More than a couple of days had passed since I was locked away in this hellhole they call a room. The remaining women and other humans that were more fortunate than I had found ways to make me envious as they paraded about in their newfound freedom amongst the lycan beasts. More than anything, it nearly felt like their joy was on display for me to witness, as though mocking and taunting me. What hit me the hardest was the lack of fear in their eyes, the way their shoulders seemed relaxed under the watchful eyes of the beasts, and the smiles that seemed to come so easily these days.
Even Tala seemed to take pleasure in mingling with the lycan creatures. More than once I saw her walk across the grounds on Kallan’s arm, and it made my gut burn. They would talk casually, and she looked happy. That would be when my breath would hitch, and my heart would ache. She really did look happy and carefree.
Since the world went to hell in a handbasket, I couldn’t remember the last time I felt as carefree as she looked. Traveling from pillar to post was a tough life. When we were on the road, we were always cautious. The horizon was always our destination, and our senses were always on high alert as we moved from place to place.
The lycans were not our only concern. Supernaturals that included vampires, witches, and priests that were more like supernatural hunters were also included on that list of things to be mindful of. Though we were always wary of them all, it was the lycans that made our blood run cold. It was the lycans that other supernaturals feared.
The last village I was sent to barter with for supplies before we were kidnapped was the first time I had come close to more than one supernatural in one location. In fact, it was the first near encounter I had with a lycan of any sort.
When I arrived at the village at dusk, the village was smoking and smoldering from a recent attack. Instead of the expeditious deals I was used to, I took my time to inspect my surroundings before barging into a town that was still reeling from the attack. In the distance, I could make out only a few stragglers that fought to put out the more immediate and damaging fires, while even fewer villagers tried to repair any immediate damage to continue their less-than-protected way of life.
The sounds of tears and wails met my ears as I quietly traipsed through the wreckage. If it was not for the desperation of the supplies we needed, I would never have lingered at all. Staying in the shadows, I watched as only a few villagers picked up the pieces of their lives to try to reassimilate what was left. The few faces that I was able to see were full of fear and despair, and my heart went out to them,
As I made my way to their trading hub, I prayed that it was left intact and with the supplies we needed. The building that I had become familiar with came into view, and I could feel my heart speed up. It was, in fact, still standing.
Carefully moving towards the building, I encountered an elderly woman picking through the rubble. Though her sobs were silent, the marks on her face spoke volumes. Even though most villagers were as wary of human travelers as they were of supernaturals, I could not prevent myself from helping this woman. Moving towards her, I bent to pick up a piece of the rubble from the pile she had been working diligently to remove.
Her face pulled down into even sharper lines across her brow. “Go away,” she commanded. “I can do this myself.” The tear-stained cheeks tightened across her features as she pressed her lips together in frustration and anguish.
I continued to pull the rubble away piece by piece. The old woman watched me with a hint of indignation on her grief-stricken face. “What are you, deaf?” Though her insult was there, it was held without any real malice, tainted with sorrow.
Without breaking stride, I hefted another heavy rock out of the way as I responded without looking at her. “No, but neither am I daft.” Another thick and heavy rock was pitched to the side as I finished. “If there is someone under this rubble, I want to help you get to him.” Stopping, I looked her square in the eye. “If someone doesn’t help, and that person is still alive, they won’t be by the time you are able to pick through all this.”
Returning to my task of pitching rubble to the side, the woman moved next to me. Together, we worked at clearing the debris before ashen-colored flesh came into view. The woman stepped away unbidden from the sight of the pale, battered, and dusty flesh, and my heart broke.
Casting a glance back to her, I watched as she placed a frail hand to her mouth as her whole body shook softly with more silent sobs. It may have seemed hopeless, but I couldn’t find it in myself to simply leave this person buried beneath the rubble. He deserved a more proper burial, and I was determined to give them both at least that.
Stone after stone was cast aside as I focused on the task at hand. More of the flesh came into view with each stone removed. Once I had nearly cleared the rubble from the youthful form of a young man, the woman started to sob once more. Turning away from the dust-covered young man, I was completely caught off guard as a hand shot up and grasped my ankle. I stumbled, nearly crashing onto the rocky ground beneath me.
