just below where the hood connects to the cloak.
“What does it mean?” I ask Arana absently as I trace the symbol embedded in the button.
“It means “sacred one”. Your mom knows that you are in danger so she sliced you with the tip of a knife dipped in holy water so that the symbol would always be with you. She cut you so deep that you will always have that mark forever. Only certain people can be marked. Most of the people who try to mark themselves die. But you… you didn't. You were only a year old when she did it. I thought she was lying when she told me.”
“So… what do I do?”
“You, Luna, are the only one who can kill the wolf.”
“Alright Luna. I hate to break it to you but I think you’re going crazy.” Tuck says after I finish telling him about Arana. I stare at Tuck incredulously.
“You think I’m lying!? Why would I make something like that up? Why would I have a pure silk cape, silk Tuck! You and I both know how rare silk is in the village! And what about the button! It’s pure quartz! Also very rare! What about-”
“Luna! I never said that you were lying…” I crossed my arms in triumph. “I was only thinking it.” I roll my eyes.
“Ha ha. Very funny Tuck. I’m serious though! I think that maybe Arana was mistaken or something. Clearly she’s got the wrong girl. My mother would never-” Slice me with a knife so deep that I would never heal. I shudder, and not because of the weather.
“She would if it would protect you.” Tuck says absently. I look around the place where we are sitting. The soft, moss-green grass of the forest surrounds us. The trees sway ever so slightly in the wind. I take a deep breath and I feel myself smile.
“Why are you smiling? I thought you were upset?” Tuck looks over at me confused.
“I was. I smell a pack of deer down by the river.” Tuck raises an eyebrow at me before he smiles in return.
“Well then.” Tuck says pulling me up off the ground. “Let’s make like wolves and collect what is rightfully ours.”
About two hours later Tuck and I are down by the river. Tuck is up against a tree to my left while I’m in one. He nods at me once. There’s the signal. I take a deep breath in and draw back an arrow. Aim. For some reason I can’t stop my hands from shaking. Tuck looks over at me confused.
“Are you okay?” He mouths. I nod once and steady my arm. I release the arrow and realize my mistake much too late. I see a flash of green and look over at Tuck to warn him but he’s gone. In his place is a huge black wolf.
“Tuck! Where are you!” I look over at the wolf icily. It must have taken Tuck. Wolves are very fast and stromg. It probably wouldn’t have any problem taking him anyway. “What did you do to Tuck you beast!” The wolf snarls at me. I drop down from the tree and hastily release an arrow before running. I hear a whimper and look back. The arrow I shot hit it in the shoulder. The wolf looks at me startled. It falls to the ground as I gasp. I never wanted to kill the wolf. Quickly I run over to it.
“I’m sorry! I never wanted kill you!” I take out my pouch and place the herbs in my palm. “This is going to hurt.” I whisper softly. I place my hand around the shaft of the arrow and curl my fingers around it. I close my eyes and yank. The wolf cries out in pain. Yet again, I gasp. The wolf’s cry sounded more like a human than I thought ever possible.
I’m running through the forest with a group of hunters in front of me. They all look back occasionally and scream. I’ve never heard anyone scream like that let alone grown men. It sounded like the bloodcurdling screech of a banshee.
I chase after them, not daring a look back. Anything that makes a grown man wet his pants, can’t be good. I run as fast as I possibly could, desperately trying to catch up to the hunters. I stop when one of the men trips.
“Stop!” The man screams. “I’ll do anything! Don’t kill me! Have mercy on me!” The man looks into my eyes, pure terror projecting loud and clear in his voice. I look deep into the hunters eyes when I see something strange. The shadow that I own isn't human. I look into the hunters eyes and stare at my reflection. I am a huge, black wolf with eyes as blue and cold as a frozen sea.
I lunge at the hunter and rip him apart as his scream fills the night.
I wake up to a high pitched screech. I start to freak out when I realize that the screams are coming from non-other than… me. My clothes are drenched with sweat. Good thing I actually changed out of my hunting gear into a white tank and a pair of black sweats.
I crawl down the ladder and walk across the living room. I open the door and breathe in the familiar scent of the woods. All I need to do is walk a few miles and I should reach the lake. I grab my bow and an extra set of hunting gear of the back porch. It would take me hours to walk to the lake but, who said anything about walking though? I break into a sprint and smile.
I arrive at the lake breathless. Running helps me clear my head… especially surrounded by nature. I set my hunting clothes on a rock in the sun before taking my pajamas off in turn. I jump into the lake head first. Once I reach the bottom, I stay down for a few more moments before returning to the surface for some much needed air. I breathe in deeply and smile. The water is so nice. It shimmers around me in the sun like a thousand diamonds. I could just swim in here forever…
I wade out of the water and put on my hunting gear. I might as well wash my clothes while I’m here. I dunk my clothes into the lake and scrub them vigorously. I sigh. That will just have to do. I lay my dripping clothes on a rock bathed in sunlight.
