Chapter 1 Hunters
A vast sea of ocean blue
Lead me all this way to you
Where water weeps with wishful worries
Where time ends the sleepless story
So sing to me, my dear sweet blue
And let the ocean come consume you
It was days like this you felt like a wolf, or maybe a panther; a predator born of the wilds. Days like this, when the sun warmed the earth, and the shade retained the cold under its mass to cause the balance of temperature to remain absolutely perfect. Days like this did not come often enough. School and her pathetic excuse of a life always got in the way of days like this. But when it was summer, and she was let off her chain to be set free, days like this became frequent. Days like this, in this place, were almost always perfect. Rainy days would pass to birth days like this, where the dew hung light and the flora bloomed with nourishment. Despite the fact that she had only a couple weeks to spend here, she wouldn’t let the ever looming fear of return discourage her. Days like this didn’t come often enough, and she wasn’t going to let the fear of the future ruin that right now. Right now, she was hunting.
The tall, oaken trees cast their long black shadows across her path, the setting sun feeding their length. Warm summer air carried in the scents of the forest: fresh air, damp earth, blossoming flowers, the sprays of water from the nearby creek, and animal musk. That last scent was the one she was after. City life had tainted her senses some, dulling them noticeably, but there were some things even time couldn’t unteach. Following the trails with skill gained over years of practice early on in life, she traversed her way through the dense woodland. Taking swift, but deathly silent steps.
That’s when she saw it, her target. The doe’s head was deep in the tall grasses the clearing provided. She redied her gun, the one she’d been using since she could first hold a firearm this size. She trusted the deadly weapon, it had almost never failed her. That is, if she took proper care of it. She leaned into the shot, closing one eye she focused on her target, zeroing in on a soft spot. As her finger began to pull back on the trigger with the full intention to bring an end to a life, she noticed something that caused her to hesitate. Readjusting, she realized that this doe was not alone, at her side was a fawn. The fawn couldn’t have been more than a few months old, and still stumbled over its own stickly legs.
Something inside her switched, and she lowered the gun, releasing all tension in her limbs and slumping down behind the tree she’d been using as cover.
“Heh,” She breathed just under a tone that they two would pick up, “I couldn’t do that to you.” She looked back up at the doe and her offspring as they nuzzle each other. She looked back down at the weapon now sprawled across her lap, a sad smile breaking upon her face, “I know what it’s like living without a mother.”
Knowing remaining here was pointless, she slowly stood, and began to keep away. She attempted not to disturb the two peaceful creatures with her departure, leaving the scene as silently as she had entered. As she traveled once more through the trees, the forest cooed with sympathy. It had lost many of its own, their souls lost to the oblivion, or whatever else lie beyond. Shouldering her pack, she continued on, at a steady pace, the thoughts she had forced to the back of her mind returning to haunt her as she bypassed branches and stepped over stumps. “Yeah, but it doesn’t matter, I’m going to have to go soon to live with people that don’t give a shit about me or my life,” The breeze brushed through her mid length hair, stirring it just so that it would tickle her nose. The sweet gesture did nothing to cheer her up, however. Once her week was up, she’d have to go back to that hell whether she wanted to or not.
With her feet guiding her path, her mind wandered off to places elsewhere. An island. Made completely of sand, surrounded on all sides by ocean and the silence of peace. The lighting was dull, like a thin cloth had been put over the star that lit up the world to mute its radiance.
Her vision was shattered when she found herself being tackled to the leaf-littered earth by a great beast.
“Bud! Hey, what are you doing out here?” A brown, wolf-like dog had come bounding up to her, tackling her to the ground once he reached her. His long pink tongue lapped across her face as she tried in vain to bat him away. She had to resort to shoving the mutt in the chest just to push him off her. Although, the Irish wolfhound didn’t really seem to mind, his tail waving like a flag in the air.
