CHAPTER 8 - PREY
Clouds of smoke and ash rose from the woods near south wall of Everett’s territory.
This pack had been known for its marksmanship pioneering new means of enforcing security against the growing threat of the rogues. For years its, steal walls stood in a tower emerging from the woodland near the great mountain, Talumn. The side of the mountain roofed mines of overflowing minerals that fed the red blazing molds. Wolves from the renowned pack tilled its rocky depths for raw metal ores as the fortress of burning coals housed pits of fire melting slabs of iron forming weapons and armor.
The dark tower stood with scarlet burning windows for eyes against the darkness of the night. It came alive leaving soot and flickering embers from the peak of its tower. This was not an unfamiliar site for Torryn as he spent his days guarding the tower when he was still training to be alpha.
What made the fur stand on his spine, however, was the remnants of the fire Rogue wolves left. Adjacent to the entrance of the mines, the charred tree trunks fell on the rails towards the foot of the mountain. Lifeless bodies stacked in mine carts emerged from the cavity below. The smoke has trapped a great number of wolves beneath the surface suffocating the life of each on.
As the bodies, fell to a hole on the ground, Torryn felt his wolf growl, the nail on his paws firmly planted on the dry soil. His chest drummed a fast rhythm as heat shot his eyes a blood red as the hazel drowned in webs of distended veins. He felt the pulse on his neck throb through is ears until he the only sound he could hear was the steps of the Rogue wolf yards behind them.
The man was perched behind a bush of thorn berries and Torryn did not need to see him to smell the gasoline dripping from rebel’s fingers. The rogue could not go far as Torryn and his men picked up the scent of reeking gasoline acres from Burnwood territory where it lay close proximity to the outskirts of Everett.
Torryn felt the rogue’s heart as it pounded against flesh and bones. Being in wolf form had this effect on him. He could not help but let the juices from his mouth drip as the sides of his jaw opened to the smell of a cowering prey. He slowly inched back and faced the trembling rogue. His head lowered until his ears where below his back, bringing his body down near the ground as he stepped towards his prey.
The rogue froze at the site of Torryn, his human form a stiff statue in the darkness. The man took one step back and tripped on an uprooted trunk. Before the man could shift to wolf form, Torryn already had dug his teeth into his chest where his heart lay beating. The pulsating muscle immersed in blood slowly decreased its pace, until the heart ceased to beat.
Torryn, now drowning in the scent of blood and flesh, felt the beating heart of the others. There are five of them. As his throat echoed a low growl, his hind leg began to tread towards where he sensed them. He gritted his teeth as wisps of vapor came out his mouth. He will devour them, he thought, until none of them remain.
Though she was bundled in a wool knit blanket, the cold morning air nipped Snow’s cheeks red as the bulb of her nose flushed against the freezing wind. The woods, a hidden solitude, she had these past few days served her senses good. Walking through the trunks of pine, her hand brushed against the woody surface stripped of bark as the sapwood dampened her fingers. The bucks were marking. It was too early. She rubbed the moist hand against the fabric of her dress as the crackle of wood and leaves beneath her boots echoes through the silence.
A soft chirp of the blue jays replied to the ruffling of her movements against the forest bed. The snow has faded and what remained where sprouting branches and frost-less nests ready for the break of spring.
Last night, she wrote to her sisters hoping they haven’t chosen a buck to hunt for the Reaping. Snow wanted them with her.
Since the celebration of her and Torryn’s union, Snow took all lengths to avoid him. She hasn’t spoken a word to him. Exchanged looks were the only communication they had whenever she’d pass by him and his men.
Snow tilted her head feeling the tense tendrils of her neck stretch. They’ve stiffened after long nights without a proper bed. The great couch in the library was undeniably comfortable as the shelves of paper and leather spines became the walls of her new makeshift chamber. It helped, she thought.
She always needed to read. Always needed to be outside, always on the move, always distracted so not let her thoughts settle on Torryn... and that wretched bite mark on his back.
