12 - Beast
CHAPTER 12- BEAST
She covered her face in the thick folds of her hood and tunic until she couldn’t hear the wolf yelp any longer. Cautiously she extended her legs locking her knees to keep her feet from wobbling. Snow coughed against the reeking scent of gasoline and waved her hand with the hopes of driving the fumes away. Her lungs rejected the gas and as they pushed air out her throat, two more men came running out the base.
Her fingers found the fletchings of the arrow and pulled out two night-locks in between her fingers. She loaded her bow. Her breathe made the bowstring vibrate as it clung against her chin.
Her lips painted a smile. Snow longed for this, the pull of the draw string, the sound of the arrow as it lands on the target and the brief moment of uncertainty when the arrow leaves her fingers.
“May I have a word please.” Snow said, “Sir, are there any other traps I need to be worried about?”
Snow didn’t need an answer, she strung the arrow and in seconds, the man’s body fell on the ground. The other wolf retreated to the base as Snow nocked the other arrow in her fingers. She kept on walking feeling the weight strain her shoulders.
Snow took close attention to where the retreating wolf landed his steps.
She was almost at the entry way to base when something shot up the sky. Whatever it was trailed a line of smoke up the trees and a distant explosion marked a gray haze above them.
She was about to enter the base when another man landed a fist on her stomach. Her back arched to his blow and the next thing she knew it she was on her knees. Strong hands clenched her hair as the wolf pulled her up from the ground. Her lips began to taste bitter.
Hungry hands found its way to the leather straps, as the man began to unhook her weights.
“A carrier,” the man hissed against her hear, “wandering around alone.”
Snow smirked. With one night-lock still in between her fingers, she dug the arrow deep into the man’s neck. Then, in seconds his body made a loud thud before her.
Her lungs burnt. She held one hand against her stomach and felt where the fist marked her skin.
This is going to bruise, she thought.
The sound of feet made Snow forget about the pain - at least temporarily. With her bow loaded again she drew her arrow and surveyed the base with both eyes open.
“Carrier,” A girl spoke beyond the woods, “What do you think you’re doing?”
The four wolves surrounding her laughed as they shook their head. They were far bigger than her, probably ahead of her in wolf year. The she wolf was with three others. Two were in wolf form. The girl had crossbow in her hand. Snow watched as she loaded metal arrows on it. The man with her aimed a rifle.
Two shooters. Two wolves. Think, Snow.
With the night-lock causing temporary sedation, she breathed hard as she grew weary. She did not have time for games. She needed to clear the traps so her sisters can deal with the carrier inside the base.
Snow had one arrow aimed at the woman as she spoke, “Where’s your carrier?”
“Inside.” The man smirked, “behind sheets and sheets of metal where amateurs like you can’t-
Before the man could finish, Snow shifted her aim sending two arrows inside the darkened entry way to the square metal base. She heard the arrows clang against metal walls, her eyes locked on them
The Everetts flinched. Snow could not help but smile.
“You were saying?” Snow taunted.
The four did not move, not even a single step. She heard something move behind her. Without hesitation, Snow shot another arrow deep inside the darkness beyond the entryway. Her eyes still darted at them.
The Everett carrier came tumbling out into the sunlight.
“That’s enough games,” Celeste emerged from the woods her hands on the pocket of her leather trousers. The wolves growled and came running for her. One snap from Celeste’s fingers, the two wolves fell back first, pushing their legs against the soil and started to yelp.
“What in God’s name -
Before the humans could fall into Celeste’s trance, Snow made them sleep. The two wolves followed.
What took you so long? She thought.
Snow rubbed her belly as she carefully walked back to her sisters.
“Wolfram is closing in on Burnwood,” Margaux answered, “The Everett she wolf thought about it just as their carrier fell. She dreaded meeting the Wolframs.”
“Clan feud,” Willow mumbled, “I love a little drama.”
Margaux shook her head, “She fears that Wolfram will win. They want something from Everett.”
“They want the badge?” Lais’ eyebrows scrunched as they almost met.
“Not just a badge, dumb ass,” Celeste cursed, “The Badge of Valor entitles you to ask one favor from all participating clans.”
Willow’s eyes shot open, “What does Wolfram want?”
Margaux scrunched her nose, “Someone called, Dimitri.”