I stare down at my shadow. It’s about two. I arrived at the lake at eight though! I couldn't have been in the lake for that long! I look down at my wrinkled fingers. Ugh! My mother is going to kill me when she finds out that I’ve been swimming in the lake for six hours!
I grab my new cloak and wrap it around my shoulders. I pull the hood up over my face and grab my bow. I might as well do some last minute hunting while I’m here.
A twig snaps. Great. I should have checked the perimeter before I jumped into the lake. I pull an arrow out of my quiver and place it on my bow string.
“Who’s there?” I yell into the oncoming darkness. “Show yourself!” A figure steps out from the shadows and I pull the arrow to my cheek.
“You wouldn't shoot an old friend would you?” Tuck says hoarsely.
“That depends on who you really are. Step out of the shadows before I shoot you.” Tuck steps out of the shadows and smiles at me weakly. I notice his shoulder is wrapped in blood soaked bandages and I narrow my eyes. I shot the wolf in the shoulder too.
“What happened to your shoulder?” I ask, arrow still raised.
“Wolf bit me when I ran. I tried to warn you but I knew you could handle yourself.” Tuck took another step forward as I took another one back. If Tuck is a werewolf, which I don’t think he is… werewolves don’t exist, who knows what he can do. If an arrow didn't kill him last time, I don’t think it ever will.
“Luna, I won’t ever hurt you. You know that… don’t you?” Tuck looks at me curiously.
“I don’t even know who you are any more, let alone if I can trust you. How did you ‘run away’ so quickly?”
“I am really fast.”
“Or did you not go anywhere at all. Tuck, are you… are you the, the wolf?” A moment of confusion passes across Tuck’s face before he doubles over and laughs uncontrollably. He wipes his eyes and stares at me.
“Luna. I am not the wolf! Come on. Let’s go home.” Tuck puts his arm around my shoulders. I sigh. I guess I was wrong. I shouldn't have accused Tuck like that. I don’t think he’ll ever forgive me now. I may have a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, but I also lost the only person who will always have my back. I may have just lost Tuck before I can even say goodbye before he dies.
“I’m sorry” I say stopping in my tracks.” You probably hate me right now.” I sit down on a log and put my face in my hands.
“You can make it up to me then.”
“What?” I look up at Tuck. He is turned away from me. I’m the worst friend ever. No. I’m the worst person to ever exist.
“How could I ever make it up to you? I am the worst friend ever! I will do anything to make it up to you. Anything at all.”
Tuck ears suddenly go red. “A date.”
“You said anything and I’m asking for a date. Just one. I won’t even touch you if that’s what you want.” I look at Tuck speechless.
course!" Tuck finishes. He looks at me as though I am as fragile as glass. Like I need extra care. He looks at me like he needs to care for me, to protect me. Oh Tuck.
All those times I thought he was just teasing. All those times I thought he was just doing what any other friend would do. He really does care. All this time I have just written it off as a friendship. All this time he has been here for me, with me, only being around me to be what I needed most. I needed a friend. No, I needed more than that. I needed someone who would care for me. Someone who wouldn't push me to do anything I didn't want to. Tuck. He's the only friend I have in my life. Oh Tuck...
"Listen... Tuck." I begin slowly. I have to say this exactly right. I don't want to lose him. Ever....
"Sure!" I smile lightly. Tuck stares at me in disbelief. His face goes through many series of emotions.
First relief. Then a sort of hesitance, as though he's not sure how to go on. Then, finally, an unbelievable amount of joy. He takes a hesitant step towards me and uncertainty flashes across his face. When I make no move of caution, he swiftly grabs me and pulls me into a warm embrace.
His arms are encircled tightly around my waist. He buries his face in my neck and breathes in. My cheeks flush. He's so warm. He's so close I can smell him. He smells of opine trees and firewood. Of wood-smoke and Earth. He smells like... home.
"I love you Luna." He whispers in my ear. His words hold me in a tender caress. They mean more to me than any silk or gold ever can. His words encircle me and surround me until I'm warm inside and out. His words make me fell the safest I have ever felt in my entire life. No on can ever make me feel like this, I begin to realize, except Tuck.
I say nothing. I can't even begin to form any thought in my head for I fear I may ruin the moment. Instead, I reach my arms up and wrap them around Tuck's neck. I lay my cheek on his shoulder, my face turned toward his neck, and I inhale, deeply.
"I need you to always be there for me.' I say to him softly. "I want you here, with me, by my side. I ant you to stay here, in this world, with me. Please... I can't stand to lose you. I can't live anymore without you. I-I love you Tuck." I say finally. I say what has taken me years to find the courage to say. I realize that it is true. I love him. I love Tuck. Now here we are, months away from his death, and I find the courage to tell him.It's not fair... Now that I find out I love him... I'm about to lose him. Forever.