Snow rubbed her palms warm as she soaked in the sound of the wind against the rustling leaves and branches.
The Reaping, she smiled just thinking about it. As quickly as her chest lightened, she felt a familiar rumble in her stomach. She closed her eyes, raised her hands as to hold in thin air her recurve bow. Her fingers could almost feel the smooth carved yew on the hand grip, bristled fletchings on the arrow and the tug of the bow string as she extended her elbow in a full draw.
Although, she could hunt only a few times a year mostly with her father, her muscle memory never failed her. She took a deep breathe as she straightened her back pushing her extended elbow behind her. With the weight planted on both feet, she released the imaginary arrow. There was no recoil of the bow, no stinging brush of the string on her forearm, no thud of a pierced target. There was only release.
Walking back to the mansion, she wondered if her sisters received her letter. Her stomach tumbled in the anticipation of their arrival or their absence. But when she closed her eyes, she could feel them with her. It’s as if she never left Grimlake house.
From the silence of the woods emerged a distant growl. Towards Burnwood house, a clearing peeled through the woods where a gray wolf came running from the sea of trees. It was wincing and yelping despite the constant growl from its fangs.
Just as she as she was nearing the stables, the wolf took a quick turn and headed towards her. From the distance a brown wolf followed. They were massive, flaunting the years of running in their hind legs and fur studded back. The coat of hair glistened a glossy display of wolf bane. The gray wolf in his massiveness, now toppled to its belly, scratching its paws against the ground. A cry ripped from its mouth before he turned to human form.
It was Torryn. From the light she saw his nakedness with stains and splatters of blood on his skin where it circled an oozing laceration on his side. Snow gulped and ran to him. Despite the lightness she felt from her head, she managed to lessen the distance between them. She was beside the stables when the brown wolf too shifted.
Sophia’s body was a collection of humps and furrows that curved on the right places, her hair a burning red against her pale skin. She was on her knees recovering from the sudden shift.
“Torryn, hang in there.” She spoke as she eased her back on the ground, displaying her body to the sunrise bleeding sky.
Torryn winced and grabbed his head as screams from his throat turned into a rioting uprise. He was trembling. Snow’s eyes watered as she cupped her mouth suppressing the building weep from her throat.
“It’ll pass,” Sophia grabbed Torryn’s face, “It’s just one kill. You are not your beast, Torryn.”
Roars from the distant bellows of his stomach rose from his blood stained lips. His eyes was an abyss of black.
“Snow,” he spoke. His voice a splitting pitch one of which echoed the low pitch reverberations of his growl.
Sophia took Torryn in her arms as his head rested on her shoulder. She was whispering something in his ear. Torryn nodded and slumped to rest on the woman’s glistening skin.
Before what’s left of her heart rotted, Snow took a step back blinded as her tears went pouring down her cheeks. Her chest ached as she breathed hard hungrily sucking in air to fill the empty void within her. Her fists pounded on her chest as the heart that lay beneath it began to shrivel. As she paced a fair distance from them, she turned around and ran towards the back gate.
She needed to read, she needed to stop whatever hole is burrowing deep in her insides.
As she found herself back in the walls of paper and dusty shelves, she leafed through the book she left open as she woke. She begged the tears to pave way her vision, to read the fainted words. As drops of tears bled through the thin paper, she slammed the books shut and let her cries echo through the walls of the library.
The women before him were dressed to hunt.
He reached out his hand and handed it to the first born Grimlake. She bloomed carrying her cub as her belly bear witness to the living fruit. He took her hand and smiled. Torryn basked her beauty as it mirrored that of Snow. It was like looking straight at her.
“It’s nice to meet you, Sire.” Clara bowed her head as Torryn led them to their chambers.
The men were right behind them passing through noisy living spaces and occupied halls of guests for the reaping. They were carrying crates of clothes perhaps and female necessities and leather bags of heaven knows what. It took five men to carry their belongings.