His tongue licked the thick crimson liquid on the edge of his lips. As the taste of iron coated his tongue, he rolled his eyes drowning in the sweet high of blood. His nostrils ached for the smell of fresh meat just as much as his teeth wanted to dig into it. His stomach turned as he realized who the blood was.
Burnwood took out Sato by a fraction of a second before Wolfram could engage an attack. The weights of the Sato carrier where already hooked to Reed as they came.
As Torryn’s men ventured deep into the forest hiding Reed further in the woods. He stood back and watched the marshals escort the Satos back to the clearing.
Akar could only shake his head at Torryn.
“This is going to leave a scar,” Akar said looking at the bite marks Torryn’s fangs left on his arm, “See you at supper, brother.”
Torryn simply nodded and began to regroup with his men.
He shifted to human form and found the pile of clothes inside a hollow trunk. He had his trousers on when a familiar voice echoed through the woods.
“That’s something I miss seeing,” Sophia walked towards him.
“The men will catch you and will push you out to the clearing,” His jaws stiffened.
“You miss me that much?” She smiled.
Torryn shook his head and began lacing his boots.
“Then, you’re probably comfortable, now, if I tell Snow our little secret?”
Torryn stiffened. His teeth gritted beside the insides of his cheeks as his heart beat a sudden fear. He was a monster. Licking his canines, he craved for fresh blood dripping meat.
The years as a hunter betrayed him as his wolf grows stronger every day. Torryn can’t let it dominate him. But duty demands to protect the clans, he won’t be able to say no to a kill. And that’s the side of him he fears.
Snow wouldn’t have to figure it out on her own. If anyone was going tell her. It should be him.
His back became rigid as he started to walk away searching the woods for the scent of his men.
“Alright, I’ll tell her,” Sophia said.
Go ahead, he thought.
“We’re going after Everett,” She added, “Do you want to go?”
He didn’t answer. Just as Torryn turned his back on her, a sound of a flare gun burst. He faced east and knew Everett’s base is under attack. They were calling in men.
His lips formed a boyish smirk, “It looks like somebody has already gone after them.”
Three clans left.
Snow thought as she dragged the weights against her body. Although her sisters offered to carry the other two while they were still at the hunting zone. They couldn’t risk slowing down another one of her sisters. It was enough that there was one carrying all the weights.
The feeling wasn’t foreign. All her life, Snow got used to carry the weight of her own thoughts from her sisters. A couple of weights thrusted against her shoulders were not much.
“Snow’s still sharp,” Lais clapped her hands as she giggled. Willow hooted as she tapped Snow’s shoulder.
“Not too loud,” Celeste whispered.
It amazed Snow how wise her sisters are.
Their theory of keeping their tracks hushed proved to be a good strategy. They have agreed to keep their attacks as quiet as possible.
Snow’s arrows did not make much of a sound as it shot through the air which made it an ideal weapon of choice. Her sisters stood guard making sure that no other wolf clans came after Everett as well.
One trace of another ambushing wolf clan, Willow would warn her and Snow would have run deep into the forest to keep the weights safe.
She didn’t mind attacking alone, though. It made her at ease knowing Celeste wasn’t watching.
If it weren’t for the ruckus Everett caused with the flare, they wouldn’t have been pushed back in to the forest. They needed to hide their tracks and think of a new plan.
“Now that everybody knows we have emerged from the shadows. We need a new plan.” Celeste said.
“Who do we ambush first? Wolfram or Grimlake?” Lais replied.
Snow’s stomach hurt. It wasn’t the sheer weight of the cylinders but the thought of Torryn still out there somewhere with Sophia. Her throat grew dry as she coughed the building drops in her eyes. She pulled her thoughts as far as she could.
Two known clan of hunters, against mere woodland she wolves. What can they do differently? Their abilities weren’t enough. They need to act smart.
“We can attack Wolfram first leave Burnwood last,” Willow said.
“That will exhaust us.” Celeste answered. She shook her head as the five tread deeper into the woods.
Snow thought of something, but the madness of it made her hesitate. Her plan could work but it would risk their weights, it would risk their chance to help Clara.
The Badge of Valor could ensure her sister’s safe pregnancy. Sato has the best healers. A midwife would not be too much of a request for such clan but would mean the world to her family. After Rose’s death, they could not bear to lose another sister, another niece or nephew.
Snow swallowed back the lump on her throat as she spoke.
“The five of us against both clans.... at one time.” She said.
