I crept through the shadowy forest as silently as a cat. I carried no torch or lantern, because even in the dark of night, my feline eyes could clearly see the wolf tracks in the dirt, and my keen nose could still detect their scent. Holding my spear at the ready, I followed them.
The sounds of the night echoed all around me, and I found myself oddly comforted by them. The crickets, frogs, and nocturnal birds were playing their song just for me tonight, it seemed. My ears cocked themselves to the side as a mouse scampered under my feet, and I resisted the urge to catch it for a snack. As strange as it sounds, I have developed quite a taste for wild mice over the past few years.
I forced my mind to focus on the hunt. I'd encountered these Ferals before, so I knew that they were dangerous. The last thing I needed was to be distracted and open myself up to an ambush. I shifted my spear to a defensive position.
Was I a hunter when I was a human? I caught myself wondering. The question surprised me, but I took the time to consider it. I highly doubted that I had been. The tricks and skills I had now were entirely dependent on the cat traits I had developed. My tail gave a quick flick as my thoughts ran to it. I had been ashamed of it ever since it sprouted from my spine, but in truth it had proven to be useful on several occasions. It granted me inhuman balance, to the point where I could balance myself on a length of wire and still throw my spear with deadly accuracy.
Focus, Eve! I scolded myself. Stop letting your mind wander!
As if waiting for its cue, a growl sounded out of the darkness in front of me, farther than even my night vision could see. I froze and brought my spear up to face the noise, and a lone wolf approached me, slowly and confidently, as if it didn't have a thing to fear.
I stared at it, warily. A Feral, even by itself, can prove to be dangerous, but wolves never travel alone. Where were the others?
Just as I thought this, I felt a foot slam into my back, sending me hurtling forward. I planted my spear into the ground and swung myself around to keep from planting my face into the dirt, and found myself face to face with the wolf-boy from earlier.
He lashed out at me without hesitation, and I brought my arms up to defend myself. He'd managed to catch me off guard, so his attack hit me harder than I'd expected. I stumbled backwards and fell to the ground, and the Hybrid pounced at me, his sharp teeth bared.
Letting my instincts take over, I rolled out of the way and sprang back to my feet. He hit the ground on all fours, looking almost like a real wolf, and turned on me. I jumped up, curling myself into a flip, and landed behind him, giving him a firm kick in the rump, which propelled him sprawled out on the ground. I reached back and plucked my spear from the ground and charged at him, raising my weapon to kill him.
But before I could drive the weapon into his heart, he looked up at me with his big brown eyes. Against all my better judgement, I froze. When he stared at me like that, he looked for all the world like a puppy dog. A sad, helpless, lost puppy dog.
And then he kicked my feet out from under me.
Before I could get back up, I found myself surrounded by Feral wolves. They pounced on me, climbing all over my body, snarling like rabid beasts. In all the commotion, my spear was pushed out of my reach. I fought for a few moments, trying with all my might to break free, but I soon realized that there was no point. There were simply too many of them. Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes and waited for the end.
A howl rang through the forest, and everything froze. My eyes snapped open, and I saw the wolf-boy standing before me, his head leaned back as he sang his song to the night sky. The wolves stopped clambering all over me, but they did not back away.
The Hybrid came towards me and knelt down by my face, "Why have you come back?" he asked in a low, threatening voice.
A chill of fear ran down my spine as I looked up at him. Why, though, I wondered? I'd managed to beat him twice now, even with his wolves to help him. Even with this reasoning, though, I couldn't help but tremble under his gaze. Because even if we were both Hybrids, he was wild. He was a Feral.
"I- I..." I stammered. "I came for you."
The wolf-boy's eyes narrowed, "You came to kill more of my family?"
Terror attempted to make my mind go blank. This made no sense. I had taken down lions, cougars, and wild boars. Why did this boy frighten me so much?
"My people," I hastily explained through a trembling jaw. "They told me to."
The boy bared his teeth in anger, "They fear us," he growled. "They sent you to drive us away, even though we were here first."
"They sent me..." I paused, hardly able to believe I was about to say what had almost come out my mouth. But when I saw the boy's eyes flash with anger, I knew I would have to finish. "They sent me to kill you."