Small twigs a fallen foliage stuck into her hand as she pushed herself off the ground, bringing dirt and dead leaves with her as she sat up. Bud barked excitedly, urging her to start moving so they could go home and get supper. Leading on one hand, she reached out and pet the old dog wit the other, rubbing the top of his head, filing his wiry hair through her fingers. She knew that the longer she sat there petting her friend instead of moving, the more gunk would gather on the red plaid flannel that was tied around her waist. But she didn’t care, there was no hurry to get back, and now that he had found her, Bud would stay at her side until the got back to the cabin.
Noticing her train of thought, Bud too sat down. In turn, his tail swept the forest floor, refusing to deter his excitement. As the two sat their, she let her thoughts escape her once more, the sweet tunes of the songbirds luling her into a state of peace. She was grateful for the company, admittedly. While Bud wasn’t her dog, nor was he as young and spry as he used to be, the two of them were close nonetheless. He was, after all, her uncle’s dog. Now, however, his muzzle was grayed, his fur had long since lost its glossiness, and his legs weren’t as steady as they used to be. She had grown up around Bud. The two of them had run around these forests for years now, ever since he was a puppy and she was just a kid. Together they had learned how to hunt and track. Well, under the watchful eye of her uncle and his other dogs.
With that in mind, she realized that her uncle would probably start worrying if she didn’t get back soon. “Welp, guess it’s time to go Bud. Come on, we’re gonna have to go make supper.” Not one to argue against the prospect of food, Bud woofed in agreement and began to lead the way back.
Bringing a back leg and pushing off with her hands, she pushed herself off the ground and followed in the mutt’s footsteps. She casually tossed the unloaded rifle over her shoulder as they began walking back. Their steps were soft as the two of them trekked back through the trees. They both knew these woods better than anyone other than maybe her uncle himself, and hence the fear of getting turned around or lost was completely non-existent as they let their feet carry them onward.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath as she walked, letting all her troubles fade away, even if only for a moment. She recalled her youth, days like this without constant pain or worry, days that made her feel like she belonged. . .
“Uncle, where are we going?” Her eleven-year-old self questioned. It wasn’t unlike him to take her on short trips, or little adventures to different areas of the forest. It held so many secrets, more than she would ever be able to comprehend, more than even he knew. As of right now, however, he was leading her by the hand into a deeper part of the forest the two of them had never gone to before. Especially considering he had needed to take the Quad just to make it out this far.
“Pumpkin, I want you to remember something. Can you do that for me?” She was confused, uncle acted strange at times, but he seemed. . . Off as of right now. It caused her to worry some, especially since he hadn’t brought Bud or the other dogs, but he had brought his gun. Whatever the case, she trusted him, and she knew he would never do anything that would put her in danger.
Burying her doubts, she nodded in agreement.
“Alright.” He paused for a moment, as if waiting for something.
The two of them stood atop a hill at the edge of the property. The steep hill in front of you dropped off into a valley consisting of dark trees. Pine that had acquired a darker shade of green than that of the once that stood proud behind her. She had been told never to go into that valley of shadow, and the fear of what could be lurking in the dark had quenched even the most powerful of curiosity. So as her uncle squeezed her hand, she wondered what on earth could be out here that he wanted to show her.
That’s when they both heard it. A horrible sound. It was so painful she instinctively covered her ears. It sent a flurry of birds into the sky, and a stampede of deer to flee into the distance. And while the sound was clearly a mile or so away, it did nothing to tame her violent shaking. The sound had resemble that of someone’s dying cry. Although there was no way for her to know, she’d never seen someone die.
“If you EVER hear that sound,” Her uncle said, his tone cold and serious, “Especially as you get older- Run. Get as far away as possible.” Even now, the man had his gun cocked and ready to fire as the eleven year old girl quivered behind him. “I know it’s scary, but you have to understand the danger you could be in if you don’t flee.” Shortly after, he hurriedly ushered her back down the hill from which they’d come and mounted the quad.
Hugging him from behind as the two of them headed back towards the house and safety, the girl spoke words she would never forget.“I promise.”
Breaking through the treeline, the old log house loomed into view. Renovations had been made on the house so that it could function with modern appliances, however the exterior still retained that ‘cabin in the woods’ feel. It was only two stories, but the space was more than enough for her uncle and Bud. When she was young it had almost felt like a mini mansion, despite being nowhere near that size. It only had two bathrooms and bedrooms, a lounge, kitchen, and garage. The kitchen overlooked the front porch that ran the width of the back of the house, a wooden deck with a stand made for hammock on one end and grill and table at the other.
