by Josh Curtiss
Kalum heads into a nearby village to investigate, and encounters a mysterious man.
| Kalum strutted into the village, his favorite leather trench coat draped over his broad shoulders and a fedora hat resting, tilted slightly forward, atop his head. The sky above was overcast, a swirl of gray clouds threatening the prospect of rain, almost as if reflecting Kalum’s gloomy mood. He glanced around apprehensively at the small huts on either side of him, black smoke billowing out of the chimneys. As he neared the village square, he noticed a large gathering murmuring amongst themselves. Before he would not have been able to hear them, but with his hearing now he understood them word for word. Listening in intently on their conversation, his worst fears were realized.
“He never returned home last night.” a frail, elderly woman sobbed. “And when I was out fetching water this morning, I found him –“ she stopped abruptly as sobs racked her body.
“I was out playing in the woods,” the timid voice of a young child chimed in, “And I found... Papa.” Tears of grief streamed down his round face, and several villagers proceeded to attempt to comfort him, laying hands on his shoulders and muttering hushed reassurances that everything would be alright.
Kalum’s face twisted into a grimace and a feeling of shame and disgust settled in the pit of his stomach. These horrific deaths were a result of his own doing; he had ripped these family members away from their loved ones, and that was something Kalum himself knew all too well. Closing his eyes tightly, a flood of images surged forth and played on the back of his eyelids.
Kalum huddled in the far left corner, unable to tear his eyes away from the gruesome sight of his mother’s mutilated corpse lying motionless on the straw-covered floor. His father, in a desperate attempt to protect his son, stood directly in front of Kalum, his arms splayed as if to create a shield. Between him and the splintered door stood a hulking beast unlike anything Kalum had ever seen or known to exist.
Its appearance vaguely resembled that of a wolf, only far larger and much more muscular. Its fur was a dark shade of brown and it stood, towering over Kalum’s father, on its hind legs, its long, pointed ears lying flat as if about to close in for a kill. Blood was dripping from its open, snarling mouth, revealing deadly canine teeth; its muzzle and razor sharp claws were stained with the dark scarlet of its most recent victim. Perhaps the most unsettling feature however were its eyes. A glowing yellow, they held something distinctly human about them.
In the blink of an eye the beast pounced upon Kalum’s father, leaving Kalum helpless as he watched in adamant terror as his father was mauled and torn apart before his very eyes. Once the beast finished slaughtering the only family of Kalum’s that remained, it set its predatory gaze upon Kalum, its unsettling, human eyes bearing into him. Right as it was about to attack, a crossbow bolt soared through the air, embedding itself in the beast’s back. The beast whirled around as a slender, lithe woman clad in a billowing trench coat, charged through the remnants of the shattered door, wielding a deadly straight sword in her right hand. As the beast lunged at her, she thrust the blade upwards, impaling the beast directly through the heart. As she withdrew the weapon from the beast’s body, it crumpled to the floor, reverting back to the form of an average man. The woman sheathed her sword in the scabbard at her waist, and turning towards Kalum, reached a gloved hand down to him.
Kalum opened his eyes once more, a tear trickling down his cheek, and the images of the night when he had lost everything faded away. That night had been his first encounter with the Brotherhood, and had spawned his unending hatred for werewolves, the beast that had been responsible for destroying everything in the world he had cared about. Knowing he had nowhere else to go, the woman, whom Kalum would come to know as Talli, returned to the Brotherhood with him, and they took Kalum under their guardianship. Through the Brotherhood’s tutelage and his fierce determination and will, Kalum had risen through the rank, honing his skills as a Hunter.
Kalum noticed a large, burly man break away from the crowd, his steely gaze directed toward Kalum. As the man approached, Kalum studied his features. A long, thick scar ran diagonally across the man’s face; his left eye was discolored, most likely a byproduct of the wound that had left his face marked. He had a dark skin tone and a shaven head, resulting in the scar being all the more noticeable. Kalum took in the man’s scent, and was surprised when a strange feeling of connection arose in him. The man nodded to a tavern behind Kalum. Taking the cue, Kalum casually strode down the trodden dirt road and entered the tavern through the heavy, mahogany door. The interior was deserted due to the commotion in the town square, but Kalum leaned his back against the adjacent wall and silently waited for the man to arrive.
