"Silver!” A masculine voice yelled my name. I didn’t have to look up to see who it was — my father was the only person around for the most part. We lived on the Borderlands, where the northern plains of the Alliance and the mountains of the centaurs met. Evergreen forest dominated the land, interspersed with the occasional oak or aspen grove. I was rolling around on the duff with a large, black, shaggy dog near the small but homey log cabin we called home. My father’s golden palomino mare stood nearby. She was a long-legged, deep-chested, almost hound-like horse, with a slim figure and the endurance of a wolf.
“Coming, father!” I hollered back and got to my feet, the young dog still wanting to play. He nipped at my heels as I trotted back to the house.
A golden-skinned man with black hair and startling dark green-blue eyes awaited me in the doorway. “What did I tell you about playing with Nightfang?”
I looked down, shuffling my feet sheepishly. “Fetch water first…”
“That’s right. Now, how full is the water barrel?”
“Half,” I mumbled.
“Why don’t you go remedy that, little pup?”
“Yes, father.” I grabbed the two old buckets that sat next to the doorway of our thatch-roofed cottage and wandered down towards the large creek where we gathered most of our fresh water. Birds sang and chittered in the trees as I meandered. Nightfang was several yards ahead of me, sniffing around with his long, fluffy, ebon tail in the air and golden eyes bright.
The babbling creek itself was maybe six feet across, and the deepest part only went up to my chest — though, being only ten years old, I was admittedly short. I knelt down next to it and filled the buckets with crystal clear water, watching the small fish flit and flash by. A small crayfish leapt away from Nightfang’s huge paw as he waded ankle-deep into the burbling stream. He snapped at a few fish as I stood and started back to the cabin, now-full buckets in hand.
My father watched me from the window as he cut apart vegetables for dinner. He was a good cook, better even than my mom — well, that’s what I thought, anyways. I didn’t really have anything to compare to due to the fact that she’d disappeared one day to go hunting and never came back. Pa told me that she would some day come back, that she was just travelling. I knew better. I’d overheard him talking before and he’d mentioned what really happened to Crow.
I hoped she had good reason to disappear like that. Maybe she’d been kidnapped or ambushed or stolen by fairies. It could happen. I’d actually seen a fairy once, at night when I was looking at the stars with my father. He hadn’t noticed, but I could see a glowing, sparkling silvery figure in the woods, floating around like a butterfly. It’d left as quickly a it came.
But there were things in the woods, too, that would hurt you. Things you had to avoid. You didn’t go out there at night, especially not alone, or they would get you. Eyes in the dark; the soft breathing of a beast behind you; the crack of a twig. Werewolves were out there.
Father, though, was a Hunter — a soldier, a guard, but, above all else, a hunter of wolves. He always wore his sword and a silver ring about his finger. I’d asked why and he’d simply answered: “Always expect the unexpected. It will serve you well, little pup.”
I dumped the last bucket of water into the barrel with a sigh of relief. That water was heavy. Nightfang was lounging in front of the door with his yellow eyes closed in contentment. I shoved open the door and slipped inside.
A pot of water was boiling over the hearth. Father was in front of the fire with a book. Our cottage was small with only two rooms. The kitchen was just to the right of the doorway, and consisted of a counter, some cupboards, and a knife block. A window in front of the counter overlooked the woods in the front of the house. Across from me was the fireplace and a few chairs. A rapier with the hand guard in the shape of a dragon hung off the wall with a crossbow and quiver of silver bolts underneath it. My father’s dog, a mostly jet creature with tan points, was at his feet. He glanced up as I came in.
“Is it full?”
I nodded and sat down on the floor next to Shade, stroking her fur. The canine let out a breath of content as I leaned back next to Father.
“You want to hear a story, little pup?” he asked me, his sea green eyes warm.
He always told the best stories of war and triumph. They were exciting, breathtaking, and pulled one in like a fish on a hook. Mostly he spoke of Avren, the founder of his ancient order of Hunters and the war with the Pack.
“Yes!” I beamed and looked up at him, pushing my dark hair from my face.
He closed his book and put it down on a small table next to him. “Well, you see, Silver, the world wasn’t always as it was now. Once, darkness shadowed this land in eternal night. We were not hunters, little pup; we were the hunted.
“The moon rose and never set and even the starlight was pale and dim. Creatures came from the abyssal recesses of the land to hunt, and not just any beast was their prey — their prey was us. One of these many beasts was the wolf. They came in two varieties: there were ones big as horses and agile as deer, with the quick bite of an adder; these were called dire wolves, for their howls sounded of death and destruction. The other was just as large, but stockier, and denser, and these were nigh unkillable. Their hide was tough as a boar’s and their fangs were like daggers, long as my forearm. Their bite crushed bone like that of a hyena. But that wasn’t the most terrifying, oh no, for these worgs, as they were called, bestowed any person bitten by them a curse: lycanthropy.
“By the moon these so-called lycanthropes would turn from their humanoid forms to that of a bloodthirsty monster, who, in turn, changed more people from pure to half-blooded werewolves.
“Our kind lived in fear, little pup. Every day we prayed we’d live to see another dawn and every night we asked that if they came, death was swift. Some did indeed survive, but many, many were lost. The wolves would sing their Huntsong and fall upon small villages or camps as a gryphon on its prey. By the time they realized what was happening, it was too late.
“For thousands of years the Pack reigned. But then, as the sun rose in the east, a woman, too, came. She would no longer accept being the hunted.
“‘Come forth,’ said she, ‘and together we shall fight. For around us lies death and terror, but we can change it. Take up arms and battle, for our enemies are made of flesh and blood like ourselves. No longer shall we cower like lambs to the slaughter, but we shall be that which bites back!’
“Thus speaking, she rallied the humans, the halflings, the gnomes, and thus formed the Alliance, an unbreakable pact between races that we would forevermore be kin. Together they made the Hunters, an order that stood for equality and law, but, above all, they would protect the innocent.
“The war was waged for many years and even now it is not done,” my father continued in his soft purr of a voice. “Avren was killed by a wolf of the name Agrona, a worg the color of flame. But when she died, she bestowed upon us one last gift, little pup. She gave us a star, the first one to rise in the morn and the last to set in the eve: Akaron. It is there to remind us that even in the darkest of night there is a spark that can be kindled and lit and turned into a burning flame; the light may always triumph.”
“But how can a star rise first and set last?” I asked, as I did every time he told this story.
He simply shrugged. “It’s a miracle, little pup…it’s a miracle, just like Avren herself.” He smiled and mussed my hair before standing. “Get us a couple bowls, would you?”
I grinned and leaped up, racing to do as I was bidden.