Chapter One

Part One


"Don't cling to me, I swear I can't fix you.

Still in the dark, can you fix me?"

– Weight of the World, Evanescence



I exhale. My frosty breath curls around itself, forming a small white cloud that hangs in the air before vanishing as quickly as it had appeared. I'm used to the cold by now, but without the elk fur lining the inside of my tent, it would be impossible to survive. At least I am comparatively warm in here.

Yet my blood still turns to ice as my hand moves over the cracked, yellowed piece of paper beneath me. Everything significant that happens in our village needs to be written down for our records. The dull pencil in my shaking hand manages to scribble out my message:

December 10th: Kaya Bane disappears for six months. Presumed dead.

The short note is all my trembling fingers can bear before I am forced to drop the pencil. I can't do this. It rolls off my lap and clatters to the ground.

I leap to my feet and kick back the wooden stool I sit on. My hands close into fists around the paper and, in a fit of violence, I crumple it up and toss it across the tent. After staring at it for a moment, waiting for the adrenaline in my veins to subside, I try to regain my composure and pick it up again. Smoothing it out, I calmly slide it into the folder where it belongs with the other loose sheets containing our records and history.

Done. I don't have to look at it anymore.

I know it's been six months. Everyone wants me to get on with my life now. They don't say it but I can sense it. At least they feel like I should be putting more effort into getting it together. But what they don't understand is that being abandoned isn't something you can get over in six months. They think she's dead. That's the explanation I was forced to write. But until they find a body and true evidence, the only logical explanation in my eyes is that she left.

I feel a hand on my shoulder and turn to see my father looking down at me. He is a tall man with a face that always seems to carry a lost expression, and dark gray eyes that spill his emotions. Although the gesture is supposed to be a comforting one, it has the opposite effect on me. I never liked his eyes or his emotional weakness. I view it as inferiority.

"Hey… we gave her all the time we could." The sound of his gentle words aggravates me, "But you know the rule. After a person has gone missing for six months… we need to give them some kind of explanation." I hear pain in his voice, as if he too struggles with admitting that she's gone for good. And yet I can't say I can summon any sympathy for him.

Shrugging his hand off, I hide my glassy eyes from him and wipe my cheek. Without responding, I push back the tent flap and step outside.

Everything becomes still, as if the people of our village have been frozen by the arctic winds. But they don't stop in their tracks because of the cold. They are all looking at me. Even the children stop playing and now stare at me frozen in mid-run, all of them knowing that I, as the person in charge of the records, just had to declare my own mother dead.

Their eyes follow me, full of pity. But I don't want pity. I want my mother. And I want them all to just go away and get back to their lives instead of entertaining themselves with mine.

My upper lip curls into a snarl and I glare into the crowd, taking a threatening step forward, "What are you looking at? Get lost!"

With some reluctance, the crowd disperses, and the villagers' daily activities resume. For now, I've scared them into avoiding me, although I have no true power here. Anger is all I have. It's the only way to make people leave me alone. I'll never let it go.

"That's not how you should treat your people." My father follows me out of the tent, his calm voice coming from behind me. The sound of it grates on my nerves.

"I'm not the compassionate leader. That's your job!" I snap, "I'm an orphan, and I want to be alone now." I don't even stop to take in the expression of his face before I storm off, leaving camp to take solace in the woods.

I'm not really an orphan. My mother's not dead. I know it. I can feel it in my gut. But she's not here, and although I have my father, he might as well be dead too.

I storm through the woods and ignore my long hair getting tangled in branches as I think about how dedicated he is to the village. Because he's always too busy attending to everyone else, I tend to be forgotten. For a long time now I've officially seen myself as on my own, whether I like it or not. I always say I don't like people, but maybe that's because the loneliness hurts, and I like to pretend I'm okay with it.

I stop at a clearing where I have a perfect view of the sky and on instinct I look up. There is no sun. The sky is usually cloudy and gray, reflecting my emotions. I stuff my gloved hands in the pockets of my coat and my toes curl inside my boots, digging into the bottom of them and feeling the hard-packed snow beneath. A lump forms in my throat. I'm not planning on it, but my mouth opens without my permission and before I know it, I'm yelling.

