It stood at the edge of the cliff, taking in the sight below. Its heightened senses could smell the blood of the living. A low growl escaped it, carrying the weight of struggle.
Its human mind, still conscious in this four-legged body, was desperately trying to ignore the bloodlust coursing through its vein. It had been successful the past few turnings but every time it resisted, the hunger for blood only got worse.
Its gaze shifted to the full moon above, raging internally at the glowing light that had pulled its wretched existence forcibly forth. Unable to help itself, it howled, long and mournful.
Then it turned away from the cliff’s edge, dropping onto all fours, and burst forth into a run towards a cave that had been its sanctuary for the past few months.
It was going to be a long night.
The howling did not go unnoticed. The hunter straightened, closing his eyes to discern the direction from where the howling came from.
There, he thought, eyes snapping open, his head turning sharply to his right.
A sprawling terrain of mountains, nothing more like shadows against the illuminated night, greeted his sight. He scanned the heights, and there, at the edge of a cliff, was the reason for his presence at the Kingdom of Formosus.
I've got you now. You're mine!
Grinning widely, the hunter picked up his gear and sprinted off to claim his prize.
It wasn't long before he managed to find the creature’s trail. Years of training eventually brought him to the entrance of a cave, partially hidden by overgrowth. It looked to be small and narrow, a perfect hiding place for a creature such as his prize.
The hunter rolled back one of his shirt sleeves, and without flinching, nicked the skin of his forearm with the tip of his long, curved dagger.
Then he waited with bated breath.
It didn't take long, as he'd hoped. He'd done his research and knew this creature had not yet made a kill.
But for such a creature, that bloodlust needed to be sated. Prolonging was only going to make it more frenzied, and eventually, it'd be a threat to humanity.
Out of habit, to ground his conviction, the hunter the ornate bronze brooch pinned to his cravat, the metal cool to his touch. It bore the initials DCVA, underlaid with a motif of a bleeding heart.
De Consilio Venatores Animosus. It was what he did for a living, hunting down dangerous creatures.
He heard the snarl, threateningly deep and guttural. It sent shivers of excitement along his spine. Lady Luck had certainly favored him, making this creature show up in the area he was patrolling.
He could almost hear his two partners berating him for going into a situation on his own yet again. But he had always been the lone wolf, no pun intended. Although his partners were skilled in their own right, he just couldn’t help himself from wanting to protect them and that would pull the team down.
By going in alone, all his focus would be on his hunt. And he knew there could only be two possible outcomes for him: alive (preferably) or dead.
The snarl grew louder, and he could detect the air of anguish. This creature was trying to resist the call of his blood, but the hunter knew it was of no use. The blood that ran through him was imbued with magic, making him irresistible to such creatures. Because to be an effective hunter, one must be willing to be prey as well.
The overgrowth rustled; something was stepping forth from the darkness of the cave. The hunter tightened his grip on his dagger, made of steel inlaid with silver, the substance of which was poison to this particular creature. Anticipation coursed through him as he readied his stance.
Padding out, deliberate, with a fierce low growl, was a wolf. But this was no ordinary wolf, of course. Even on all fours, this wolf was clearly much bigger, its height probably at the level of the hunter’s waist. And its slender, muscled built was no doubt an echo of the human body it had emerged from.
The hunter was no stranger to such a creature. But this one caught him by surprise, and he barely stifled the gasp escaping him.
A silver werewolf?
It was his first time seeing one. Silver werewolves were rare and in lore, there were very few mentions of them. There had been sightings but no one had ever managed to subdue one.
It led to speculation that silver werewolves might have been a more intelligent breed or able to retain much of their humanity, hence evading capture.
The hunter tried to remember what else he’d learned about silver werewolves. But it was hard to concentrate, for the one before him now was such a magnificent creature, with its silver fur almost glowing white in the soft moonlight.
The thought came unbidden to the hunter’s mind but he couldn’t help it. This one was so different from the werewolves he’d faced in the past. Their furs were usually black or a dirty brown, coarse and grizzly. They seemed to bear ugly twisted expressions as well, the pain of turning etched upon their features.
This silver werewolf looked fierce and feral but it was displaying caution, so different from the rabid werewolves he was used to facing. And its features were softened by the pair of bright, intelligent, blue eyes, now staring at him.
The hunter swore he could see conflict in them, the struggle between human and beast.
The realization brought him back to his senses, and he shut down his thoughts, reverting back to hunter mode.
“There you are,” he drawled, tightening his slack hold on his dagger and extending out his bleeding forearm. “You want this, don’t you? Don’t fight it, come have a taste.”
The werewolf snarled, nostrils flaring, gaze reverted to the hunter’s arm. But then it actually shook its head, taking a step back, the human inside clearly trying to resist.
“It’s useless to fight it,” he taunted, even as he was unwittingly impressed by its resolve. “You cannot resist for long. If you’re not coming for me, then I’ll come for you.”
The creature snarled, baring its fangs threateningly. Its stance became defensive, muscles tightening, and it could either be flight or fight for this one.
The hunter was not going to let it choose flight. His heart had long hardened against creatures that were a threat to humanity. But as he prepared to bring down this silver werewolf, unexpectedly he felt a twinge of guilt.