A wolfish growl rose from the boy's throat, and he stood up. For a moment, I thought he was going to order his wolves to finish me off. To shred me to pieces. Instead, he made an angry gesture with his hand, and the wolves backed away. I stared at him, stunned. He said nothing, but went and retrieved my spear. Slowly, I stood up, convinced that the Ferals would jump on me the minute I moved. They didn't budge.
"Why are you doing this?" the boy asked.
"Because my people are afraid," I answered.
"No," the boy shook his head, "Why are you obeying the humans? You are not human."
Despite the situation I was in, I could feel the fur on the back of my neck stand up in indignation, "Yes I am!" I shot back.
The Hybrid sent me a derisive look, "No, you're not." He repeated.
For a minute, we were both silent as he circled around me. Even his wolves did not growl. Finally, when he was behind me, he spoke again, "These wolves are my family," he said. "And you've come here to murder them."
"They're not your family," I said softly, trying not to upset him. He had my spear, after all. "You're a human, they're Ferals. They're not related to you."
"Aren't they?" he challenged me. Coming to stand by my side, he pointed to them with my spear, "That one is my father. That is my mother. Those two are my brothers, and that one over there is my cousin."
My breath caught in my throat as I realized what he was talking about. When he said family, he wasn't talking about family by bond, he meant family by blood. Human beings, turned to Ferals by the virus.
"And that one that you killed earlier today," he finished, turning the spear on me now, "was my sister."
I remained silent. There really was nothing that I could say at this point. The wolf-boy eyed me with unashamed hostility. In all honesty, I couldn't blame him.
"So, why did you come tonight?" he asked again. "Why obey the humans?"
"Because I live with them," I replied in a meek voice.
"But are you happy there?" he asked.
I paused for a moment, then said, "Yes."
"You're a horrible liar," the wolf-boy shot back. "You're not happy with the humans. They treat you like an animal. They fear you. So, why do as they demand?"
I lowered my head, "Because if I do this, they'll accept me. I'll finally be one of them."
A sharp chuckle came from the Hybrid, "Do you really believe that?" he asked. "Why would this change anything? They might let you live in the camp and eat with them, but they'll never accept you. To them, you're just an animal." He paused, considering his words, "No, worse than an animal. Neither a human nor a beast. To them, you're a monster."
"That's not true," I protested, my hands clenched to fists at my sides. I fought back tears. I couldn't let them see me cry.
The wolf-boy shook his head, "Your time as a human is behind you. Even if they were to accept you, which they won't, how long would it last? Even if you swallow the doctor's weed, it can never stop what's happening."
He leaned in close, so close that I could smell the meat he had eaten only a couple of hours before, and whispered, "One day, you will finally transform, and then they will either drive you away, or kill you."
It was no good. As I realized the truth of his words, my resolve melted and my tears ran down my cheeks. My breathing became ragged, and my body shook, though not with fear anymore.
"What else can I do?" I asked him in a coarse whisper.
The Hybrid paused for a full minute, watching me cry, and then he held out my spear for me to take. I blinked in surprise, but then slowly reached out and took it from him.
"You will come with us," he said gently. I looked into his eyes, and saw something new now. It was compassion. My heart began to beat faster.
"I can't," I protested. "I have my tribe!"
"Not anymore," he assured me. "If you fail to return, they will assume you died tonight. Come with us, and we'll show you a better life."
"But I..." I knew it was a bad idea to say it, but it came out of my mouth anyway, "But I killed your sister."
The wolf-boy's eyes grew hard, and he stepped back from me, "Very well, then. Stay if you wish. Return to your tribe of the hateful, frightened humans you love so much."
Without another word, he turned away from me and motioned for his wolves to move out. The pack dispersed, following the Hybrid and not giving me a backwards glance.
I stood there, watching them leave. Suddenly, I felt alone. Even more alone than I'd felt sleeping by myself outside the tribe's camp. A cold, empty feeling formed in my stomach. It occurred to me that, now that they all had their backs to me, it would be the perfect chance to strike them. There was no doubt in my mind that I could defeat them all. Even the Hybrid had only managed to beat me by distracting me. All I would have to do is throw my spear at him, and Orville would be forced to keep his promise.
With a jolt, though, I realized that his offer no longer sounded as enticing.
I didn't have to give it another moment's thought. I wasn't sure if it was the right choice, but at the moment I didn't care. The wolf-boy had promised me a new life, free of those who had scorned me all these years. In the end, what more could I ask for? Clutching my spear like a lifeline, I forced my feet to move, and chased after them.