I was now certain they meant to kill me.
It had all been so sudden, my indoctrination of the Hunters that is. Narian had appeared in my life like a storm and before I knew it, I was standing before the circle of patrons. Apparently, we were in danger of discovery and so I had been rushed into choosing. I wonder if my choice was right.
I still don’t understand much about the society of guardians. My biggest question is what they are guarding against, as the only threats I see are the ones within my own…clan? Club? Maybe I should just call it a pack since the Hunters act like animals anyway.
Despite all my uncertainty and fears, I can’t leave it. The cloak given to me by my own patron felt so very right sitting on my back. I soaked up the lessons Gareth taught and spent all my time in the woods. I still had only walked into the city proper once when I was brought here, but I had never liked cities. I was a true Hunter in that regard.
But sitting at a campfire with the animalistic glares of my “brethren” around me, I longed for the safety of a locked bedroom. I glanced at the moon and saw that it was already four in the morning. I was so tired, but if I fell asleep now, I don’t think I would wake up.
Where was Gareth? He was the only Hunter I trusted. The others backed off when he was there. But Gareth had been given a night watch and was returning later each evening. I was sure Haggar was giving him later watches on purpose. Haggar was our pack leader despite having some serious prejudices, namely sexism.
I glanced at him from the corner of my eye and felt like a rabbit being examined by a wolf. He had already jumped at me once when I was first introduced to him. Luckily the other order leaders had stopped him. But I doubted their words would restrain him for much longer when we spent every night outside of town.
I jerked up as I realized I had been drifting, but I couldn’t help it. I had been getting less and less sleep every night and I couldn’t keep up at this pace. I felt a tear well up in my eye but quickly breathed in and widened my eyes to dry it. A show of weakness would definitely lead to my death.
But I had to do something. I got up and tensed as all eyes snapped to me. I mumbled that I had to go pee and forced myself to walk nonchalantly away.
My cloak, inscribed with the Hunter’s symbol and imbued with power, swished around me comfortingly. I longed to lie down and sleep in it. My eyes widened at the thought. Why didn’t I just sleep alone in the woods? I was perfectly safe from the environment. I just needed to find a hidden nook. Who cared if it wasn’t protocol.
I gave a silent prayer to my patron filled with gratitude, desperation, and tiredness. “I just want to sleep.” I pleaded. I then looked around for the closest hidey hole but paused. Something didn’t feel right. The hairs on the back of my neck tingled and I knew I was being watched. I wasn’t far from camp and I knew the only ones with the skill to remain unseen from my eyes within the forest would be other Hunters.
I moved deeper into the forest and felt myself being stalked. I focused on walking lightly around every stick and bramble. I left no visible path and heading in the same direction of the wind to hide my scent. But after half an hour, I still felt them. I quickened my pace and strived to remember my lessons of what else I could do.
But I had only been practicing for two weeks while the other Hunters had years of tracking experience. I knew I was outclassed and began to panic. I was so far from the city that I would find no help. A thought struck me that the Hunters were herding me away from the city so they could kill me out of earshot. I was killing myself by continuing on this path.
I made a snap decision out of desperation and cut sideways to try and surprise them. Hopefully, I would be able to break out of their circle and could head towards the city. Screw protocol, I was sleeping in Narian’s room. He was the only one I trusted beside Gareth. Perhaps his magic would protect me too.
But I never made it. I didn’t even make it twenty feet before being tackled to the ground. I had shown weakness and the Hunters had struck. My breath was knocked out of me and I scrambled to get up. I felt my boot break something soft and heard a curse. As soon as I stood I was struck with stabbing pain and I had a reason to cry out. I looked at my shoulder and found an arrow sticking out of it. I tried to take a step and felt two more thunks as my legs were pierced as well.
There was no way I was going to get away now. I stumbled and fell in agony and fear. I gave up keeping the tears from my face and cried. I felt shadows enclosing around me. I hid within my cloak and whimpered.
Despite all my pain and fear, I didn’t curse my patron. I reached out to her for mercy. Surely this wasn’t what she wanted. Surely she didn’t condone my death when she had accepted me only weeks ago. I felt a boot kick me and gasped. Then another, and another. I clutched my cloak as my only hope and prayed.
A roar filled the air and I was given a reprieve. And then my leg was gripped with pain and I was yanked away. I clawed the ground and saw a large animal dragging me away. It was a panther, my patrons favored animal had come to eat me. It was true then. I wasn’t wanted here. I gave up hope and blacked out.
I woke up sore all over, but I woke up, which astonished me. I just lay there for a long moment and looked around. I was in Narian’s room. Had he found me? How? He would have had no reason to look for me. He had never believed my warnings about Haggar.
I felt something shift beside me in bed and swiveled in startlement. My head lurched and I closed my eyes for a minute. When I opened them, I saw a large black cat looking at me. It was the panther that had dragged me away to eat me! I started to get up in panic despite pain flaring up, but a wave of feeling washed over me. I paused and felt a peace trying to worm its way into me. I sat confused and was enveloped even more strongly.
I lay back down and stared at the cat. He stared at me with gentle eyes and I knew the peace came from him.
And then the door to the room burst open and Narian walked in with Gareth and a woman I didn’t know. “You’re awake!” Narian exclaimed. The woman reached me first and examined me. Her touch was cool and numbing. She was a Healer!
“What happened?” I asked. The woman said nothing and just kept her hands on me. Narian opened his mouth but wasn’t able to get anything out. He looked at Gareth who stared at me with a strange expression on his face. “Gareth?” I asked.
He started, “It is a long story. But the first thing you should know is that our patron has chosen you.” He paused and I only felt more confused. Gareth never explained things quickly. “Chosen for what?”
“To take Haggar’s place as the Hunters’ leader.” He said solemnly. “Haggar is dead.” I just stared at him. Shock and disbelief filled me. Then I felt a tug and looked to the side where the panther lay. It is true. The deep words filled my mind. It was an early choosing, but you will have help along the way. You have much to learn still, but know that you are blessed by the Huntress. It is not time for you to die. Your story is only beginning.
Photo by André Cuervo