I gasped as masses of humans sprinted past me into the woods, weapons at the ready, all yelling profanities and cheering, egging each other on.
They all looked so confident, and up until this very moment, I was too.
But actually peering deep into the murky forest where I knew the killer wolves would be lurking was unsettling. However, I couldn't let my fear get the best of me. This was what I was brought up to do. My fellow humans wouldn't do this alone.
"Let the hunt begin!" roared my leader, Markus, ushering everyone forwards, his long dark hair pulled back into a messy bun, determination evident in his eyes.
I moved with the rest of the crowd, my shaking hands clutching at my bow and arrow, my blade stuffed down the side of my tattered belt, the sharp silver hitting my legs as I stepped, the cold metal causing goose bumps to rise along my skin.
For as long as I could remember, all the humans had spoken about within my colony was 'The Hunt'.
To them, it was like Christmas, something they looked forward to and celebrated as if it was a birthday for a loved one.
This was my first year, since I had only just turned twenty three, the age at which the humans deem you fully trained and qualified to take on the deadly wolves.
On any other day, we wouldn't stand a chance against the beasts, however, today was the only day we did, and we used it to our advantage to show the wolves that we weren't afraid of them. Humans mattered too and we weren't going to stand for their torment.
Once every six months, the wolves weakened overnight, making it easier for us to kill them. Some of them even struggled to shift, leaving them to fend for themselves in just their fragile human forms.
We were unsure as to why this happened, but our tales had always told us that it was the Goddess' way of restoring peace within the realm after the beasts became arrogant, showing all species that everyone had their weaknesses and no one species was to rule another. However, the wolves still continued to torment us throughout the year, taking over our land, forcing us out of our homes and even killing colonies just for sport. It was sick.
The day on which the beasts weakened changed, giving us the advantage, meaning the wolves couldn't sense until it was too late. Markus could though, all stronger humans holding some odd ability, knowing when the time was right, and when to strike.
It was nightfall, and I pushed through the shrubs and bushes, getting further and further away from our colonies' homeland, venturing out into the herbage, thorns grabbing a hold of me as I brushed past them, everyone completely silent, the only sound being our careful footsteps and the owls hooting up at the glowing moon.
The soil crunched underneath my feet as I continued to walk, peering through the darkness in an attempt to catch a glimpse of anything, however, my human vision failed me, causing me to huff to myself in frustration.
Suddenly, my ears rang as a piercing howl rippled through the air, making me gasp, my heart hammering against my ribcage, cortisol racing through my veins, my adrenaline making me shake even more than I already was.
"Move!" yelled a voice from behind me, and I turned to see my father, his intimidating glare frightening me, my feet temporarily glued to the mud until I felt his hands shove me from behind, clearly agitated with my hesitation.
My father had always been a real ambassador for The Hunt, his need to prove himself to others always at the forefront of his mind. He was pushy and assertive, and terrified me at times, leaving me often returning from training sobbing, worrying that I was going to disappoint him.
I was always worried that I wasn't strong enough to beat the wolves, and I was sure my Father was too, as he always put me down for extra coaching and would continuously fill me with fear, telling me all kinds of stories about the beasts, some, unthinkable.
I had seen some of it for myself, my childhood often filled with beasts entering our homeland, demanding goods off us and threatening us. My parents always ushered me away before anything too sinister happened, but I had always wondered if some of the humans had ended up dead because of their defiance.
"We cannot let this one get away!" shouted Markus, urging everyone forwards, their spears, knives and bow and arrows at the ready, the need to kill evident in their blazing eyes, causing me to gulp.
Often, the humans would return from The Hunt empty handed, all heavily disappointed they hadn't even come across a wolf. It really was just luck of the draw. But, when they would succeed, they would often drag the carcass of the wolf throughout the village, parading it around like a trophy, their faces glowing with pride.
It always made me wonder why the wolves ventured out of their protected territory when they knew their weakened state was soon approaching, even though they didn't know the exact day or time, they must have had an inkling. Together, even when vulnerable, they would surely be able to handle us, and we wouldn't dare attempt to enter their land. We would all be killed.
The rest of my colony began to run, multiple people shoving past me, glaring at me as they passed, confused as to why I wasn't moving, a feeling from within me urging me to turn around and leave. I didn't want to do this.
Nonetheless, I knew that if I stood here motionless, I would be an easy target for the wolves and would probably end up dead. I didn't have to be the one to kill. I could just blend in with the crowd.
Moving my feet, I began to run towards the sound of the howl, my adrenaline surging me forwards, but, when I rounded the corner and spotted a large grey beast within the foliage, I froze, my eyes wide. It was bigger than I had expected. Although I had been told that they were large, I was shocked as to how ginormous it really was.
Its thick lean muscles were coated with coarse dark fur, one of its paws being almost the same size as my head. There was no way a human could take down one of these.
I gulped as it stared at me, its glowing yellow eyes fixated on me, before darting around, hopping down a steep hill with ease, landing so quietly I barely even heard the weight of it landing on the crunchy leaves scattered on the soil.
The rest of the humans continued to run past me, missing the wolf, one of them pointing over to a dark shadow within the herbage.
There was more than one. We were all going to die.
You need to make your family proud.
The thought continued to run through my mind, and without thinking, I followed the wolf down the hill, clambering my way slowly, secretly hoping that it would take the time to run and I would lose it.
I pushed my long brunette hair away from my face, the wind gusting through the gaps in the woodland, a whistle being carried along with the breeze. Clutching my bow and arrow, I closed my eyes, aiming blindly and shooting, sneaking a peek to see that my arrow had landed pathetically in the mud, the beast no where to be seen.
Suddenly, the wind was pushed out of my lungs as I was shoved to the hard ground, my face hitting the dirt, the beast on top of me, digging its heavy paws into my back, grumbling into my ear.
My hands shook as I felt down my side for my knife, quickly pulling it from my belt and waving it around above me, hearing the sound of it slashing skin, the wolf wailing from above me, its weight disappearing off my back.
I flipped, screaming out for help, but I knew nobody could hear over the sound of Markus' booming voice and the chanting of the others who pursued a second wolf. They were all far too distracted.
I saw my chance, and I climbed on top of the panting beast, noticing a large slash on its chest, blood seeping out of it, coating its grey fur, the blood causing it to quickly mat.
My breathing was heavy as I gazed into the wolves eyes, them silently pleading with me as it looked between me and the sharp blade I was clutching in both my hands, positioning it above its heart.
It was kill or be killed.
I had to do this.
Closing my eyes, I cursed to myself quietly, a lump forming in the back of my throat.
It was now or never.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you."