Hunter

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6. How to Smell Springtime in Autumn


Okay, I admit it:

I was scared.

I was completely and utterly scared for my life as I raced back towards my apartment, the distant howl of the werewolves still in the park sending chills through my spine. The strange burst of strength and speed I had gained right before killing Nicholas was dissipating rapidly, and I soon found myself sprinting at my normal speed, still pretty fast for a human...

But not fast enough.

I was entirely convinced I could hear the pounding footsteps of pursuers, but whenever I looked back - which I knew wasn’t the smartest idea - there was nobody there.

It’s all in your head, Reese. Just run.

If anything, the reassuring voice in my head just urged me to run faster.

I turned onto Dundas Street East. Normally, after I took out a target, I’d take a confusing and long route home, cutting through alleyways, back-tracking, and making sure I’d shake off any tail I might have gained. But this wasn’t an ordinary mission anymore.

I was too confident. I shouldn’t have run into Riverdale. I should have stayed in the apartment with Opal and Kyle and taken out my frustrations on the punching bag I kept in my room.

I shouldn’t have gone out this late on a full moon. I knew the dangers. I thought I could handle them. But because of my cockiness, I’d run into exactly the person I wanted to run into, pretty much goaded him into trying to rape me, killed him in the presence of Nicholas Randon, thus exposing myself as a Hunter, then killed Nicholas, when I was well aware he was within mind-shot of other wolves.

Opal was right - well, kind of. Though I had clearly been ready to take on Ryker Marcel, I was most definitely not ready for the ramifications of his death.

The Alpha’s been dying to meet you...

I’m nowhere near ready to face off against Elijah Randon. Next to him, I assume, Nicholas will seem like a harmless little puppy.

And, of course, it won’t just be me against the Alpha.

No, he’ll have his Beta there with him, his warriors, the remainders of his family... though I think now, thanks to me, his sister is the only family he has left.

Something tells me she won’t be very pleased with me either.

I tore across the Lower Don River, seeing my apartment building in the distance. I kept it in my sights, though made sure my senses were tuned into what was happening around me. All was quiet, except for the pounding of my shoes against the sidewalk. When I crossed into Regent Park, I adjusted my steps a bit to be more silent so I was practically flying through the streets like a ghost - or a vampire, but much slower than the real deal.

Almost there, Reese. Just hang on.

My lungs were burning. When I had to run distances like this, pacing myself was of the utmost importance to ensure my energy lasted longer. Sprinting for twelve minutes wasn’t the smartest thing to do. Right now, my adrenaline and fear kept me going, but I knew the exertion would crash onto me when I reached the temporary safety of my temporary home.

Then something sent me stopping for a moment.

My senses, still scanning the surrounding area for any danger, caught a trace of...

Evergreen trees. The sharp tang of pine. The smell of springtime - my favorite season. I blinked, momentarily confused. There wasn’t a large park too close by - Oak Street Park was a block away, and Regent Park North was even further. And though Riverdale Park East was less than a kilometer away, all I could smell from that direction was decaying leaves. Besides, it was still Autumn, and the wind was blowing down from the north. There’s no way I should be smelling anything related to spring.

The scent was faint, though, even for the limits of my human nose. There was barely a trace of it in the air. If I hadn’t been searching for anything odd, I might not have noticed it in the first place.

Shrugging, I launched back into another dead sprint, the doors of my apartment now in view.

There was a growl from behind me. I turned, cursing, just feet away from temporary safety.

There was a wolf in the parking lot, less than a hundred yards from where I stood. Its hackles were raised, its ears flat against its head, its lips pulled back in what I assumed was supposed to be a menacing snarl. Due to its large size - and the low chance of a wolf running wild through the city - I knew immediately it was a werewolf.

It was younger, though, smaller than the ones I’ve seen before. It had most likely shifted for the first time quite recently, and it was out on one of its first patrols. No doubt it didn’t expect this tonight.

Wait... a quick check revealed that this werewolf was, in fact, a he.

No surprise there. I haven’t run into too many female werewolves - that tyrant of an Alpha probably assumed they were too weak and nurturing to be of any use on a patrol.

Well, if anything, at least I proved not to underestimate females.

The young werewolf didn’t advance any closer to me, keeping a safe distance away, which I quickly judged. I could be on top of it in a few strides. Already, I imagined sinking my dagger into its soft coat, blood staining the blade scarlet. My Hunter’s instincts began to rise up...

Kill. Kill. Kill.

But I didn’t move.