Her favorite part of the house was not the exterior or the design, it was the fireplace that lit up the lounge. The lounge was littered with bookshelves and trophies, as well as a couple sofas and chairs to relax in. But it was the fireplace that brought the room to life, creating a beautiful amber glow that radiated throughout the rest of the house.
Bud ran ahead as the two of them approached the cabin. He ran up and across the deck and barked at the door, announcing their return. As she crossed the clearing carpeted in lush grass that made up the backyard of the property, she wondered just how much trouble she’d be in after claiming she was going to catch supper, and then come back empty handed.
Before she could get very far into that thought the door opened and Bud slipped in. In the doorway was her uncle, he smiled wide as he watched her approach.
“I’m assuming the catch is invisible?” He teased. She chuckled as she took the door from him and headed inside. He wheeled into the middle of the room as she went to hang up her weapon.
She took another deep breath as she glanced around the room, memories flashing across her vision like stars. The head of her first kill, the largest bass she had ever caught, along with pictures of her and her uncle, as well as some including her mother. And the weapons, her uncle collected them. Most from wars fought and long since forgotten, faded like the scars they reaped. Her uncle had taught her much, but even she had no idea how to use some of the firearms and blades that were displayed proudly across the walls.
“What are we going to eat?” He said as dramatically as the serious man could muster.
“Well, you know we could always eat normal food,” She offered, trying not to laugh.
“Bah! Have I taught you nothing?” He said, simultaneously rolling over to the refrigerator to retrieve the frozen pizza the two of them had bought earlier in the week.
The man’s niece rolled her eyes and walked over to assist him. However, instead of helping him reach the oven mitt she came up behind him and gave him a big bear hug. She was grateful to have this man in her life, more than she would ever be able to put into words.
“I did almost have a deer,” She bosted, releasing him from the embrace.
“Oh, so why is it not on my table ready to eat?” He replied as she handed him the oven mitt.
Her posture slumped noticeably as she explained, the atmosphere turning grim in a matter of seconds, “It was a mother with a fawn. I. . . I couldn’t kill her.”
Nothing more needed to be said, he understood completely. “Oh my dear Phe, I’m so sorry.”
Phe knew he missed her too. She had been his sister after all. . . But neither of you had the ability to change the past, and the future was fast approaching. All either of you could do was carry on.
“I’ve got some good news for you though!” The old man chirped in an attempt to lighten the mood. Curious, the girl looked up. She hadn’t even realized her gaze had met the floor until it was lifted to meet his. “Your father, stepmother, and stepbrother are visiting in two days. Your father said it was to check up on you.” Phe groaned in blatant annoyance. She’d been given two weeks to spend out here, why did they have to come and ruin it? “Come no Phe, it’s only going to be for a couple days, then it’ll just be you and me again.” Despite this, Phe was still disheartened by the news. She cared about her father, yes, but he had made a very poor life decision, a decision that had caused her to lose all respect for the man.
He had married that witch of a woman.
Her uncle burst out laughing at her frustrated figure, knowing she was less than pleased at the prospect of her so called ‘family’ visiting during her summer break. “Pumpkin, that devil of a woman and child hate my guts just as much as yours! They’re only staying as long as they absolutely have to. Believe me, they’ll be out of here the second they get the chance.” He reassured her. Chuckling, he knew all too well what they were like. Phe had not hesitated telling him as soon as she had been given the chance.
Although, somehow, her father could not see the evil within that woman and her spawn.
“Thanks uncle,” She said, her words genuine. She needed to be reminded sometimes that she wasn’t on her own.
“Of course pumpkin. Now let’s enjoy ourselves some pizza shall we? I’m starving!” The two of them laughed as they began to settle in for their evening meal. Bud finding his place under the table, lying down as comfort enveloped the household. The fireplace lighting up the space as the sun faded and the moon rose, inviting the stars to cast their light upon the forest and its inhabitants. Days like this never came often enough.