Celeste’s eyebrows raised. Her sister’s confused eyes on her.
“Lure them,” She explained, “Get them to come at a single place where we know they’re weakest and attack them there.”
“And what place is that?” Celeste asked.
“These are skilled wolves, they can hunt in any terrain, any condition.” Lais shook her head. Yes, it was absurd, Snow knew.
“There’s one place hunters can’t go,” Snow answered.
She watched her sisters grow more confused as she spoke. From her periphery she could see Celeste nod. Unsure of what that meant, she braced her ears for the worst possible insult Celeste could think off.
“We attack at the edge of the clearing,” Celeste said, “Not all of us have night-locks. Snow can put most to sleep as much as she can while we attack pushing each hunter out the clearing,”
And for the first time in a very long time Celeste smiled at Snow.
His men were too close to the clearing that it almost made him burst in anger. They were risking visibility and it irritated him even more. He was on the verge of snapping when he heard Reed speak in the distance.
“I can always surrender two weights, right?”
“That risks exposing yourself, idiot,” Torryn answered as he nodded towards his men. Alfred was still in wolf form and none of his men could make Reed understand the stupidity of his plan. His men held the boy against his chains not making too much of a sound for other clans to hear.
Torryn’s pack was an exceptional group. The men were keen with their goals and quick on their feet. They were as stern as he was, hands callused after years of fighting, bodies scarred but rock solid.
And, in that moment in time, they were baby-sitting a moron.
“Risk what? It secures two weights under our flag. We only need two more after.” Reed said.
“Two of which you need to obtain from the woods,” One of his men hissed.
“You go out there where every clan can see you. You come back in the hunting zone where every hunter knows where you’re coming from. They can see which side you’ll walk in the bloody forest,” Rob said.
“It’s a trap,” Torryn answered, “That rule is a trap. As a carrier no other clan should know where you are. You don’t see prey run out into the open. You’ll lead Wolfram and Grimlake right to you.”
“Then we take them down.” Reed’s smile was sickening, Torryn could only sigh.
“Being taken down does not worry us, Reed,” Torryn’s was firm and blunt, “When an ambush happens, they won’t exercise our strengths. They won’t even bother attacking any of us first.”
He walked towards the boy, his energy oozing from the shoulders anger and frustrations had stiffened.
“They’ll come for you, Reed. Hunt you down dodging every attack we mount. And with those weights you can’t even run.”
“Oh yeah?” Reed spoke as he faced the edge of the clearing, “Then, what is that Grimlake doing?”
All blood rushed to Torryn’s chest as he saw Snow emerge from the clearing.
The crowd surrounding the fire ran wild as drums began to play the rhythm of the songs of old. The wolves were howling and cheering for the first carrier who will surrender her weights. They held out her hands to her, clapping as she walked.
Torryn almost stepped out into the woods to take a closer look when Rob grabbed his arm. Snow had her head down against her hood, shielding it from the late afternoon sun. The sky now grew red above her casting hues of red orange which made her forest green tunic a shade of black.
Grimlake. Grimlake. Grimlake.
The crowd chanted as she unhooked two weights from her leather straps. A horn rippled through the cool breeze as the wolves grew wild with the sound of the drums. The flames on the bonfire now lit brightly as the sun began to descend. They were still far from sunset and the true hunt has now begun.
Torryn watched her walk back into the woods. His forehead tensed when he saw her bank her steps a few degrees north from where she emerged. Her pace was slow but sure walking right at the opposite side of the woods from where she came.
Snow was walking to the woods just a few yards beside where he and his men were. His heart rattled an internal panic as he saw wind cast strands of wavy locks on her flushed face.
What are you doing, little bird?
Torryn could not imagine his men chasing after her. He squinted his eyes and rubbed the insides of his eyebrows suppressing his wolf. The beast in him was most drawn to her, almost obsessed.
Visions of her flooded his eyes as he closed them. Imprint, the words brushed the edges of his lips. He breathed hard watching her enter the abyss of trees.
Snow entered one of the thickest woods in Burnwood. He bit his lip as his men waited for his command. He swallowed the doubt building in throat as his voice came out strong and firm.
“Let’s get her.”
Two of his men joined Alfred in wolf form as Rob held on to Reed. They inched closer towards Snow’s side of the woods. The sun offered little light with the branches numerous and thick swarming the forest roof. The lush leaves covered the ground where they now freely swayed just as the frost has melted.