A few moments later, the mysterious man shoved open the heavy door. Leaning through the entrance, he glanced around outside to assure nobody had followed him. Then, easing the heavy door shut, he turned and addressed Kalum.
“What do you think you’re doing here.” He interrogated in a gruff, baritone voice.
Kalum was unsure how to respond and stood, a look of bewilderment painted on his face.
"I know what you are,” the large man retorted, noticing Kalum’s confusion.
Kalum’s thumping heart leapt into his throat. As he fumbled desperately for a response, the man continued,
“I can smell the curse on you.” he rumbled. “Do you have any idea what you have done? Seven people are dead, two of them women and one a child! You might well have exposed me and my pack! You’re lucky we took care of the other bodies to save our own tails!”
Kalum stared hopelessly, his mouth agape, unable to form words. He had been too immersed in his own dilemma to piece together the clues. The scar the man’s face had been the result of a werewolf attack.
“We’ve spent years dwelling in these forests, maintaining a low profile. Then you come along. You ravage the nearby villages, raising alarm.” the man took a deep, soothing breath, quelling his anger.
Once he regained composure, he spoke once more. “How many moons have you seen?”
It took Kalum a few moments to comprehend what the man meant, and when he finally understood he cast his eyes downward. The painful emotions that came with now knowing all the harm he had caused threatened to overcome him, but know wasn’t the time for self-pity, so he repressed them as best as he could.
“Last night was my first,” Kalum mumbled.
The man let out a long, heavy sigh. “Great,” he groaned. “So, Pup, how much do you know about the curse, Lycanthropy?”
Kalum was momentarily taken aback. “What did you call me?” he questioned.
“A Pup. You said last night was you’re first moon, correct? You’re recently turned.” The man replied callously. “But you didn’t answer my question. How much do you know about Lycanthropy?”
Kalum gulped nervously. He was apprehensive about revealing his knowledge on the matter. Mentioning his former status as a Hunter, even if he was no longer part the Brotherhood, would only serve to make the situation worse.
“Not much. I’ve heard the legends.” Kalum attempted his best to appear oblivious. Then, in an effort to make the lie more believable, he added, “And I remember the pain. The transformation was worse than anything I could have imagined.” To that extent Kalum was telling the truth. The memory of the overwhelming pain induced a shudder.
The man’s disfigured face softened ever so slightly. When he spoke again, his voice bore the slightest hint of sympathy.
“The first Change is always the most difficult. And you’ve still got two more nights of it before the moon’s phase changes, Pup.”
Kalum’s voice rose as his anger peaked. “I have a name you know.” He rebutted bitterly.
That he had resorted low enough to have a conversation with a werewolf repulsed him, and sympathy was the last thing he wanted. They were nothing more than vermin; this man, his pack, Kalum himself. It was a revolting disease. The atrocious killings Kalum had committed were unforgivable. The curse that he had sought to eradicate his entire life had infected him, changed him into nothing more than a monster in the guise of human skin.
“Alright. I suppose introductions are necessary.” the man replied sarcastically. He extended his calloused hand in mock seriousness. “The name’s Bram.”
Kalum glanced toward Bram’s outstretched hand in contempt, refusing to take it.
“Kalum.” he announced half-heartedly. “And now that this conversation is over, I’ll be taking my leave.”
As he started toward the exit, Bram intercepted him, blocking passage out of the tavern. His scarred face was set with grim determination.
“I’m sorry, Kalum, but I can’t let you leave. Malik will want to speak with you personally.”
Kalum contemplated his options, trying to figure out the best solution to escaping this problem, but it was as if Bram sensed his train of thought.
“Don’t even think about it Kalum. I can guarantee I’ve seen many more moons than you, and you wouldn’t stand a chance if you do what you’re thinking of doing. It’s in your best interest to just come quietly.” Bram warned. He pushed open the wooden door, his body tensed
and ready for confrontation.
Kalum began to panic. Every nerve in his body screamed at him to slay the worthless animal standing before him, but he knew what Bram said was true; his chances of besting him and fleeing the village were slim, if not impossible. And deep within himself Kalum knew that he was no better than Bram now. He had already killed, feasted on the humans, the race that he had once vowed to protect with his life. He and the creatures he had previously hunted were no different now.
Kalum sighed, and then silently followed Bram through the mahogany door.