She crouched lower to the ground, glaring between prickly green brambles and across the glade at her prey. He had been elusive, dodging and circling her like no wolf before. She didn’t think he was from her forest. The local beasts were relatively dumb. This one, though… This one was another story.


She had first seen him running with the pack months ago. He only stood out because he was a little darker than usual. He was no larger than most, no faster. Just a touch darker. Then she had watched the pack make a kill, and she saw what distinguished him.

He was no bigger, no faster, but darker and far more vicious.

The average wolf was a cruel, dumb beast, to be sure. He would steal meat from his own cubs, even eat them himself, if he was he hungry and given a chance. More than once had she let the father wolf do the dirty work for her, once she had dealt with the mother. She felt that it made the whole process neater.

This wolf… When they dragged down the deer, he didn’t even start eating before he snarled and snapped at his neighbors, tearing into their shoulders and eyes. Not until there was a meter’s worth of clear area around him did he begin to eat, and then he often paused to snarl. When he was done, he stalked off out of sight, and only then did the ousted wolves return to their meal. There wasn’t much left, for a single doe was little to the hunger of such large, brutal beasts.

However, she had made use of the advantage he had given her, attacking the distracted yet not ravening pack, and managed to take out a few before they fled.

It was becoming difficult to kill them by any way aside from snares. She was glad for the change of pace from the tedium. She was starting to wonder if the beasts could smell the death on her.


She had seen him again several times since. He had even aided her once. She had been stalking a mother and her young cubs for a week. The mother was a wily one, moving the cubs to a new lair every few days, always keeping right ahead of her. Finally, she reached the lair, but the wolf had reached it first. The mother and her three cubs had all been slaughtered. It was obvious that they had been killed for sport, not food. They had been ripped apart, but the meat and organs were all uneaten and the silvery fur floating like dandelion puffs on the breeze. She had found it unsettling, unnerving, and so had the other animals. Even a forest as populated with ruthless predators as this one was usually full of birdsong and the buzz of insects, but all was silent. She had been stalking wolves for many years now, and they never behaved this way. They never killed, except when they needed to. She looked up from the gore, and into the yellow eyes of the dark wolf, staring at her across the clearing. She tensed and gripped her axe more tightly, waiting for him to spring. Instead he snarled and bolted.


She had walked on pins and needles for the next month, even taking a week off from hunting to replenish her cache of roots and greens. She had needed to build a new cupboard for all the roots she had collected, but she went the month without seeing the wolf.

Then she returned to the hunt, singling out the pack he had first been spotted in for extermination. One by one they fell, whether to her dagger, axe or traps. Over the years she had learned much about the hunt, especially where wolves were concerned. There wasn’t much they could do to surprise her anymore, and this pack was no exception. Instead of struggling to protect herself, she had become efficient and tidy.

She killed wolves in her dreams. But she couldn’t kill this one.

It avoided her most skillful traps, or gnawed through them before she could get to him. His trail was undetectable. Even when she was watching him herself she could barely discern where the marks were. And he was very difficult to spot, dark fur blending with the dark loam, brambles and tree trunks like a shadow. She had begun to wonder if maybe she hadn’t finally gone mad, and was hallucinating. It wouldn’t be a surprise. Most people assumed she was mad already, but that didn’t matter. Whether she was trying to slay a real or imaginary beast, she needed it dead.

She had left her cloak in the cottage when she left to find him. She hated to, but she hardly had any choice. As hunting went it was extremely impractical, getting in the way and giving her away. Now she was uneasy, unaccustomed to the lightness of her shoulders, the easy movement of her arms. She was naked and exposed, but she could not turn back. She was so close, so very close now. She could see him, snarfing down the hare in the glade. The blood glinting off his snout was the only thing she could see clearly, besides his eyes. They were yellow, a fairly common color. They were staring at her. She was staring back. Her hand gripped her axe more tightly, seeking comfort in the familiar, worn grain. She had whittled the handle down herself, so as to be able to grip it better. After all, it wasn’t made for a woman. She had gotten it from a woodsman, in exchange for a night’s shelter, and it had served her quite well since then, doing everything from chopping her wood to chopping the heads of beasts.

Now she fingered the blade again, full of irrational fears that it had become dull in the last five minutes. It remained as sharp as ever, and she cut her finger. She winced a little, and the wolf froze. His eyes seemed to glint, and she tensed herself, waiting for the spring, but he resumed his meal calmly.

