Hunter

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26. How to Discover Lycanthropy


Well, I had a feeling the mission wasn’t going to end well, and as it turned out, I was right.

I didn’t remember much of what happened. Rebecca, going through what looked light a very painful transition. The wolf, lunging at me without warning. Pain exploding across my chest. Falling to the ground...

Then nothing.

When I awoke, I was back in the infirmary. In the bed I had previously been occupying, as a matter of fact. It was like I’d never left.

That was the look Tristan, the healer or whatever they called him, gave me when I managed to orient myself. I tried to sit up, hissing as a burning sensation flared awake across my chest.

“No,” he said calmly, ambling over and gently pushing me back down. “You are still injured. Don’t try to sit up.”

I went to speak, but my mouth was dry. Wordlessly, I gestured to the glass of water I’d spotted on the bedside table. Tristan grabbed it, then tried to help me take a sip. I cast a sharp glare, snatched the glass from his hand, and did it myself. It was harder than it needed to be - I think half of the water missed my mouth and ended up across my face. Yay, independency.

“What happened?” I demanded.

He blinked. “You were injured during the mission,” he said. “The Alpha brought you back, then muttered something to the Beta about fetching his sister. When Beta Luca left, the Alpha refused to leave.” He huffed in annoyance. “It would have been a lot easier to treat you without him breathing down my neck.”

“The Alpha was here?” I frowned. I did dimly recall him shouting my name. Telling me to stay back. With... with fear evident in his voice.

Fear for me, or fear for his sister?

His sister. Obviously. He was probably concerned that my Hunter instincts would kick in and I’d deem Rebecca as a threat.

But... that hadn’t happened. Even though she’d attacked me, even though I’d realized that being close to her wasn’t safe, my instincts stayed dormant. If they’d worked like they were supposed to, I probably would have recognized the danger sooner and wouldn’t be back in this stupid place.

But Tristan didn’t know any of that. He’d only nodded in response to my question. “He kept shouting at me to find the witch to come heal you, but...” he trailed off.

“Opal was here, too?” Damn. That was twice I’d been in the same room as Opal without being able to see her. Twice she’s had to see me lying unconscious and probably half-dead here, practically helpless -

But Tristan was shaking his head. “No. I told him that it wouldn’t have made a difference, not with Rebecca’s...” he trailed off, biting his lip. “Anyways, you should be well, soon. You had another concussion by the way, along with the wounds across your chest.”

I struggled to sit up again, but said wounds flared up in response. Oh, for crying out loud. “My head feels fine,” I said.

The werewolf healer merely shrugged. “You had vampire venom in your system, too, but I got rid of most of it.” He nodded to my neck. Instinctively, I raised my hand, feeling the bandage resting against the wound. The cool, familiar feel of the medication spread across the inside of the bandage was reassuring. I wouldn’t be turning into a Blood Bag anytime soon. Plus, it was useful to know that Opal wasn’t the only one who knew how to counteract the effects of vampire venom.

“Anyways,” Tristan continued. “I should probably let the Alpha know that you’re awake - ”

“No.”

The word burst out of me, and I was taken aback by the force of my response. Though I was never particularly eager to see Elijah, the thought of seeing how anytime soon made me want to go back to that alley and let Isla drain me completely of my blood - which was what she’d been about to do before the Alpha had interfered. I wasn’t ready to face him just yet, knowing that I’d failed.

There was no dancing around the matter. No playing around with events or words. I’d failed the mission. I had failed to kill Isla Roy.

I didn’t like the way it felt. I was Reese Hearne. I never failed a mission. Even the night I got caught, my failure at running was overshadowed by the victory of killing both Ryker Marcel and Nicholas Randon.

Then again, I could blame my failure on the Alpha. After all, if I hadn’t been wounded, my movements would have been quicker. The burning pain that had ripped up my abdomen and across my chest was probably due to some weird internal injury that would have healed probably had he not given me a grand total of two days to recover.