Startled, I tried to shake off the offending thing. A burst of high-pitched maniacal laughter peeled through the air behind me causing a rash of goosebumps to spread over my flesh. Thoughts of my dying breath started to flutter through my mind. I had been a fool, and I was about to pay for not obeying the first rule of a lawless land: trust no one.
An ear-piercing shriek filled the air, and I placed my palms flush against my head to keep the sound from driving me mad. My feet continued to strike against the hand that painfully tightened around my ankle. The grip was so tight that it constricted blood flow to my foot, bruising the already aching flesh.
The woman that once seemed old and frail moved behind me, but she was no longer so old, and definitely not frail. Red eyes peered back at me, making me only too aware of the trap that I had so willingly fallen into: vampires.
My blood curdled at the very thought of one of those beasts touching me. They were playing a sick game of cat and mouse, causing adrenaline to pump through my veins.
The dark tales of vampires told around campfires by those claiming to be aficionados of those ghastly creatures claimed they would generate as much fear in their victims as possible because it gave the blood they drank a euphoric effect. Others believed that blood bathed in fear allowed them to live forever.
No matter which one was right about the “why,” both of them had it right about the “what.” Between the grasp of the one, and the shrill noises and eyes of the other, I was frightened. There was nothing to do but to continue to fight, and fight I did.
The woman reached out with her arms to grab me in a bear-like grip, but I dropped to the ground. My hands reached for the heaviest rock they could find and slammed it quick and hard against the hand that still gripped me tightly. The man let out a howl as it connected squarely with his wrist wrenching it at an odd angle. It was enough to cause him to loosen his hold just enough to free myself. Scrambling to my feet, I brought the rock up sharply to connect with the woman under her chin. It hit with a crunch, and the woman grunted on impact.
Though the damage inflicted on them would hardly be noticeable within a few minutes, it was the distraction I needed to get away. Stumbling and hobbling on a bruised ankle, I tried desperately to put some distance between myself and them. The center of the once flourishing village was just ahead, and I was starting to feel my limitations. There was no way I could outrun them...I had to outsmart them.
Like the lycans, vampires had a very acute sense of smell. My scent would be all those rocks and that man’s hand. They would be following that scent. Knowing that it was the first thing I needed to get rid of.
In my pack, I had but a few items, and some of them I was meant to use as trade. As much as it pained me, there would be no trade if I was dead.
Dumping out the few items in my pack, I pulled out the scented lotion, lighter fluid, and change of clothes. A small container of stagnant water was close to the wall, and I quickly undressed. Holding my breath against the stench of the stagnant water, I stood atop my discarded clothes and poured the water over my head. Quickly, I grabbed the shirt I had been wearing to scrub my skin down.
The water spelled putrid, but it would aid in masking my scent and rinsing away any excess skin flakes from my body. Making my scent very strong in this area would distract them, but for how long?
I lathered lotion over my entire being as fast as I could to prevent any remaining dead skin from falling off and bringing any attention to my location. Donning new clothes, I picked up a few pieces of wood and doused them in lighter fluid. I placed over the drenched and scent-soaked clothes to create a box construction that would be large enough for me to hide in if that would have been my intention. If everything I had been told about how vampires tracked humans was accurate, then I was hopeful that my plan had a chance in hell of succeeding.
The faint sound of someone scenting the air caught my attention and my heart thunder. Closing my eyes, I cursed the panic that was starting to set in. If I wanted to evade these creatures, I had to regulate my heartbeat so they couldn’t hear it.
Taking slow, silent deep breaths and releasing them, I willed my heart to stay silent. I had hoped to be out of the building before they managed to make this close. The plan was to attach a match to the door with enough lighter fluid to saturate the door and entrance. When the door opened, the whole place would have erupted in a blaze. At least, that was the plan. With them so close, I had to go with plan B...once I figured out what Plan B was.
Standing concealed behind the door, I waited for the two creatures that wanted so badly to make me their dinner. Within seconds, they had moved past the threshold of the small building that managed to survive the brunt of the assault. With any luck, it would remain just as strong after what I was planning.