"Where the hell did you go?! Did you follow them?! Did you really think it would make a difference?!" I'm screaming at no one, but it still makes me mad that no one answers, "Or did you just want to get away… don't you even care about the daughter you left behind?" Pain rips across my chest and I clutch my heart, as if I can contain it to keep it from spreading, "Don't you care about me?"

The howling wind carries off the sound of my voice, but the echoes return to me unanswered. I stand there for a long time, hoping that maybe there would be a response if I wait a little longer, but the silence eventually becomes too much to bear. I return to my trek through the woods.

"Screw it… I don't need you anyway…" I mutter.

Tonight the announcement will be made official, though everyone knows already. They've all been waiting with bated breath, counting the days just as I have, to see if Kaya Bane would ever return.

I wasn't the only one who looked up to her. I wasn't the only one who thought she was the one that really led the village. My father is nothing without her. Nothing. And now it's all going to fall apart.

It's dark when I know that I have to return. I see the smoke signal in the sky that marks the beginning of the meeting. I struggle with myself, considering not showing up. I almost don't, until I decide that I am being weak. Weakness is the last thing that I want to show, but my legs are heavy and I have to drag them back to camp, hardly convincing myself.

I scarcely make a sound as I arrive on the scene of everyone gathered around the large campfire. My father stands at the center, turned orange in the glow of the flames. I am the last one here out of the thirty people in our group. Looking for a place to disappear into the crowd, I end up choosing a fallen spruce log at the edge of camp instead, avoiding contact with anyone.

My father's worried eyes follow me, burning a hole into the back of my head. He doesn't know how to hide how lost he is truly feeling, and he wants me there with him. However, when he discreetly waves me over to stand beside him at the center, I pretend not to see him, fixing my eyes on the ground instead.

I will not be his crutch. That was my mother's mistake, and now he is weak. And now she is gone.

The seconds tick by, time passing in agonizing silence while my father clears his throat and looks at the ground, occasionally lifting his eyes to glance at the group. I want him to speak already so that I can leave. I want him to stop being a coward. But it takes him too long to say something. At least when he does, I appreciate the fact that he doesn't waste time on ceremonies, and I'm glad that the announcement doesn't take too long. If it were drawn out and overly emotional I wouldn't have come for sure.

"Kaya went missing exactly six months ago today." He begins, clearing his throat, "I'm not sure why she left, but after losing five people in the last two hunting trips it is possible that she went after them to find them." He rubs the back of his neck and his voice changes pitch. He's nervous, but I swear if he breaks down I'm leaving. I pray that he doesn't. "She always did hold onto the hope that they were okay somewhere… but if we're going to be realistic, we are forced to conclude that she wasn't successful and that she is most likely dead. We haven't found a body, but out here that isn't likely in any case."

We all know what he's talking about. As if on cue, everyone turns to take in the vast wilderness around us. The thick forest of evergreens is a labyrinth, well known for its secrets. People who disappear in it are often never found again. There are too many things that can happen to a body; it can be eaten by wild animals, buried in a blizzard, or perhaps it lies inaccessible at the bottom of a treacherous cliff. No one was expecting a body, but I'm glad we don't have one. It means there's still hope.

My father turns to look at me now but I return my blank stare to the ground. I've started to make a crater in the snow with my boots absent-mindedly. I pretend to be very interested in it.

"Lilith is now in charge of keeping track of our records, taking her place." It's not an achievement or anything to be the mighty keeper of records, but it's a necessary announcement I guess. I still wish that he didn't have to point me out in front of everyone.

Their stupid eyes are staring at me again. I make no eye contact with anyone, my cheeks burning with embarrassment and rage. If they're expecting me to say anything they'll be disappointed. They should know better.

The silence continues just as before, and my father offers no further comments. The moment has reached its point where, if left to continue, it would become emotional. I know that neither he nor I wish for that. A few people are already sniffling, hit with the realization that one of the strongest, most loved people in the village is now gone forever. It wouldn't be long before someone would want to say something touching about her. But I won't be there for it.