From a distance, he saw Snow waiting with bow and arrows on hand. She slowly pulled down her hood and removed the knot on her cloak. She let the garment fall to her feet as all that was left of her body was leather.
The polished animal skin clung to her body cupping the weight of her chest, her waist exposed from her navel down to the curves of her hipbones. The trousers fit her snug as her hips curved wide and thick against her slender body.
Torryn has never seen her like this.
Her corset ended on her shoulders without enough material to cover the rest of her arms. She was barely covered, again. But he understood. Hunters do not bother with heavy wool and cotton. It’ll only slow them down.
But it wasn’t just her body that drew his attention.
It was her eyes, cold and emotionless darted to the ground. She looked straight and sharp nothing could have pulled her gaze. Her chest rose and fell, the pale skin of her breasts pushing against the tight corset with every breath she took. It was as if every air she took was calculated, every blink, every gulp. Her energy flowed bouncing through the thick trunks.
Torryn bit his lip as heat rose to his chest. Slowly a calming sense of home replaced the rage in his heart. Suddenly, he wasn’t angry with Reed, he wasn’t at the Reaping, he was just staring at Snow, basking all that is her.
The pounding against his chest beat harder, faster. His wolf growled in yearning for her but he just stood there. It was clear he was starting to grow fond of her more than his beast ever did.
And for a brief moment, he felt lucky it was her that he gets to imprint.
Snow started to move. One leg stepped back locking her stance as her weight centered between her legs. She pulled out three long pointed arrows from her quiver, skillfully nocking one arrow as two other arrows clung in between her fingers.
Her arrows of choice where small slender ones. They were nothing he has ever seen before nor has he ever seen any archer with such skill prowess to hold three arrows in the drawing hand. He smirked and admitted to himself that he only wanted to stand and watch.
But, then, the crickets started to chirp.
His men glanced confused at each other as Torryn settled his eyes back on Snow. Oddly so, the crickets were already rubbing their legs an hour after midday.
As he heard his men engage in muffled whispers, he saw Snow drawing her arrow landing a sharp aim to her left. Her arrow barely made a sound as she nocked another arrow only seconds after, her arms extended in full draw and hit the same target. A stronger thump made twigs and branches crackle. He could not see from where he stood but she hit someone.
“Face me,” her voice was stern it made Torryn smirk half biting his lip.
The sound of the crickets whirled around her as she drew the third arrow. She released it just as she breathed out. He saw her eyes widen as someone emerged infront of her catching the arrow.
The crickets stopped.
“Your arrows are weak,” Sophia said, “as weak as you perhaps?”
Snow did not answer, she drew three more arrows and aimed at Sophia.
“Moon lily,” her teeth gritted the words as she scanned the arrow she caught “Genius. Let’s talk about plants then, shall we?”
Torryn already had a gut feeling rumbling down his belly when he heard Sophia speak. He already knew where Sophia was going.
The mountain rage near Wolfram base grew wild Aconite, a wild mountain flower, its fumes when burned can drive away wolf energy. Anyone breathing air admixed with Aconite fumes will be reduced to mere human.
Torryn recalled its metallic scent as Magnus Wolfram used it to interrogate rebels. His knees grew weak with the memory. The plant can drain the hell out of him.
“What is that?” Snow asked, “Show me.”
Sophia pulled out a handful of Aconite flowers in her hands. Snow was confused as she stepped back watching Sophia roll the flowers in her hands.
Shoot. Torryn thought. Shoot the damn woman.
The hunters from Wolfram began to emerge. They circled Snow as each one hid their faces in layers of masks. Torryn could not even make out who the women from the men were.
The flowers made a ball in Sophia’s hands staining her fingers a bright purple. Sophie dropped the mashed plant before her as a blazing torch from one of Wolfram’s men lit the ball of petals. Lilac fumes emerged from the flaming heap as Sophia hid her face beneath the thick layers of fabric.
From that point on, Torryn swore, things were about to go downhill.
His men in wolf form shifted back as they yelped in the sudden withdrawal of power. His eyes burned breathing in the metallic reek of the fumes. Torryn dropped to his knees, his lungs coughing the tainted air. The scent grew even more powerful as the hunters from Wolfram began to ignite two more balls of Aconite before Snow.