“Well, well...the little mongrel thinks she can hide from us,” the woman tittered. Already, I could feel my hackles starting to rise. I knew I would enjoy what I was going to do to her way too much.
The young man with her started to snicker as he scampered on all fours across the floor. I watched his movements and started to wonder what he really was. Certainly, he was not a vampire, but I had no idea what he was. The man didn’t even look fit to be alive, and yet there he stood...a testament to the contradiction.
Snorting, he shuffled closer. “I...I can bring her to you, mistress,” he said in halting and strangely garbled words. It was like trying to listen to a snake talk.
The woman stepped into view but had not come far enough into the room for me to put my plan in motion. “No, my pet,” she started. Silence filled the space, and I held my breath. This just had to work! When she started to sniff the air softly, I became apprehensive. “I want to taste her while her heart skips a beat,” she taunted, knowing that I would be listening to what she said.
When she twisted around faster than I could catch my breath, my heart skipped that beat. The woman descended on me in a flourish of rags and limbs, reaching out to scratch and maim me as her incisors descended to a deadly length. I gripped the piece of tinder wood that I had doused with lighter fluid in my hand as she flew at me. Though meant for a different purpose, I was not opposed to using it in any manner that spared my life.
The small, stake-like piece of wood pierced the woman’s flesh as it ripped through the thin cloth of the clothes she wore. Her glamor was long gone, leaving behind the beauty she was that concealed the beast within. Her bright red eyes opened wide in surprise as the wood pierced close to her heart. That small piece protruded from her chest, though it would not end her. At best, I had just bought myself more time. At worst...well, I didn’t want to think about how pissed off she would be when she recovered.
She reeled from the wound on her chest and stumbled away from me as she clutched at the piece of wood that jutted out from her at an odd angle. The man stood watching, stunned by what he saw before he turned those dead, cold eyes on me. They were nearly pearlescent in their appearance, and it was even more frightening than those of the vampire’s blood-red ones.
The man sneered, his face scrunching up in pure fury as he started to launch himself at me. With the strike of the single, solitary match that I owned, I lit the small tinder wood that protruded his mistress’ chest and shoved her towards him. I prayed in vain that it would stop him, but I was wrong.
Moving quickly, he threw himself at me. Swinging to the other side of the door, I slammed the back of it hard against him. The loud crack of his head hitting against the concrete wall was nearly satisfying, but I couldn’t stick around to see how much damage it inflicted. Slamming the door shut behind me, I searched the area for someplace to hide. Even if I was able to put them out of commission, I had no doubt there were more around...they never hunted alone.
Hobbling out into the open, I started for a small, broken hut in the clearing. I pushed my legs to move as fast as I could, each step causing my ankle to throb. Tears started to eke down my face with each step. If I could just make it to the hut, then I might have a chance to hide from that creature that seemed to walk without life...the vampire’s pet.
A thundering crash echoed behind me as the building behind me completely exploded into rubble. My body was flung forward from the blast to smack hard against the remnant of a structure that now only stood waist-high above the ground. Dirt and rubble pelted me from the rain of debris that resulted from the explosion.
Placing my arms over my head, I tried to cover it from the bits of rock, stone, and wood that flew through the air. As much as I wish I could say that was my own handiwork that achieved that, I knew it wasn’t. Which only meant that there was something else just as deadly that I had just made themselves known.
Shouts could be heard from a short distance away, and for a moment hope sparked within me that maybe the townsfolk had started to pull together to fight off these beasts that had come to feast on them. A glimmer of relief speared through my chest only to be shattered the moment that something grabbed my leg.
“You...You think you can...can get away from...me?” The man’s voice was even more warbled and nearly unintelligible. When he flipped my crumpled body over to face him, I nearly screamed.
The man’s jaw had been broken and was hanging by the meager remnants of skin and flesh that remained. As he spoke, he was not able to control its movements. The shoulder that he had rammed into the wall was clearly dislocated, and his head was depressed where it must have fractured on impact against the concrete wall. No blood formed or flowed from any of his wounds. How was he able to walk this Earth? And yet, here he stood with my leg gripped my good leg painfully in his hands.