It's time for me to go now. My tent is on the other side of the crowd so that I'm forced to walk through them to get to it. They all part ways to let me pass as soon as I rise to my feet, knowing me well enough that they understand getting in my way would be hazardous to their health. My father seems mortified, but he's not allowed to follow, and I don't care that I'm leaving him alone to deal with it all. I keep my head low and my footsteps fast, and disappear into the only place in the world where I can feel truly safe.

I don't even bother to pull off my boots as I fall to my knees and drag myself onto the pile of elk fur that I call my bed. I block out the rest of the world by curling up into a ball, letting my thick hair form a suffocating barrier between the air and my face. There's no chance of anyone coming in here now. This place is mine and mine alone. And here, in the darkness and the solitude, I don't need to put up walls. And here I can cry.

So I cry. I cry until my face is soaked in tears, and until the icy air freezes them to my cheeks. I cry until the pounding headache in my temples makes me dizzy, until the burning hole in my heart becomes numb. And then I drift off into fitful sleep.


A/N: This is the revised version of this chapter. No changes were made to the actual story. All I did was tweak some of the wording and I made my writing a little bit stronger, improving the narration. I have revised the first 11 chapters before moving onto anything new.

As of 12/21/2014 all revisions have been made and new chapters are on their way!

Please help me improve my writing by commenting on the following:

1. Is anything confusing?

2. Are any scenes boring or repetitious?

3. Do you spot any general tics (repeated words, etc.)?

4. Do you spot any confusing plot points (let me know when and where I lose you and what needs to be clarified)?

5. Does the opening grab you?

You don't have to answer these questions, by the way, but I would still appreciate a comment. Thanks.

2: Chapter Two
Chapter Two

She's standing in front of me.

The middle-aged woman's crystal blue eyes cautiously take in the sight of me, nearly full to the brim with tears. She seems shocked, afraid, and lost. Her lips tremble, and her long black hair, loose and wild and waist-length just like mine, whips around her in the vicious arctic wind.

I don't know what to do. I want to run to her, to say something to her… but I'm frozen in place.

I panic for several moments, unable to make any sounds until I finally find my voice and cry out to her.

"Mother!" I want it to sound how I feel: relieved, joyful. But instead, my voice cracks and my knees start to shake. How did I become so weak? I need my mother's strength to steady me.

But Kaya doesn't reply. She doesn't wrap me in her familiar arms, or whisper comforting words in my ear. She doesn't even blink, and acts like I don't exist. And then I realize… her eyes look right through me. She isn't looking at me; she wasn't all along.

A wave of dread washes over my body, forming knots in my stomach. I turn my head to look over my shoulder, to see what she sees. The flurries thrown up by a sudden storm obscure my vision, forcing me to squint my eyes. But there, a few feet away from me, the shapes I can make out are familiar enough that I know what they are.


Five of them, each lying in its own pool of blood, perfectly preserved in the cold. I can't see the faces, but I know the names of every one of them. I know their families…

They are the Hunters. The ones that disappeared. I stifle a scream, thankful that I cannot see their cold, lifeless eyes staring off into space, all asking the same question: why?

I turn back to my mother, who hasn't moved.

"What… what happened?" I ask in a whisper.

She doesn't reply or move. She is a statue, her expression frozen to her fine features. And then after a pause she seems to snap out of it, and shakes her head, hiding her face in her mitted hands and sobbing.

"I'm sorry…" My mother cries, voice cracking. Turning around, she takes off and disappears into the trees, repeating the same phrase over and over again.

"Wait!" I scream and try to chase after her, but again I am rooted in place. I struggle madly to move but my feet feel like led. I find myself waist-deep in snow. Then it's up to my chest. Now over my mouth. I'm drowning.

"Lilith!" It's not my mother's voice. Someone else calls my name, "Hey Lilith wake up!"

My eyes fly open and find darkness. I am not drowning anymore. I am in my bed. And someone is standing over me, but I can't see who it is because no sunlight enters my tent.

Anger flares up in me at the thought of someone entering my tent without permission while I am sleeping. Still overwhelmed by the intense emotions of my nightmare, I swing my arm in the direction of the voice. My fist connects with a jaw and I hear cursing.