Plus, I usually give myself a lot more time than just a few measly days to plan out a mission. I’d been tracking Marcus Chauncey for weeks before I finally killed him. I was plotting on the best way to kill Christian Roy’s wife for nearly a year before I sent the stake through her heart.

Anyways, the point was, I had to pull myself together before I was in the same room as the Alpha. I always had to keep my wits about me while I was around him, and it was difficult to do that while I was wallowing in my own spiraling whirlpool of failure.

Tristan, however, was confused. “He told me to tell him - ”

“I don’t care what he told you,” I growled. “If you bring him in here, then you’ll be my next target.” Silver dagger or not. There’s bound to be more than one way to kill a werewolf. Would decapitation work? Even if it didn’t, it would be amusing to watch them chase after their heads.

The healer flinched, and guilt flashed through me. I shouldn’t be threatening him. He just tried to save your life. He’s only doing his job and following orders.

I pushed the guilt away. What is wrong with you? He’s a goddamned werewolf. The enemy.

If the voice had eyes, it would have rolled them. It makes an appearance after being MIA for days, and then when it does finally decide to show up, it defends the enemies.

I think I’m losing my mind, being this close to all these werewolves without killing any.

Still, I forced my gaze to soften. “Opal, then.” I needed to see her. I needed to know that she was going to be okay. Though I don’t know how one can be okay after having their husband murdered in front of them, but still, I had to know.

But Tristan shook his head. “The Alpha said - ”

“Fine,” I snapped. The next time I saw the Alpha, I was going to strangle him. Maybe I’d test my decapitation theory on him. “Rebecca, then. Is she - ”

“She’s fine,” Tristan interrupted. “I’ll go get her.” He fixed me with a stern look. “Stay in the bed. Do not try to sit up.”

Smirking, I made a show of making myself comfortable, even going so far as to close my eyes. I heard an exasperated sigh and the click of a doorknob as I was left here.

Alone.

Unattended.

Oh, the possibilities.

I could jump out the window. I could search around for any kind of weapon that could be used against a werewolf. I could leave the room and check if the Alpha’s study was empty. If it was, I could search that, too. I could -


- Accidentally fall asleep and miss any chance of investigating.

Well, shit.

Without hesitation, I sat up before Tristan had the chance to yell at me again. My chest ached, but it wasn’t burning anymore. Come to think of it, I just felt stiff and sore. I wondered if Tristan had decided to bring in Opal after all, while I was sleeping, to try healing me again.

Then I blinked.

I wasn’t in the infirmary anymore. I was back in the glorified cell - though, to be honest, it was a relief to be back in here. At least I wasn’t going to be stuck in that semi-uncomfortable bed for the rest of my days.

Also, I wasn’t alone.

Rebecca, who was sitting next to my bed, reading a book, glanced up sharply at my sudden movement. She noticed the stiffness with which I moved, and her eyes narrowed.

“Shouldn’t you be - ”

I cut her off. “If you about to tell me to lie back down and get some more rest, you needn’t waste the energy.” I rested my back against the headboard. “How did I get in here?”

“My brother.” Her eyes glanced over my expression, reading me. I kept my face carefully blank. “Tristan told him you were awake, and that you requested to see me.”

“I told him not to - ”

A weak smile flashed across her lips for a brief moment. “Yes, he did mention how you threatened to kill him. But Eli quickly reminded him how he had the silver dagger, not you.”

Damn Elijah Randon. Buzzkill.

“He came with me to come see you.” She shook her head, obviously exasperated. “I protested, of course. Fortunately for you, you were already asleep. I thought you’d be more comfortable elsewhere, so I had Eli bring you back here.” Her eyes roamed over me, and I got the feeling that she wanted to say something, but didn’t know how.

“What happened out there?” My voice was soft. “What happened to... to you?”

Rebecca swallowed, hard, avoiding my gaze. “I’m sorry, Reese. I thought I would be fine...”