I knew without looking too hard I could almost-effortlessly take this werewolf out. He wouldn’t put up too much of a fight. Compared to Ryker Marcel and Nicholas Randon, killing this young werewolf could probably compare to defeating a cockroach - which I had lots of experience with. This is Toronto, after all. There is no shortage of cockroaches and other disgusting vermin - including most supernatural beings.

But I didn’t want to kill this werewolf. Something inside of me rose up, some protective instinct...

I raised my dagger, aiming for the wolf, and prepared to throw it.

“If you don’t want to become a doormat,” I said, keeping my voice low and threatening. “I suggest you pretend you haven’t seen me.”

He took a step back, his tail tucking between his legs, as he let out a short whimper.

“Go,” I shooed him away with my other hand. “Before I change my mind.”

He took one last look at me, then turned and fled into the night. I turned to go into the building.

“Wait.”

I froze, tightening my grip on the dagger, and whirled around to meet the owner of the voice.

It was a boy, around sixteen years old. He stood only a few feet away from me, close enough that I could see the general color of his eyes - light brown - and the soft, springy texture of his curly red hair.

And freckles. Lots and lots of freckles.

I took a moment to praise this boy for managing to sneak up on me.

Then logic kicked in.

He snuck up on me.

I raised the dagger again. “I thought I told you to leave?”

The boy held up his hands. “Please, just listen.”

Why are you dithering? Kill him now!

Yet he was standing here, a few feet away from the Hunter that’s already killed two of his pack members tonight. Standing here defenseless, in just his boxers, mind you. And if he had just recently shifted for the first time, as I suspected, it would take him a bit longer than the average pack warrior to transition into a wolf.

He’s just buying time until more of his pack members arrive.

But I still hesitated, inclining my head slightly to tell the boy to speak now.

He took a deep breath, keeping his hands in plain sight. “I shouldn’t be talking to you,” he began. “In fact, I’m supposed to be hunting you.”

I let out a soft snort of dry amusement. Ah, the irony.

“So why aren’t you?” I lowered the dagger a few inches, but kept my muscles tensed, ready to explode into action at the slightest hint of danger. “I’m right here. Go call the rest of your pack to come take me down,” I paused for effect. “Of course, it won’t do you much good, in the end. I’ll kill you and be long gone before they get here.”

He blinked, eyeing my dagger nervously. “I... I don’t think it’s right,” he said. “Hunting you, that is.”

I nearly dropped the dagger with surprise. Excuse me? Doesn’t he know what I’ve done?

“I mean, I suspect you’re hunting us for the same reason we’re hunting you,” he slowly lowered his hands. On instinct, I gripped the hilt of the dagger tighter. “To protect your family.”

My jaw clenched. “My family,” I hissed through my teeth. “Is dead.”

The boy bit his lip, now a little bit awkward. “I meant the humans,” he said. “I don’t think it’s right, what my kind is doing to them, either. Shouldn’t the strong be protecting the weak, instead of playing with them?”

I let out a slow breath through my nose. Smart kid. Are you sure he’s a werewolf?

“I don’t think we should kill you for trying to protect your own kind,” he continued. “You need to leave the city. Now.”

My eyes narrowed automatically. What’s his game? “Is this a trap?”

His eyes widened. “No! I swear by the Moon Goddess! You have to get out, now. The Alpha’s close by - very close by. Last I heard from our relay team, he was in Riverdale Park West, heading for the footbridge.”

That was close. Very close. My gaze snapped up to look behind the boy. There was next to no distance between me and the eastern part of Riverdale Park. Gerrard Street, the church, then River Street... then the park. Less than a kilometer away.

Fear uncurled deep in my stomach.

“The wind’s blowing away from him, for now,” the boy started backing away. “He’s going to the west side of the park to try to pick up your trail, but...” he frowned. “You have no scent.”

That’s the second time I’ve been told that tonight.

I stared at the boy, wondering if this was a trick. But he swore on the Moon Goddess - though I thought the notion of some female god watching over the wolves and binding them together in some stupid mating thing was complete shit, I knew that an oath made by a werewolf on her name was as good as a blood pact.

So I nodded at the boy, a sharp, simple nod, indicating that I believed him. Another gust of wind blew my way, once again carrying the sharp tang of pine and springtime. It was stronger now. I closed my eyes for a moment, allowing the scent to sweep around me. I missed springtime. I craved its presence. I was also curious about what kind of mumbo-jumbo the seasons were trying to pull because it should not be smelling like Spring in Autumn.

Now is not the time to go investigate strange smells, Reese.

With a final - and weird - longing look to the north, I turned my back on the boy and slipped into the building, this time hearing the nearly silent footfalls as the boy retreated away from me.

The Alpha’s in Riverdale Park.

I have to leave.

Now.


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