All I request is to refrain from reviewing this story until you reach around chapter 23, which is the halfway point.
~ FATE ~
“This is a bad idea,” Oriana stated, huffing warm air into her cupped, shivering hands. “What if Julius catches us?”
Julius was the lord of our tiny village, Amaryllus, which resided in the far north just below the tallest mountain outside the Human Kingdom, and looked after my friends and I as we were his own children, our village’s small population allowing him to do so. As Lord of Amaryllus, he was responsible for carrying out our nation’s laws and reporting back to King Caspolean, whose palace was located somewhere in one of the tropical southern provinces near the Fae Kingdom, where Myrs, Faes, and all sorts of different creatures roamed.
I always dreamed of living there one day, to swim in the salty ocean and meet the beautiful half naked creatures who would try to seduce me into its waves. But circumstances made it impossible for anyone in Amaryllus to ever leave and so I was limited to living out my fantasies through images in books and tales from passing merchants, who were notorious for exaggerating to earn an extra copper coin or two.
“I think you’re being a wuss,” Taylium uttered matter-of-factly, his voice slightly muffled under his thick scarf. His twin brother, who was identical to him down to almost every freckle, Tylem, nodded his head in agreement, strands of brown hair poking out from under his hood.
I turned my head up to the grey sky, grateful that it had finally stopped snowing before we started making our trek to the border, an idea that was conjured up by Taylium for his and Tylem’s eighteenth birthday.
The sound of my name penetrated the peaceful lulling sound of our boots crunching against the snow. “Huh?”
“I said: So, Raena, do you want to turn back too? Scared the big bad wolves will get you?” Taylium laughed and leaned his head back to face the sky, dragging his scarf down to reveal his full, pursed lips that were surrounded by the thin scruff he hadn’t bothered to shave that morning. “Awooooo!” he cried, not being able to hold back his laughter. Oriana shushed him, swatting at his arm and calling him names. “AwOOOO—”
A howl, a real beastly howl, pierced the air, making us all go quiet and stiff in a mixture of awe, terror, and confusion at the sound we usually only heard once a month under a full moon sky. It was deep, powerful, frightening, yet beautiful and I found myself trembling not just from the cold. When it ended, I let out a sigh of what I assumed was relief, my breath misting and swirling up peacefully into the air.
“Can we please go back now?” Oriana hissed, tugging an ebony hand at Tylem’s sleeve, knowing there was no use in trying to persuade the other twin’s mind. “This is stupid.” She stared up at the boy with wide, brown eyes gleaming with desperation.
“Maybe...” Tylem trailed off, turning to face his brother apprehensively. His green eyes looked regretful, having usually been compliant with his brother’s ideas no matter how insane or heedless, yet I could tell he was growing just as wary as Oriana and wanted to go back. What had been a ridiculous attempt at demonstrating their masculinity was starting to prove less and less worth the risk.
We all knew the dangers that lurked near the border, the ones waiting for daring teenagers like ourselves to step that irreversible inch over the boundary line to ‘rightfully’ attack us as trespassers.
Although I trusted we would be more careful than the people in the stories, I wasn’t exactly against turning back either. I could hardly feel my toes and my cuticles were starting to turn a shade of blue.
“No,” Taylium spat, trudging forward in spite of the fact that the rest of us remained in place. “We’ve made it this far and—hey! See, see!”
He pointed to a spot in front of him and started running—well, he tried to run—through the thick layers of snow. Tylem muttered something under his breath and chased after his brother, shouting for him to come back to no avail.
Oriana met my eyes before rolling her own and we both began reluctantly following the teenage boys deeper into the woods.
My teeth clattered uncontrollably and I pulled my jacket, the one I had made myself out of rabbit hides and cotton, closer to my chest. That was probably the coldest winter we had experienced in our lifetimes and if the twins weren’t my friends, I would’ve been snuggled in my bed with a warm cup of tea instead of outside freezing my limbs off.
“There! There!” Taylium shouted, pointing at an old sign that had been knocked over sideways by decay and years of bad weather. The thing looked ancient and it was a surprise that it wasn’t one with the earth by then.
The Cursed Kingdom. The thought of being so near it had me shuddering. The sign wasn’t just a warning, it was the boundary line to our two kingdoms.
Beware it read with what appeared to be a demonic dog underneath with sharp canines and crossed eyes that made it look ridiculous. Right next to it, in a black colored paint instead of red, was a childish drawing of a penis crafted together by three unsymmetrical circles.
“Okay, great, we know you’re men. Can we please go back now?” Oriana said, bouncing her knees. Her voice was anxious.
“Not until we make our own mark,” Taylium jabbed a thumb at the sign, using his other hand to pull out a marker from the pocket of his coat. Right next to the other one, he drew his own version of a male reproductive organ, which had me scoffing. Once he was done, Tylem snatched the marker out of his grip and hastily drew the same object on the other side of the sign.
I watched his footing, my heart beating faster.