“You Shifted,” I said. “But it wasn’t... like other werewolves. It was like the transition was forced on you. I don’t understand how...”

She let out a soft snort, but she didn’t seem amused. She set down her book - The One - and faced me, her emerald eyes glistening with... self-loathing?

Rebecca Randon? Self-loathing? The two hardly belonged in the same sentence. But the emotion was there, even as she cleared her throat and began to speak.

“Nobody outside of the pack knows this,” she said. “You must swear that you won’t tell anybody this when you inevitably leave us.”

That Rebecca had no doubts of me eventually escaping this place meant something to me. A lot, actually.

“Then why tell me at all?” I said. “According to every other supernatural being, I’m pretty much a public menace. Not exactly trustworthy.”

“Well, I trust you,” Rebecca said it with such conviction, I believed her. “And I... I want you to know this.” She took a deep breath, steeling herself. “Firstly, I need to know that you know of the subspecies of supernatural beings. The run-offs from the main races.”

“I know about hybrids,” I offered. “Simon lent me A Summary of the Supernatural.”

“Well, I guess that’s a start,” she sighed. “My mother wasn’t a werewolf. She was one of the few humans destined to be mated to a werewolf.”

I froze. That can happen? I’d always assumed the mate bond was a werewolf thing.

“My father didn’t think much of it. He loved her - or, I think he did. It’d hard to tell if the feelings are genuine, or if they’re just a product of the bond. But that’s beside the point.” She sighed. “The biological laws of supernatural beings are weird. Hybrids exist because when two supernatural beings... you know... the children are kind of half-and-half. They have abilities from both parents. But when one parent is human... then the child either has supernatural abilities, or none at all.

“With werewolf children, it’s evident that they’re supernatural purely based on their physical features. They’re more... attractive than most humans.” She cast me an apologetic look, but I didn’t take offense. I was well aware of the physical pros to being supernatural. “So when Eli was born, and later Nic, it was clear that they were werewolf children. That they took after our father. But me... I wasn’t so fortunate. I was like my mother. I was born human.”

Not fortunate to be born human? I couldn’t think of anything better. Rebecca noted my expression.

“My father hated humans,” she continued. “As you’re probably well aware of, since he started the Takeover. Though he adored my mother... he thought humans were weak. That they had no right to push them into the shadows. To force them to hide. He always looked down his nose at me... I think he was ashamed of me.” She let out a humorless laugh that was so un-Rebecca. “When I was about nine, a werewolf revolted. He was a human sympathizer, and he hated the views my father had. When my father tried to stop him from leaving... my mother got in the way. The werewolf killed her. It was an accident, of course, but...” she shook her head.

“That was the last straw for my father. He hated humans - so much so that he’d do anything to rid his pack of any trace of them. Though he was an awful person... he would never stoop so low as to murder his own children. That was one line he’d never cross. Instead, he did something much worse.

“I asked you about your knowledge of subspecies because... because I wanted to know how much you knew about lycanthropy.”

“Lycanthropy?” The term was familiar. “I’ve heard it before. I always thought it was a fancy word for werewolves.”

“No,” Rebecca frowned. “Lycanthropes are a type of werewolf. They’re not very well-known, and they’re kept away from the general public. Shifters are the other type. They’re born. They turn for the first time when they reach sixteen years, and they have all the perks you think of when you think of werewolves. Easy, painless transitions. Mates. Having full control over themselves when they Turn.

“Lycanthropes are made, not born. It’s a disease, I think, though I’m not sure of its origin. It’s very contagious, passed on through biting or scratching another party. Drawing blood, basically. It only happens to humans - it doesn’t affect vampires and werewolves, for obvious reasons, and the magic concentration in a Wielder’s blood sort of counteracts the effects. Anyways, a lycanthrope has the Change forced on them at random intervals, though they transition more and more often the closer it gets to a full moon. It’s an extremely painful ordeal - every bone in your body breaks and reforms, your teeth are pushed from your gums to make way for canines, and the claws...” She shuddered. “I can deal with all of that, however much I hate it. But the worst part is once I become a wolf... I don’t have any control. My consciousness blacks out, basically. I don’t remember anything that happens while I’m a wolf.

