by Tyler Golec,
The air was stagnant. A heavy moistness clung to the forest after the weeks of rain. Azriel had no intentions for being here. He’d ventured towards the southern edge of the Caspian Empire. He had haltered his mindless travel the night before and had yet to motivate himself to move that morning.
Azriel wondered if his father would be hunting him after what he’d done. He wondered how long it would take his father, and the mentioned others, to catch him. Perhaps he was free and was running from another thing entirely. He didn’t feel much like figuring that out. He was just appreciating the silence, human noise. That would not even last.
The suction of mud. Water that been dripping regularly ceased, then continued with renewed regularity. Water seeping from crushed moss. Someone was moving closer to Azriel. Quiet, but not silent, and not without smell.
Azriel moved when he knew that she could not see him for a moment. He swiftly moved behind her, and threw her into the clearing where he had been sitting. She came up holding her bow, but Azriel had moved again. She spun looking for him. He came out from behind her and backhanded the back of her head. She dropped her bow and Azriel caught her. He set her down gently.
She was young, but old enough to be her own responsibility. He pulled out an arrow from her quiver. Good for shooting deer. Not good for shooting men who may be wearing armor. He dropped the arrow. She must have found his trail in the mud. She had likely originally been hunting different pray than himself. He debated whether he should leave her here.
He’d hit her hard she’d likely not remember how she’d gotten to where they were. He picked her up and started walking to the nearest scent of man.
She stirred little as the sun traveled through the sky. Her breath came shallow. Azriel began to worry that she would not wake up. Not far from a village he laid her out comfortable against a tree.
“Wake up,” He said. He slapped her slightly. She didn’t stir. The back of her skull was soft. Azriel cursed. He was stronger than he had been. He bit his wrist and stuck it into her mouth. He would not have another death on his conscious. He made sure the blood went down her throat.
Though not full, Azriel could still feel the moon inside of him. As it became clearer in the sky its strength claimed slight sway over him. He sat cross-legged and held his eyes firmly shut. He heard her pulse strengthen. Her lunges expand and collapse with vigor. He opened his eyes and she was staring at him. Her eyes were a sharp blue. Her hair was like Honey.
“What is your name?” He asked.
“Layrin, I feel…” Her eyes drifted with changing focuses.
“You feel like life has never been so clear,” He said. “I feel what you’re feeling.”
“You gave this to me,” She said.
“I did,” He said. “I’d almost killed you.”
“I was hunting you!” She said suddenly, “But you caught me.”
“Why were you hunting me?” He asked.
“Because you are what you are!” She said. “I don’t know what that is, but your tracks showed how you could move!”
“Now you know some of what I can since,” He said. “You understand why I caught you?”
“Yes,” She said. She moved forward into a crawling position. “I think I want to eat you!”
She tried, but only succeeded in mutually beneficial compromise. They had been close to town though. By the time either awoke local townsmen had them surrounded. More than a few had crossbows.
Azriel and Layrin did not fight back yet it was obvious that the townsmen wanted something from them.
“So you’re not human, or not full human at least.” The well into his grey years, master of the middle of the wilderness town, said.
“What does it matter?” Azriel asked.
“Not much, only that we’ve had an issue with a type like you.”
“Not man looking like you. More monster like, Man-bear we call ‘em,” He said.
“So what?” Azriel asked. “Going to kill us for a demonstration or something?”
“Nah,” He said. “You’re going to try and kill it. That or we put an arrow through your lady friend.”
“Why do you think I can kill it?” Azriel asked.
“I’ve got no idea,” the old man said. “But we lose nothing if you give it a try.”
Azriel wanted to just kill this man. He did feel responsible for Layrin. She was here because of him. He should have smelt the crazy. “Give me a week till the full moon. I can kill ‘Bear-man’ then.”
“One week? Bear-man could kill dozens by then.”
“It will kill dozens every week then if it kills me. Give me a week, and I’ll kill it.”
“You’ll spend a week in cage then.”
“Put my cage near Layrin’s then,” He said. “So I can trust you when you tell me that she’s alive.”
“That can be done.”