“Is that seriously the only thing guys think about?” I asked, a smile tugging at my lips in an attempt at masking my sudden realization of just how stupid it was to go out there. Secretly, I wondered if I should leave my own ‘mark’ for walking out and risking my life as well. After all, I had been eighteen the longest between the three of us, with Oriana the youngest and still stuck at seventeen for another few months. So why not?
I chuckled and was about to say something to Oriana when movement caught my eye, a flash of something tall and dark. At first I brushed it off as an elk, which were very common in those woods, until I saw it a second time and remembered exactly where we were.
“Uh, guys?” I said as softly as I could while attempting to stay calm, looking around at every tree. I tried to tell myself I was seeing things, that drinking that shot of vodka before we left was a bad idea and that the twins’ feet hadn’t crossed the line. I had watched them so closely that I would’ve noticed.
The other must’ve thought I was losing my mind too, looking at me like my head had grown an identical friend.
A tree branch suddenly broke near us, the sharp and distinct ’crack’ing sound reverberating off of every tree. Oriana jumped and let out a choked sound that was the beginning of a scream. The twins shared looks of what I guessed was fear. Even Taylium, who had been the bravest of us all, looked like he was about to piss himself.
We all knew the dangers that lurked in the Northwoods. We had been told their stories our entire lives. We had feared them our entire lives.
“Oh shit,” Oriana whimpered, stepping closer to me and grabbing onto my bicep right above my elbow. I hissed as her long fingernails poked me quite painfully through my layers of sleeves. “Raena, let’s go.”
I was about to agree, had even gone as far as opening my mouth to release the words. But they got caught in my throat when I heard a scream.
Head whipping around, I cried out in horror when I saw a massive creature sinking its teeth into Taylium’s neck, his blood spurting out onto the white snow. His scream of pain made birds fly out of trees as he fell backwards, giving the beast better access to his throat.
Oriana screamed and cupped her mouth as she began bawling uncontrollably, backing away from the sight and swinging her head in every direction to look for a safe escape route.
All I could do was watch in horror, staring as the thing shook its head side to side, growling with its teeth still lodged in Taylium’s throat. It reminded me of my dog, Aleah, and how she played with her stuffed toys. I had always laughed when she did it. I wasn’t laughing now.
“Tay!” Tylem yelled, seeming to be stuck in fear at the sight of the massive wolf-like creature just as I was.
It was bigger than we ever could’ve imagined. Although it was a wolf by physical definition, there were slight differences that I instantly noticed that confirmed to me that this was no ordinary animal. It had more of a hunched back and a shorter tail and its teeth and claws were grotesque as if their sole purpose was to strike fear. This was no wolf, it was a monster: the same kind of monster we had been taught to fear but hadn’t learned well enough to listen.
The thought of our names being written next to the many others whose deaths told the horrors of these beasts had me shuddering from the irony. I had heard them almost every night of my life. It seemed fitting that I should join them.
About to run over to help my friend, I was taken aback when I was forcefully thrown off my feet, the wind violently knocked out of my lungs and making me gasp in pain. Oriana shouted my name. A large weight suddenly pressed itself down onto my back, my front feeling cold, wet, and bruised from landing stomach first onto the unforgiving icy ground.
For the first time in my life, I screamed. I didn’t realize before then that I could make a sound so loud or shrill but I did, and I kept doing it until my lungs no longer supplied me the air.
The beast growled in my ear, the terrible sound and hot breath that followed making me scream louder and thrash more determinedly underneath him, my backward kicks functioning as my futile attempts to knock him off balance.
It snapped its yellow teeth at my ear, making me whimper into silence when I a single canine pierced through the cartilage.
Tylem cried out from somewhere and I heard a distinctive thud of a body hitting the ground.
Oriana’s shrieks had gone deathly silent.
Taylium hadn’t made a sound since the first wolf pounced on him.
The only thing I could hear were monstrous growls, which seemed to have doubled since I was knocked over, and my breathing whose sound seemed to swarm and taunt me with the very thing I was trying to protect.
Then I felt the wolf on top of me begin tearing at my clothes, his canines scraping the skin on my lower back but only enough to leave a sting, while my body was held down by its massive paws.
“No! No!” I screamed and kicked and fought, throwing my arms back to try to hit him in the face, but it was no use.
The wolf shred through my belt, jacket, shirt, and my pants as if they were nothing, baring my lower body completely to the cold. It was humiliating and terrifying all in one and all I could do was scream over and over again with the knowledge that nobody could hear me, that no one was stupid enough to travel this close to the Cursed Kingdom’s territory as we had been.
Past the sound of my ragged breaths and pounding heart, I could still hear growls from all around me and the sounds of things like clothes being ripped apart. There were no screams anymore. There wasn’t even a whimper. Everyone had gone completely silent, making me fear the worse.
As twisted as it sounded, I wanted them to scream. Screaming meant they were alive.
As if it couldn’t get worse, I felt something hot and heavy and quite hard rubbing against my calf. I shouted louder, realizing exactly what part of the wolf I was feeling on my leg and why he had needed my bottom half bare.