I recognize that voice, but it only upsets me more. Why is Ben of all people in my tent?

I rub my fist and have to smile despite my irritation. It feels good to hit someone. It releases some of my negative energy. And suddenly I'm thankful that Ben decided to show up at such a convenient time. There's no one else here that I want to hit more.

"Who let you in?" I snap, sitting up and ignoring the sudden rush of blood to my head, making me dizzy.

Ben rubs his jaw. I can't really see but I can just make out the movement, and I feel a little bit of pride that I actually managed to hurt him.

"I let myself in." He stands up straight and crosses his arms over his broad chest. The tone of his voice implies that he's frowning, "You didn't answer when I yelled at you from outside."

"You could have sent my father in, or someone other than you." I seethe. Out of all the people in this miserable place, Ben is my least favorite.

"Yeah but I didn't."

And that is exactly why he is my least favorite. Ben is the only one here that isn't afraid of me. My anger repels most people, but it doesn't seem to faze Ben at all. He doesn't give me a chance to answer him before continuing, "Stop complaining and get up. You've overslept, and it's your turn to guard the gates with me."

Oh. The gates. It's been so long that I've done it that I forgot how much I used to love being a Guard. But I guess it's easy to forget your responsibilities when you've been neglecting them for six months. I no longer feel any rage inside of me. Instead… I'm just numb. Was it my father's idea to make me pull my own weight again? It seems unlikely.

"Says who?" I ask him. It is meant to sound challenging, but my sudden shift in thought takes the usual bite out of my voice.

"Says everyone that is sick of seeing you do nothing when you should be the one giving the example." His voice has a bit of a snap in it, mixed with impatience.

A brilliant beam of sunlight enters the tent, hitting me directly in the face, as Ben pulls the flap back and holds it open. I'm blinded, and as a result am not quick enough to come up with a reason to say no.

Blinking the spots out of my blurry vision, I start running my fingers through my thick hair, unknotting it before putting it into a braid to keep it out of my face. A dingy mirror sits on the ground, in a corner, and I glance at it briefly. Red circles ring my dark brown irises, and purplish marks form shadows under my eyes. The skin of my cheeks feels tight where last night's tears had dried. My lips are cracked and painful. But somehow I still look better than I feel.

I'm still wearing my boots, my thick fur coat, and my gloves. No further preparation is going to help me face the day, and so I rise to my feet. My legs feel stiff.

"I really don't want to go." I sigh, but I step outside anyway, instantly feeling the bite of the wintry morning. Ben releases the flap of my tent, letting it close, and hands me a bow and some arrows.

"You never want to do anything. You need to get over it." He doesn't wait for me and begins to walk away. Watching him with his confident stride and his head held high, it reminds me of a time where I used to be that way too. Before everything changed.

I wasn't always like this- this person that hides from everyone, that prefers to stay in the shadows, that pushes everyone away. There was once a time where I would volunteer for anything, and I took pride in what I did. But that seems so long ago that I can barely remember that Lilith. I don't think anyone really remembers who that girl was. If they do, they fear what she is now.

Ben's large footprints carve a path in the snow that I follow with my eyes, biting the inside of my cheek. He's the only one here who doesn't know my story quite as well as the rest. Perhaps that's why he doesn't fear me, because this part of me is all he's ever known and he's used to it. Unlike the rest of us, he wasn't raised here. About a year ago, my father found him wandering on the borders of our territory and mercifully took him in. He had been half-starved, and nearly dead. At the time, I was still my old self, but not long enough for him to get to know me that way.

"I am over it…" I whisper to myself, but even I don't believe the lie as I stomp after him, kicking up the powdery snow beneath my boots.

Since I overslept, I have no time for breakfast. My stomach growls noisily as I reach the perimeter of the wall that closes us in, protecting us from the outside world. I tilt my neck back to stare up at the ten-foot-tall spruce logs that have been tied together with rope and embedded deeply into the snow. They not only protect our camp, but surround a good piece of the forest as well, allowing us to cut down trees for firewood and to hunt small game in relative safety. Two massive gate doors also made of spruce mark the only way in and out. They are to be guarded at all times, just in case. We've never received much trouble from anything outside of the wall. To find other survivors in this ice age is rare. The prospect of there being a rival group seems unlikely. Wild animals do pose a legitimate threat, but the constant surveillance is just for precautionary measures.