She pulled her feet under her, kneeling forward to spring herself, and he growled, hackles rising. Her lips twisted into a snarl of her own, as feral as the animals she hunted, and she hurled herself through the underbrush at it. He sprang, and they would have met in mid-air, had she not thrown herself to the ground and rolled beneath it, swinging at his legs as she went. There was a nauseating crack, and he stumbled. She figured that she had broken one of his hind legs, and this appeared to be true. He spun to face her as well as he could but his left rear leg collapsed under him, and he let loose a piercing howl of pain. She smirked, now confident that this was no demon wolf from the depths of hell, here to exact vengeance on her. This was a wolf, just like any other. A dumb, brutal, vicious beast. She slipped on the rabbit blood, and felt her leg wobble and crunch beneath her. She dropped her axe and stared at the wolf. It seemed to smile back, cheekily. She looked up, and saw that there was no moon tonight. Her eyes widened as she thought frantically back to all the sightings of the wolf, and she gasped as she finally made the connections. This particular beast was a hound from hell. It was one of the monthly night frights her grandmother had so often warned her of, that her father had threatened her with. She snatched up her axe and began to back slowly away, panicked, trying to remember anything she had heard, had learned that might help her, but her mind was blank. The creature snarled, and slunk towards her, no longer pretending to be hurt. She whimpered, pulling her axe closer to her chest and…

Swung. The blade sliced into the air, making it sing, and connected squarely with the neck of the wolf-creature. There was a snick, and as she checked her arm, barely able to pull in the powerful swing, blood spurted from the thing’s neck. It emitted a loud gurgling noise, a sound which would have been a howl, but for the fact that its throat was full with blood. The golden eyes brightened, full of malice and then dulled to a cloudy white, and she breathed a sigh of relief. The blood kept flowing, pouring across the ground in an unnatural torrent, soaking her dress and herself like a warm bath, and she was glad that she had left her cloak behind. She ripped some makeshift bandages from the hem of her petticoat and used some nearby branches to make a splint. Fortunately, it seemed to be merely a sprain, instead of the breakage she had assumed.

As the blood flow abated, she unsheathed her skinning knife and went to work. Normally she would have tried to preserve as much of the meat as she could carry, but now she just sliced the skin from the corpse and left it. She was in no condition or mood to deal with the meat, and it was doubtlessly poisoned. Not that she was sure, for she had never heard of a predicament like hers before.

As she stomped her way through the underbrush, wincing every other step and cursing tree branches, roots, brambles, blackberry bushes and tussocks, she wondered how she could have been shortsighted enough to risk her neck hunting down a nightmare creature. It was common sense, and anyone would assume she was a complete fool, for being so rash and eager to hunt it down. But she had.

And that was what gave her pause.

It had been stupid, shortsighted and foolhardy, but it had been successful. She had been hunting wolves all these past years, and this was the first time she had gone beyond them, worked past her area of expertise. And it was the same. The nightmare had reacted, acted, looked, like an especially savage wolf. Come to think of it, she had never seen any un-wolf-like behavior from any animal. They all acted pretty much the same, all simply concerned with breeding and feeding themselves. All animals were essentially the wolves that she loathed.

This conclusion was quickly reached, and she brooded on it as she walked. She reached her hut, and stretched the skin across the framework that her grandfather had built so many years ago. The hut was old, and practical. It served her purpose quiet well, although it was quite bare. The old pine slats on the roof would need attention soon, she knew, but that didn’t matter much. She would manage when the time came. She entered, and dragged the large cauldron over to the stove, and began to fetch water. Hard work soon filled it, and the fire soon brought it to a boil. She stripped her clothes, and dumped them in, fetching her cape from the peg by the door. She wrapped herself in it to keep out the chill, and began to examine her leg. It really was only a sprain. She had remarkable luck, to be sure. She had never heard even the slightest rumor of anybody escaping a night lurk so lightly. It was, she decided, probably an especially stupid lurk. But one nonetheless.
She removed her clothes from the pot and set them out to dry. Black, her mother had long ago decided, was an excellent color for messy girls. She had had no reason to deviate. She pulled some of the wolf furs off the walls and made a nest in the corner with them and her cloak. Tomorrow, she decided, she would begin in earnest. It would do well to branch out some from wolves. They would always be there, but for now… there were other problems to tend. Red shut her eyes and drifted into deep dreams of hunting.