The man started to drag me behind him across the rubble. Still dazed from the impact of the blast, I weakly flailed my arms as I tried to grasp anything that my hands came into contact with. When I tried to kick him with my bruised angle, I screamed out as sharp pains rocketed through my leg. Nausea swept over me with each wild kick that made contact, but I couldn’t stop fighting.
My hands clutched at rocks and sticks as I threw everything at him that I could get my hands on. Deep gashes started to mar my back as he ruthlessly dragged me across the debris. Small rivulets of blood made their way down my cheek from the gash on my head from the impact, and my head throbbed. And yet, I continued to fight, even when my hands and fingers were bloody as they clawed at anything large enough for me to grab and throw at this thing.
Nearing the now dismantled building that now lay wasted, I gasped. The woman that I had thought would need time to mend stood in what was left of the doorway, the front of her body charred and burned. Though I knew they could heal fast, I did not realize she would recover so quickly.
“You filthy mutt, I will drain…”
But she never got to finish her sentence. A glint of metal flashed through the air, and it took the vampire’s head clean off. The very flesh sizzled as the metal sliced through it, burned from the mere touch of it. The head rolled across the ground, and the woman’s body slowly fell to its knees before slumping casually to the ground.
My captor paused in his movements and I felt his hand loosen its grip. When my foot fell to the ground, I groaned and mustered what energy I had left to move my body to something akin to safety. Hand over hand, I slid my body on its side towards the half-wall. The thudding of flesh against the ground forced my attention behind me as I watched the vampire’s pet fall to his knees before coming to rest face forward with the ground. A pet with no will of his own without his mistress.
The man that remained standing behind the now dead vampire looked me square in the eye. His were eyes of a predator, and they appeared even more deadly than those of the vampire. The stark silver shine in them was made to instill fear in his victims. He took a few steps forward, his every movement calibrated to effectively handle any threat that might unfold at the drop of a hat.
He watched me carefully, calculating things in his head that would make my blood run cold. “Do you know who I am?” He spoke with an edge to his voice, one that denied being deceived...and if you tried, you had this overwhelming sense he would know.
Shaking my head, I tried to remember all the stories of any sword-wielding supernaturals that came to mind, but I was stumped. “No,” I whispered, the thoughts in my head starting to feel more like water rushing in my ears. “But, you killed the beasts that were trying to kill me, so you cannot be all that bad,” I confessed.
My body was battered and bruised, and there was no way that I was going to be able to get away from this man if he wanted to kill me. Already, what was left of the adrenaline that I had been running on felt as though it were pooling around me.
The man chuckled, the sound was oddly quiet against the darkening skies. “Oh, no...I am much worse.” He took another step forward, and my hands gave from beneath me. There was no more fight left in me. I had given everything I had, and I had nothing left.
As I laid back against the rubble, I looked up to see the moon that was overhead but still waiting for its moment to shine bright. My little moon, I thought. What would she do without me?
The crunch of rubble was barely distinct in my ears before a deep, long, melodic howl filled the air, close enough that I could practically smell the breath that it floated to our ears on. Every breath halted, every noise paused.
The man that loomed just beyond my reach gave a soft chuckle. “Well, princess...seems we will have to try this some other time,” he whispered to me. “Vampires, I came prepared for. But hormonal lycans...that is an entirely different game.” Bringing his sword up in a mock salute, the man vanished into thin air before my very eyes.
Whatever it was that was nearing, the man wanted nothing to do with it. He said it was a lycan, and I believed him. There were not too many beasts or men on this Earth that wanted to dance with one of them, and here I lay essentially helpless as one skirted on the outskirts of the village. Though he was surely out there, my ears strained to pick up on his movements, though could not make anything out.
I did everything I could. There was nothing left but to wait out whatever was to happen next; however, silence pervaded.
Closing my eyes, I concentrated on just listening. With the coming dark, it would be the sense that would be the most useful to me, even if there was not much I could do to fend off a lycan. Slowly and surely the noises of the night started to play in my ears once more. Sleep came, but only for minutes at a time.