I close my eyes and breathe in the scent of the wood, letting it fill my lungs to remind me of the time when it was something comforting to me.

"They don't allow women to guard or hunt." My mother's voice enters my head, a ghost from the past. I can picture her in my mind, remembering this conversation from years ago, "They're too delicate, too valuable to be put in danger." Then, she would frown slightly, and turn her blue eyes to me, snickering, "At least, that's what they taught us." 

I was only a small child when she would say things like that, too young to understand the implications. I know now that she never truly believed the laws put into place so long ago by our ancestors. From the very beginning she always encouraged me to not hide my skills, to be strong and brave. As I grew older, I understood what she meant, and I worked hard to make her proud. On my eighteenth birthday, against all odds, I became a Guard. That was three years ago.

Was my mother strong and brave for what she did?

I snap back to reality and am hit with a mixture of emotions that make it hard for me to stand. I lean against the wall and take a deep breath to steady myself. It's time to climb out of the hole I've dug myself into. But I don't know how I'm going to do that.

From above, I can hear Ben's impatient sigh. It's his cue for me to stop playing around and join him at the top of the tower situated beside the gate. There is no way to get to the top other than to climb the wooden trusses. I find that my hands and feet find places to go automatically as I climb, remembering the old routine I once followed. Once at the top, I slump against the waist-high wall that surrounds us on three sides and fall to my knees. I toss my bow and arrows to the side and rest my chin on my arms, exhaling loudly.

Ben crouches beside me, assuming the same relaxed posture. The atmosphere up on the tower is usually a tranquil one because nothing bad ever happens anyway. This I too remember.

"You look like a bear mauled you." Ben's steel colored eyes look me over and he makes a face at me, his nose wrinkling ever so slightly. I can't tell if he's teasing, or if he's serious. Either way, I don't like the comment.

Biting my lip, I try my best to stay calm, but the blank stare I direct at the treetops below turns into a glare against my will. My blood boils and I spit out, "I didn't ask for your opinion."

There's a pause while Ben moves to sit back, letting his back rest against a wall. He tilts his head and closes his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. I don't look at him directly but I can tell by the tension in the air that he's trying hard to hold back and not blow up on me. In my peripheral vision I see his subtle expressions.

"My point is…" He replies finally when the slight redness on his face begins to fade, "You didn't sleep well last night."

"I slept fine."

There is silence now, but although my goal is to shut him up I feel no satisfaction in my victory. Ben isn't silent because he's frightened of me like everyone else. His calculating gaze says something else. It says that he's studying me. I don't particularly like being studied. My gaze remains on the forest below and I try very hard not to bring up conversation again for the simple pleasure of pissing him off.

I am successful. Until my stomach makes the sound of a dying animal. I react instantly, wrapping my arms around it to muffle the sound, but it's too late.

"Hungry?" I hear the sound of a paper bag and see Ben pulling something out of his pocket. He unrolls a handful of rabbit jerky and holds it out to me, "Here take some."

I don't want to take it, but my body reacts before my mind does. I snatch it out of his hand and bite into the hardened strip of meat. The salty taste of dried rabbit floods my taste buds and, when I'm finished, I find myself wanting more. But I regain control before grabbing the other half of it away and force myself to take a deep breath.

Ben watches me with a neutral expression on his face, his mouth a straight line. I know what I just did is wrong. Anyone else would have severely reprimanded me for greedily taking something that is considered a rarity. Food is scarce, and Ben didn't have to share that with me. I don't understand why he's so calm but it makes me uneasy that he saw me break like that, like I am some sort of animal.

"Um… you can save the rest. For someone else that needs it more." I sound so sheepish, almost apologetic. I hate myself, but what else can I do?

His expression stays the same, changed only by a slight pout in his lips now, like he's thinking of what to say, before he tosses the rest of it to me. "Keep it." He shrugs, "When we find elk we won't be starving to death anymore. And we'll find them soon. I'm asking Adam about going on another hunt."