No! Move! Now! his rational mind shouted and his hunter instincts swiftly took over.
Quick as lightning he launched forward, aiming for the side of the werewolf where he’d deliver a surprise blow to its flank. The first wound was crucial, to get the blood poisoned and slow down the werewolf’s movement.
But the werewolf moved at the same time, possibly to escape, and the hunter could only manage to scrap his dagger at its shoulder.
A guttural howl escaped it. The hunter pivoted, wanting to take advantage of the werewolf’s surprise and pain, and lunged forth again, still aiming for the flank.
But then the werewolf stood on its hind legs, drawing to its full height in which it towered over the hunter by a good few inches. Baring its teeth menacingly, it swiped its extended claws, and the hunter managed to sidestep in time to avoid the beast’s slashing.
However, he lost his footing and tumbled backward on the ground. The werewolf, seeing its chance, started lumbering over, but the hunter quickly rolled over to his side and barely missed being pounced on.
But just as he thought he was in the clear, the hunter felt his right leg being pulled hard. Reflex taking over, he turned his body and managed to kick the creature’s grip off him. He got up to his feet, slashing widely in order to get the creature to back away in defense thereby allowing him a few precious seconds to gather himself.
The werewolf was now livid. It dashed over to the hunter, baring its fangs again. Adrenaline pushed the hunter to run, eyes quickly scanning his surroundings to formulate a plan. A thick tree up ahead provided the perfect launching pad.
He ran straight for it, then jumped high, leaping onto the trunk -- 1, 2 steps -- before somersaulting over, just as the werewolf crashed heavily against it with a loud yelp.
The hunter landed perfectly on his feet. Pivoting quickly, he drew up his dagger, and rushed towards the disoriented creature, intending to plunge his blade into its back.
Suddenly the hunter saw the image of a man superimposed on the werewolf. An unclothed man, back facing him, skin smooth and unblemished except for the bleeding on his right shoulder where the hunter’s dagger had grazed the creature earlier.
It made the hunter pause in his track, confused. What was he seeing? Was that the werewolf’s human counterpart? But how was it possible? This was the first time it happened and he couldn’t recall any lore about it.
But there was no time to think further. The werewolf had regained its bearing and the image of the man had disappeared. The hunter knew he had to back off quickly.
He turned to run. But the next thing he knew, he felt himself lifted off the ground then hurled to the ground, back hitting earth. Sharp pain radiated through his skull, blackness momentarily clouding his vision.
And in the next moment as his sight regained, the hunter found himself pinned under the enraged creature.
This is it! his mind screamed as the werewolf snarled, reared back its head and dived down, aiming for his throat.
He was going to die.
No, no, don’t do it! Don’t give in to your rage!
Pointless, his sardonic self chided, even as he heard himself scream those words.
Because the wolf could not hear him, of course. He was not there, not really.
He was actually trapped in a surreal dream.
One where he could only watch on helplessly.
The dreamwalker could feel tears running down his cheek, warm and real. He felt so very sorry for the wolf. Its soul had been calling out for help for the past few months, a cry so desperate it’d penetrated his dreams.
At first, he’d thought nothing of it. But with each dream, the call got stronger. When before it was as if he was looking through blurred lenses, gradually the dreams got more vivid.
He realized then what it meant was that he was moving closer to where the wolf was.
And tonight, it culminated to a point where it was as if he was physically there -- here -- within reach of the creature that had haunted his sleep.
So close, yet still so far.
He braced himself to see the wolf sink its fangs deep into that bastard hunter. But then the wolf stilled, jerking its head towards him. His breath caught as bright blue eyes stared straight at him. But those eyes clouded over with confusion, for there was no corporeal presence it could discern.
Beautiful one, can you hear me?
Through his tears, the dreamwalker shouted out his thoughts. When he saw what could only pass as surprise on the wolf’s expression, he felt a surge of hope.
I am on your side. Listen to me… please, let the human go! Don’t give into your bloodlust. I hear you! I’m so sorry it took me so long to find you. But I’m here! I will find you and I swear I’ll do my best to help you. Wait for me! Can you do that?
The wolf stood frozen, as if it couldn’t quite believe it was hearing things. He, too, could not quite believe he was heard by the wolf.
But there was no time to make sense of things. He needed to believe for them both.
I’m real! I hear you and I know you can hear me too. Run away for now. Please, he begged, pushing forth every ounce of conviction he could. I’ll come find you, I promise!
Its ears pricked. Finally, the creature seemed to realize it heard right. The dreamwalker could see the conflicting thoughts playing across the wolf’s features.
Wait for me, he pleaded again, willing his assurance to wrap itself like a warm cocoon around the wolf.
As if his intention was truly felt, the wolf visibly shuddered. With a howl, it leapt off the prone man on the ground, baring its fangs in warning.
Go, beautiful one! Go!
Its ears pricked again, gaze flickering back to the spot where the dreamwalker stood unseen. Then it turned away, lowering on all fours, and bounded into the belly of the night.
Formosus - Latin for beautiful
De Consilio Venatores Animosus - Latin for The Council of Bold Hunters