“I don’t get it,” She pouted, crossing her arms, frustrated. Her and her partner had been sitting there for three hours doing absolutely NOTHING. She had quickly grown impatient, although, not like that was an uncommon occurrence. She was twelve and a half after all. “What are we even doing out here anyway? ‘Wait and Watch’ he said. Wait and watch for what? Birds?! Because that’s all I’ve seen!”
The man beside her, garbed in a black suit and pants, verus her camo dress, simply shrugged in response. His narrow eyes scanned the ground and surrounding area, still actively searching for whatever they were out here for, even after the three hours of no action. “How am I supposed to know? We were told the same thing!” He spat at his partner, his temper rising every time she asked him stupid questions like that. Which was basically every time she spoke.
“Aw, is someone upset because their little buddy isn’t here?” She teased, baby-talking the masked man.
He fumed. It was no joke. Voice had been shot, he had a right to worry! His partner had only been shot in the leg, but his knee had been badly damaged on top of that. “You have no idea, Princes. Imagine it had been Karma or something.” He growled. His patience with his this girl was running thin very, very quickly.
“Oh whatever grumpy pants. If it was Agent 333 or Stitches you wouldn’t be as worried.” He went to argue but the girl waved him off, disregarding anything he’d have to say. He knew she was right. “Anyway, Masquerade you’re like, the boss’s favorite. He’s always telling you and Voice things he doesn’t even mention to me.” She countered, although she knew Grim hadn’t told either of them jack shit about what they were doing out here.
An uncomfortable silence ensued, both of them now on edge. They understood why they had been paired together, but it didn’t mean they liked it. So as they sat in one of the more sturdy trees that littered this area, they contemplated their current situation, both attempting to puzzle out the reasoning for their current predicament. Why the hell were they out in the middle of nowhere for seemingly no reason?
Princes was about to say something along the lines of an apology when a gloved hand yanked her arm, silencing her before she could even form the first word. All that made its way out of her lungs and off her tongue was a soft yelp. She swore under her breath and went to demand an explanation, when she realized her partner was distracted by something.
Following his gaze, the two watched as a newcomer entered the scene. With the both of them being tucked behind layers of branches and having a height advantage, the subject would have a hard time discovering them as they had just discovered her. However, neither of the two knew what to think of this stranger.
She was an average height, perhaps on the shorter side. From her face she seemed young, maybe late teens. Her skin was a honey or almond, her hair was raven in color, and she was garbed in a solid black sleeveless shirt, torn skinny jeans, and a flannel tied around her waist. Although, the thing the two took a note of was the fact that she carried a rifle and a hunting knife, two weapons that could do some serious damage if used properly. Masquerade found himself honestly surprised she hadn’t heard their bickering, but he was grateful nonetheless.
“What do we do?” Princes whispered, her squeaky voice giving Masquerade a slight headache. “Kill her?”
“I don’t think so,” He responded, his gaze locked on the person of interest. “Watch.”
The girl on the ground lowered her stance, her gaze locked and focused. She slowly slid the firearm offer shoulder as she moved downwind of her target, and picked an area with plenty of cover, a tree shielding her side. She raised the gun so that it was eye-level as she aimed down the barrel, her target a plump doe that stood out in the open, easy prey.
Her finger began to pull back on the trigger, and the two watching braced themselves for the sound that would follow. But it never came. To their surprise, the girl didn’t fire. In fact, her entire posture had changed. She now seemed, saddened almost. Her limbs went slack, and she turned to rest her back against the tree, out of sight from the doe and her fawn. It was then that the two onlookers realised she wasn’t going to be bringing any game home.
To confirm their suspicions, after a short moment she headed off back through the woods. Leaving the two beyond baffled. What was she doing out here by herself anyway?
“Is she the thing we’re after?” Masquerade wondered aloud.
“I doubt it, she couldn’t even bring herself to kill a deer,” Princes scoffed. However, the masked man was left unconvinced, as well as extremely curious.
“Come on,” He said, gesturing his partner to follow, “Let’s go see where this story leads.”
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