As morning came, it brought with it the warming sun and a sense of relief I was not prepared to feel. The remaining villagers started to stir with the kiss of dawn and left their shelters to observe the damage. That was when they discovered the woman that remained beneath the stars as death loomed near...me.
Exhaustion had me muttering insanities as my body lay limp against the crumbling wall. Most were not sure what to make of my circumstance, but a few of the older seers in their village said it was an omen. These women sent villagers to go and find those that I traveled with to have them return, and made arrangements to mend me back to health.
They poured a foul-tasting liquid down my throat and spoke of prophecies that did not involve me. They spoke of royal bloodlines and unity of man and beast, but all I could hear was the soft thud of my heart as I drifted into a dreamless slumber.
Somehow, I had survived the night. That distant howl that was so feared by all had somehow been my savior. Even if the beast itself was feared by all, I would be forever grateful for the timing of its howl. It spared me an unspeakable death that I felt certain was to come.
My travel companions and I remained at the village for several weeks...far too long for any of our likings. During that time, I was continuously offered the foul elixir that was given to me as a herbal healing remedy. So it was that my benefactors healed my shattered bones and broken body as my travel companions worked alongside the villagers to help reestablish their little outpost. It was a win-win situation for both parties: we needed supplies, they needed extra hands to put their once well-known thriving community back in order. Though there were losses among them, it would not be enough to prevent them from thriving once more.
Sighing, I continued to look out among those happy faces beyond my window as those memories taunted me from their not-so-distant past. It was shortly after I had healed and we left that village that Tala and I had been taken. Tala and I had nearly been separated by death that night at the village, but now things seemed so vastly different.
Now, as I looked below me, I could see a beautiful smile sweep across her face. She looked happy, and there was a part of me that was grateful for that. For once, I contemplated staying. From a distance, the lycans that we lived among treated their brethren and humans alike well. All the women from the village chose to stay, and only one from our village chose to return to her father.
Then he stepped into view. The man that had imprisoned me in this wretched room with only the view below as any means of entertainment. My body ached with the need to move freely instead of merely just pacing the room. Exercising gave it a modicum of relief, but it wanted fresh air and to run free. It felt more like being a caged animal than a civilized human being, and he was certainly the warden.
Tala, who had been speaking with some women that were huddled at one of the picnic tables, spotted Kallan moving across the grounds and her eyes lit up. Her feet were moving before she had a chance to fully turn as she raced towards the man and flung herself in his arms.
To his credit, he looked startled. Though, soon enough his arms circled her small frame as he hugged her gently and then placed her back on her feet. Tala was speaking enthusiastically and pulled at his arm, encouraging him to follow her. My beautiful moon was lit up by the rosy dusk, a moon that would shine no matter what time of the day.
When she managed to guide him to the table she had left only moments before, I watched in amazement as she lifted a beautiful, white gauzy fabric into her arms. Her smile nearly broke her face in half as a flush stole her beautiful earthy color and transformed it into the same rosy hue that echoed in the sky. Holding the fabric up against her, she turned first one way and then another, creating beautiful waves of fabric that flowed and crashed against her with each turn.
My head spun. Though we did not often see those kinds of garments these days, I knew what it was, and it made my stomach lurch.
Kallan placed a hand on Tala’s shoulder and beamed at her as he spoke. Once more, Tala threw herself into his arms. His strong arms wrapped around her gently as he cast his eyes to the window where I sat. A small, victorious smile played about his lips at having an audience, and I sneered at him with as much loathing as I could muster.
It was at that moment I decided I couldn’t watch anymore. I felt torn inside with what it was that I wanted to do. Tala seemed happier here these days, while I could think of nothing more than to get away from it all.
Ramuel was here somewhere. If he could get in as young and naive as he was, then I could get out. The only curious thing was how he managed to get past these creatures’ senses.
To get to Ramuel, I needed to play along. I needed to find him and talk to him before I started to try to plan my escape. Then, I needed to talk to Tala.
Already I could feel my heartache. What if she chose to stay?