“So imagine my horror when Luca finds me in that alleyway and tells me what happened.”

I couldn’t even begin to imagine...

“What happened?” I whispered. “How did you turn into...” I gestured at her.

“A lycanthrope? Well, I told you how my father hated that I was human. He’d do anything to push it out of me. So... he tracked down a lycanthrope den. They hide, far from any human settlements. Any... missteps they have are closely monitored. My father brought me to them, and left me alone there, not far from their den. I was attacked that night.”

And she was only nine years old.

“Elijah was livid when he found out. I think he would have challenged our father for leadership right then and there, had he not known that if he lost, the pack would have gone to Nic,” she growled. “Nic was worse than my father when it came to the Takeover. He and Eli were always close, but...” She sighed again. “There’s a reason I’m not particularly upset that you killed my brother. Okay, maybe I was, a little, at first, though I think I was more in shock than anything.”

A memory flashed through my mind. My brother died recently. Very recently. I’m trying to process it.

“I thought you looked familiar,” I murmured. “You were on the subway with Simon the night I got caught.”

A quicksilver smile. “Yeah, I realized I’d been sitting right across from you after Eli told me you’d been successfully apprehended. I wish I’d known you who you were when we’d met. I would have helped you escaped. I guess it was a good thing you killed the brother I despised.” She leaned forward conspiratorially. “If it had been Elijah you’d killed, this would be a different story. I wouldn’t hate you, but... I’d probably like you about as much as Evangeline does.”

“She does hate me,” I reminded her.

“She highly dislikes you,” she corrected. “There’s a small difference. Eli has his faults... but he’s always been there for me. Still, I can’t forget the path Nic led him down after the Takeover. Eli was never a human sympathizer, but he was against the Takeover. But he’s... changed. He’s become more like Nic. I keep hoping he’ll do something to redeem himself, but... I think he’s getting worse.”

“The vampires?”

“For one, yeah. Elijah seven years ago would have tried to renegotiate terms with Christian, not try to slaughter his people.”

“It’s power,” I said.

“What?”

“Power is temptation. The more you have, the more you want. It changes a person. It can corrupt the most innocent of souls.” I was speaking from experience, of course. Fifteen-year-old Reese Hearne would have had a heart attack if she knew what she’d be up to seven years later.

Rebecca nodded thoughtfully, but her gaze had drifted back over me. To my chest. She frowned. “Does it hurt?”

I glanced down. “Not nearly as much as it did earlier,” I mirrored her expression. “It’s mostly sore. It feels like a bruise.” A thought occurred to me. “You attacked me. You scratched me. Does that mean I’ll...” I couldn’t even say it. Dread surged through me. I couldn’t turn into a lycanthrope. I couldn’t become a supernatural being, let alone a werewolf. The thought alone...

But Rebecca didn’t seem worried. No, she looked thoughtful. “A wound inflicted by a lycanthrope won’t heal until you first shift,” she said. “It will keep bleeding and bleeding until the werewolf healing kicks in. A lot of humans, those who don’t transition right away, die from blood loss. But you...”

Without waiting for a word from me, she lifted up my shirt, revealing the bandaged wounds scored across my chest. Carefully, she lifted up a bandage - then took them off completely.

I stared. Wounds like that should still be raw, still bleeding, still searing me with agony if I moved. But what I saw looked like it was at least a week old - scabbed over, healing around the edges.

Wordlessly, Rebecca pulled my shirt back down, tossing the bandages into the nearest trash can. Then, slowly turning back to face me, she smiled.

“Well, that confirms it,” she said. “You are, without a doubt, a supernatural being.”


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