Alyvia of the Woods

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Chapter 3: The Hunter

We walk on for an hour before Selene says we should rest. She transforms into a wolf and heads off into the woods while Lo illuminates the night with the fire floating above his hand.

I watch Selene go before turning to Lo. "What is she?"

"A shapeshifter." Lo leans against a tree and looks up at the stars. "She's been here longer than I have."

I look at the flames flickering in his palm. "And you're a witch. So you came here because..."

"Because it's the only safe place in the world for beings like us." Lo looks at me now, the firelight glinting in his eyes. "And you're dead, aren't you? So why are you in the BorderWoods?"

I recall what Brennan told me. "Apparently I pledged myself, and now I have to fulfill it. The problem is, I can't remember what I pledged myself to."

Lo thinks this over, his eye beginning to twitch just as it had when he was young. "Interesting that it brought you here." He smiles now. "Fate makes things coincidental, doesn't it?"

Nodding, I turn away from him. I still feel bad for Brennan, who rests in a patch of dry grass a few feet away. I stare at him for a moment before facing Lo once more.

"What happened back there? With the yellow light? Was that your magic?" I ask. Lo hesitates, then answers.

"No. Truly, I don't know where it came from." Lo shrugs and crosses his arms. "Maybe it was the demon."

"His name is Brennan," I say, my voice rising. "And why do you treat him like that? You're a witch. I'm human. Selene is a...shapeshifter. What makes Brennan so bad?"

Lo looks at me as though I'm insane. "Al, demons are corrupt creatures and invade the BorderWoods through cracks in the earth. They destroy, and that's all they think about." He gazes out at Brennan. "That's why I'm wondering about this de-Brennan. It-he went to save you and started leading you to a safe shelter." He shakes his head. "It's unheard of."

A crash in the bush nearby cuts through our conversation. Selene, in her human form, steps out swearing.

"I found the place," she says, "but it's guarded by werewolves."

Lo breaks into laughter, and I stand there dumbfounded. "Let me guess, they thought you were one of them."

"Yes," Selene hisses, "and their alpha flirted with me!"

Now Lo is crying he's laughing so hard, and even I chuckle a bit. The way Selene is wound up about it is hilarious.

"It's not funny!" Selene growls. "I'm a shapeshifter, not a drooling mongrel!"

"She can only shapeshift into a wolf," Lo tells me through his laughter. "Everyone assumes she's a werewolf at first glance."

Selene bristles and shoves at Lo. Lo retaliates and soon they are both tumbling through the grass, laughing and throwing insults at each other. I watch them for a moment, then head over to Brennan.

His breathing is ragged, but I can hear him murmuring under his breath. I jerk off my hoodie and throw it over him.

"You'll be okay, Brennan," I whisper, loneliness clouding my thoughts. "You have to be."

I try so hard to get away from people, only to be pulled back toward them. When will it end? When I harden my heart? I feel as though I've hardened it enough already.

"Hey Al! We're going now!" Lo arrives by my side, followed by Selene. I glance up at him.

"You'll carry him?" I ask. Lo nods and grabs Brennan.

"He's small and light, for a demon," he says. "Are you sure you don't want your shawl back?"

"Hoodie," I correct. "And no, he needs it more than I do."

Lo goes on ahead, and I move at a brisk pace beside Selene. She ignores me, but I need to talk to her.

"So what's the plan?" I ask. "Why are there werewolves guarding the herbalist?"

"Oh, the herbalist is a werewolf herself," Selene says, throwing her hair over her shoulder. "A very pretty one."

"Oh. Cool." I say awkwardly. Selene narrows her eyes and looks down at me.

"You are super awkward right now. Am I being too aloof again?"

"No, no!" I shake my head. "I're pretty."

"I know. Lo tells me all the time." Selene flashes me a bright smile and ducks under a tree branch. "Okay human, the plan is for me to distract the alpha while you and Lo sneak in with the demon. Once you're in, Lo will signal me and I will steal the alpha's Moon Pendant, leading to him losing entire control of his pack!" She cheers as though she has wanted to do this for a long, long time. It sounds simple enough for me to doubt it.

"What the heck is a Moon Pendant?"

"It's an alpha's tool," Selene explains. "It helps the alpha control the pack. Without it, the whole social structure collapses. It's anarchy!"

"Okay, okay," I try to calm Selene down. "I get it. Sounds like a good plan."

"Of course it is," Selene says. She pats my shoulder and hurries to catch up with Lo.

I trudge forward, occasionally tripping over a tree root or hitting my head on a branch. For once I wish I was like Lo, or Selene. I wish I had powers, but I'm just a human. A normal, boring human who died and got stuck in the wrong place.

Are you so sure humans are boring?

The man's voice thunders in my head, just like Selene's did. I flinch and whirl around, expecting to see someone, but all there is are trees and darkness.

Look closer Alyvia.

A movement. To my right. I track him as he stalks forward. Behind me, the sound of Lo and Selene's voices grow quieter.

Some friends, am I right? They leave you alone to deal with me. I hate them all. They want to be left alone, but do they leave us alone? No. They leave suffering and pain in their wake.

A small fire springs up, and I gasp. A pale-faced boy stares at me, blue eyes glinting. A long scar travels from his temple to his mouth, and when he smiles, he looks even more terrifying.

"Didn't expect this, huh?" His voice is softer, a young man's tone. "Yes, I am the Hunter, and yes, I am as young as I look, Alyvia," he says my name while staring at me. "I know your pain."

"You don't know me," I spit out, but my heart is hammering like a stampede of horses, full of fear and rage and...understanding.

What is he doing?

"I won't hurt you Alyvia. I never would. You are already hurting so much, and you just don't realize it." He shakes his head. "I just want to talk."

"I'd never talk to a monster like you..." I trail off, regretting the words when they leave my mouth. In the distance, I hear the Lo and Selene returning.

I meet the Hunter's ice blue gaze and hold it, letting it linger longer than it should. My lips part, then thin. "Get out of here."

The Hunter grins. "See you little rose," he murmurs, and just like that, he is swept into the darkness. I turn around just as Lo and Selene arrive, Brennan's still unconscious body in Lo's grasp.

"What happened? Did you see something?" Lo presses. I stare off into the woods for a moment.

"No," I say. "Let's keep going."

Lo and Selene exchange glances before leading me away. My heart is still pounding, my nerves still thrumming from the encounter.

There is something about the Hunter... I think, tilting my head to the stars. I close my eyes for a few seconds until the feeling passes and I know who I am again.

I wasn't Alyvia at that moment. And I don't know why.

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