The wolf growled and latched its canines onto the back of my neck, thankfully breaking through only the first few layers of skin, and forced my face farther into the snow. If he just applied a little more pressure, he would have severed my arteries and killed me within seconds. A part of me wished he would so I could at least die with dignity.
“Please! No! Please!” I sobbed helplessly, struggling against his weight as he shifted up my body and began to position himself. My voice was muffled by the ground and weakened by the fact I could hardly breathe but I knew he could hear me. I knew he didn’t care. “Please don’t! Oh gods—please!”
Through my pleas, a growl pierced the air, so loud and frightening that it had the wolf on top of me still instantly and myself go silent except for my ragged breathing. If the wolf just moved a little more up, he would’ve finished the deed. The thought had me sobbing harder, my face burning against the snow.
A growl from the same source sounded and the wolf on top of me suddenly lifted and released my neck so I could breathe properly again, backing up and away from me while whining at whoever had interrupted him.
Gasping for much needed air, I lifted my head to be met with my savior, a black wolf larger than the others and scarred so badly that chunks of fur were missing that revealed light skin underneath. Its eyes were a deep golden color and he—I could easily tell it as a he—was staring right at me, eyelids narrowing when our gazes made contact. It almost looked as if he was glaring at me, like I was the one in the wrong.
My eyes burned from crying and I was sure snot was covering my face along with my tears. My throat felt like it had been scrubbed with sandpaper and the cold air was like salt to an open wound, making it feel ten times worse than it was. Everything hurt. I could hardly breathe, my chest feeling compressed as if the wolf was still on top of me, and I debated if I even wanted to after this.
The black wolf stalked towards me and I somehow didn’t start crying again, despite the fact that he was more terrifying just standing there than the other wolf had been when it had its teeth around my neck. I was too emotionally and physically exhausted to do anything but watch..
I could see strong muscles shifting underneath thick fur as he walked towards us so smoothly and with such a regal aura that if it weren’t for my current state, I would’ve looked at the beast in awe. Its large paws barely made a sound and it wasn’t until he was standing directly next to me that I could hear his claws like small whispers against the snow.
I held my breath, waiting for this powerful wolf’s next move. He growled at my attacker, revealing a set of sharp, white teeth and raised his hackles. My attacker bowed his head and bent his legs to lower himself to the ground, his tail tucked snuggly between his legs.
My savior looked about ready to launch himself at him and I expected him to do just that.
Instead he lifted his hind leg closest to me.
I gasped in horror and shock as warm urine penetrated through what was left of my coat and onto my skin underneath. And the smell—the smell was horrendous and had me gagging. Trying to cover my naked backside as best as I could while scrambling to escape the unwanted stream, I rolled over onto my back and let out a string of curses.
But it was too late. The liquid was all over me from the chest down, soaking through my clothes and onto my skin.
Through blurry vision, I looked over suddenly and took in the sight next to me, the urine suddenly vanishing from all my senses and replaced by an emotion I never wanted to experience again.
I could feel bile, scorching and fast, rising up my throat.
Blood. So much blood—puddles, splatters, and streaks of red everywhere until there was more of it on the ground than the white of the snow.
I thought I saw an arm or at least a part of it but I couldn’t tell at the time whose it was, so I looked away in hopes that I never would.
My lower lip wobbled as I tried to not look past the wall of wolves standing behind my attacker, knowing whatever laid there—whatever was left—was nothing anyone deserved to see.
“Oh gods,” I wheezed, my voice scratchy and my eyes widening and tearing up all at the same time. The three wolves that stood where my friends once did each had blood dripping off their muzzles. One licked its maw, the sound of its teeth coming back together making my stomach churn. “Tylem?” I voiced weakly through tears only for the black wolf to growl, his teeth suddenly snapping in my face as he whirled around to lunge on top of me. “No!” I cried hysterically, slapping and kicking at him. “Get away from me!”
A large paw on each of my shoulders and his lower body keeping my legs trapped, he nuzzled his wet nose against my shoulder, smelling me with a low growl. I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth to hold in a sob when his tongue darted out and took its time licking the juncture where my right shoulder met my neck.
He abruptly pulled back and stared at me, his eyes never leaving my face which I knew must’ve been a blotchy, red pathetic mess with my snow-covered hair sticking up everywhere. I looked right back at him and eyed the nasty scar across his left eye that ended at the tip of his snout, wincing when he growled lowly in the back of his throat.
“Please,” I pleaded weakly, my voice sounding as hoarse as sandpaper as I revealed more of my neck to him. Tears ran down my cheeks. “Be quick.”
The wolf stared for another few heartbeats, his golden eyes glowing like living lava while the other four wolves around us remained silent and still, waiting to see what this male would do next.
And then his head shot down to the same spot on my collarbone and the last thing I felt before darkness dominated my senses was the horrible crunch of his teeth tearing through my flesh.
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