What could all these women need?
Torryn kept the west wing of the manor for the Grimlakes where the sun touched the walls of the room as it set near sundown making the walls a flickering gold. The breeze from the windows were good too as the wing faced towering oaks. Word reached him that Snow has sent for her sisters. He swallowed hard against the mass on his throat. He would have wanted the word to have come from Snow. He loosened the hem of his coat where his hands peaked through the fabric.
How, he wanted to see her, talk to her. The bandages on his waist stained a pale red. The scars from last night’s venture were still fresh and pain shot from his leg to the ripped flesh as he walked but he couldn’t miss the arrival of the Grimlakes. Perhaps a word with them would give him an idea how to approach Snow.
“There are oak trees outside,” one of the women ran to the nearest window.
“It’s a nice gesture, Sire that you situated us near an oak forest,” the pregnant she wolf said, “An oak tree is our clan emblem.”
Torryn smiled at Clara as he brushed a glance on the remaining women who kept their faces stern. Their energy gleaming a unique aura. It was a peculiar feeling being around them. Perhaps it was their sharp looks and frozen expressions. It was like five other Snows seeing through him. He coughed and winced against the pain on his wound.
“Here we are, ladies.” He stopped and opened the wood carved door, “If there’s anything you need, you can always ask me.”
The women nodded and started helping the men settle their belongings. His men a towering height and bulkier in built hesitated to hand the women the heavy loads. But each on gracefully settled the crates and bags of leather.
From where he stood he could make out the contents of the crates, they were hunting weapons. Each on separated in leather satchels. There were arrows of different lengths and sized and another crate housed the bows.
He watched as Celeste and Lais skillfully assembled the deconstructed weapons. Willow counting the arrows stored in quivers. He walked towards Margaux, a unique woman, he might say. She was wearing a hunting tunic so bright and striking, deer could see from a mile away. Far away from a corner, she began unpacking more hunting tunics, leather tights, boots and hooded capes that were more of a dull natural earthy green and dark mahogany brown.
From one of the crates, she pulled a recurve bow, finely built and the most elegant he has ever seen. Perhaps it was hers, he thought.
Then to his surprise, Margaux shook her head, “These aren’t mine.”
Her grin flashed the bright pearly white canines as her features mirrored Snow. Away from the remaining women he stood in shock of what she said.
“And, if you want Snow to talk to you, whatever it is you did.” She darted her eyes to the right side of her head immersed in thought, “Bring her something to eat, something grilled or roasted, something rich and meaty with a lot of fat. She likes those.”
Torryn slightly opened his mouth in awe of what she was doing.
“And if Snow still refuses to talk to you,” she folded the tunics in her hands, “start talking to her. Tell her anything. Tell her how you’re in pain because of some rogue who scratched you. Tell her how you think we look alike.”
She stopped immersed in giggles, “Because we don’t look alike. Tell her anything. Because if she’s not good at talking she’s remarkable at listening.”
Margaux stretched out her arms where the folded tunics and three pairs of boots lay, “And if you want to find her, she’s probably in the library reading a quarter of the books already there.”
She was right, Torryn thought. Snow was spent her days away from him hiding in the library. The woman was indeed Grimlake. Her bloodline marked the ability she has within her. Torryn smirked and but nodded to her laments.
“And if you want to see her, please,” the girl rolled her eyes, “don’t just envision her under your sheets and in the confines of your chambers.”
The women giggled. Stuck to his feet, his eyes snapped open as he tried his best to conceal his embarrassment. He merely scratched where his ear touched his hairline. He surrendered in a boyish smile and nodded. These women dominate him without difficulty. It amused him. They, again, reminded him of Snow.
Margaux paused, snagged the recurve bow where the hand grip was carved against wood, her other hand held a quiver filled with arrows of various kinds.
“If you think she’s prettiest when she’s cowering before you,” She nudged the objects she held toward Torryn, “Well, you should see her hunt.”