Torryn’s eyes searched for her as he found her on the ground slumped to her knees before Sophia. Her bow and quiver rolled down her weak arms as she coughed the fumes. Her chest heaved hard, with eyes wide open facing Sophia. He could barely move his legs to stand.
Another, ball of Aconite burned in flames.
“Drag everybody to the clearing,” His voice was brittle and weak Rob nodded as two of his men dragged the unconscious wolves. Reed was on his back his young lungs cannot bear the scent.
“Now!” Torryn could not risk them. It will not be long before the fumes suffocate them. Being human would be better than dead.
“Snow,” he pulled his knee up, dragging his body as he tugged against a trunk. He can’t leave her there. Just as he walked towards her, a familiar voice screamed from the lilac fog.
“You don’t know what you’ve done!” Celeste came staggering from the woods, with Margaux in her hands. He heard the desperation in her voice.
More of her sisters screamed Snow’s name. It’s like they were begging. They were pleading for her.
“Leave! Everybody, leave!” Celeste’s voice now a faint cry as she emerged carrying a limping Margaux. The wolves of Wolfram just stood there, not even a flinch as the rest of the unmasked wolves grew weak.
Sophia grabbed Snow by the neck as she pulled her body up to her covered face. Willow managed to scream as Lais pulled her towards the clearing.
“Know who you are Snow!” her voice a shrill sound, “remember who you are.”
Torryn grew confused as he walked towards her. Sophia’s arm raised Snow’s body without difficulty as her feet dangled above the forest bed. Torryn could only do so little as his knees surrendered where the fumes became thick.
Snow. He could barely speak as he watched her being lifted. Sophia held her with one outstretched hand. From where he knelt, he saw Snow’s eyes shot open as the bright green of her iris reflected the purple smoke. Snow did not even struggle, letting the strong arm clasp her throat shut. Her eyes were red, a trail of veins surfaced on her forehead.
If she were to die, Torryn knew he would stay there and die with her.
But before he could lose his senses, he saw the green of her eyes turn pitch black.
Snow’s hand twitched as a thick energy emerged from her body. It made the purple smoke circulate a slow whirl from where she was. With one hand, Snow rested her palm against the bare wrist where Sophia held her.
Just as Snow held a soft grip against her skin, Sophia’s body came stumbling down to the ground.
Snow felt the energy run through her hand as she rolled her eyes in sweet pleasure to accept the sudden high. A smile broke from her lips as she breathed in hard.
“Aconite,” Snow said a low growl layered against her voice, “Sweet aconite.”
“Beast!” One of the Wolfram wolves ran towards her, with one hand raised aiming a sharp blow. She dodged his arm, as her shoulders twisted to her right. She held on to his neck where it peeled from the fabric dangling from his chin. The man exhaled crackles of air escaping from his lips. The sound made a shrill wheeze. Then, he too joined Sophia on the ground.
“More,” the growl on Snow’s voice laughed a contrasting pitch. She walked to a burning Aconite pile and inhaled the fumes even more. Her giggles rippled through the air as the remaining Wolfram wolves came running off.
“You really are a void!” One spoke before he left, “A monster!”
Snow laughed as the energy form where she stood pushed the fumes like a growing wave radiating from her body. Snow walked towards the clearing pursuing the wolf when she tripped on the Wolfram carrier.
She unstrapped the weights from the unconsious wolf, hooked it to her straps and headed towards the clearing. She had one hand toying with the steal chains of the weights she has hunted. The heavy cylinders clanged as she whirled their chains with ease in her fingers.
It’s as if they were weightless.
“More,” her voice grew darker as her tongue licked her lips wet. She emerged into the clearing where the fumes did not reach, crowds of people gathering between her cheering.
Snow smelled their energy from the breaths of their mouths as she held out one hand to a random wolf.
“More,” Her lips flashed a wide grin. But before she could touch him, a night-lock pierced the skin on her neck.
Snow’s vision vanished in darkness. Her shoulders eased, feeling her knees wobble from where she stood. Her lungs hungrily welcomed the afternoon breeze, her eyes searching, something familiar, her sisters, something she knew.
Watching the horizon grow a deep red she stared at the sunset letting the reek of the Aconite slip from her body. Then, she felt more herself.
Snow’s legs gave in as she braced the fall.
Instead of landing on the ground, she felt strong arms lift her from where she stood.
Before she fell in deep slumber a warm breathe kissed the skin on her ear.
“Your safe, little bird.”