This latter statement shocks me enough to drop the jerky argument, and it just sits on my lap forgotten. I stare at Ben with surprise, jaw dropping, "Another one? But the last one we sent-"

"Wasn't successful." Ben frowns and sits up a little straighter, getting a distant look in his eyes. Now he sees right through me, just like my mother in my nightmare.

I remember that Ben had been on the last two hunting trips, the two that had both gone horribly wrong. Between them both, five people had gone missing. As the Head Hunter, those men had died under Ben's leadership. Watching them disappear one by one like that, knowing you have no control over any of it… it couldn't have been easy. The pieces fall into place in my mind and I realize that this must be the reason for why he always seems so stoic.

"Exactly. We can't risk losing more people." I try to persuade him otherwise because I don't like the idea of even more people going missing. It's sad to say that I could care less about the individual lives at stake- I just don't want to be reminded of the whole idea of disappearing and dying. I would have to write those deaths down in the records. And then I'd have to look at the last one I wrote and relive it all. "There are enough rabbits and birds here to keep us going." I insist.

Ben shakes his head and pulls his knees to his chest. "Don't be stupid. I haven't been here long but I know the pattern. When we have elk, we're strong. We're well fed. Without them we all slowly die of starvation."

My stomach sinks and I know that he's right. But I don't want to hold that pencil again. I can't look at that piece of paper.

"What if something goes wrong again?"

Ben bites the inside of his cheek and he raises his eyebrows, giving him an expression that is both thoughtful and defeated at the same time. "That's a risk we have to take."

"Do you think the elk will ever come back?" I sound like a little girl that needs reassurance. But maybe that's what I am after all. This has never happened that I know of. The history records don't have anything in them about the elk not coming around as they usually do. They always do. And now they've just decided to never return, leaving the Hunters empty handed.

"They have to. And I'm going to find out what happened." Ben speaks with conviction and he narrows his eyes, determination filling them. I have to admit that I admire his spirit, against my better judgment, and I hope he's right.

The rest of our shift at the tower passes uneventfully. We don't really speak to each other until two more Guards come to replace us, and when we leave, we go our separate ways without acknowledging each other again.

As I walk back to camp I try to sort my feelings out now that I've received the news of another hunt. I'm not sure if I should hold onto hope like Ben or cringe at the thought of living through it all again. I don't know how he can do it, after having experienced it firsthand twice already himself. There is one thing, however, that catches my interest, and makes my feelings on this matter all that much more confusing.

My mother is out there, in that same wilderness that so many have died in. Would they cross paths with her? If there is even the slightest chance… My heart responds to the idea with a nervous thump.

I hold onto the bow and arrows that Ben gave me instead of returning them to him. I like the way the weapon feels in my hand. It makes me feel comfortable. Makes me feel safe. When I get back to camp I throw it over my shoulder and try to lift my spirits a little bit, fantasizing about how the hunters would find my mother and bring her back home safely and everything would return back to normal. After a while I even go out into the woods again and do some target practice, allowing the peace and the loneliness of the wilderness to clear my head. Like yesterday, I only return to camp when it's dark, and when I arrive at my tent, I see a tall, shadowy figure standing in front of it.

I'm annoyed to see that it's my father, and I don't try to hide that fact as I approach him. He looks frightened and shifty, his gray eyes not meeting mine and just staring at the ground.

"Lilith…" He rubs the back of his neck when I greet him with a cold silence. The last time we talked, I had told him that I'm an orphan and I want to be left alone. I essentially disowned him as my father. Looking at him now, I feel nothing but disgust for the spineless coward in front of me. "So… Ben talked to me. He asked about doing another hunt."

"He told me earlier. I already knew that." I told him, my tone of voice sounding superior. I don't know why I'm thrilled to know something important before our leader does, but it makes me feel bigger. I stand a little taller. My father shrinks.

"So… do you think I should let them go?" This is the moment I knew was coming. As always, my father is too weak to handle decision making on his own. He is reaching for a crutch, wanting me to make a choice for him. The only thing I ever disliked about my mother was the fact that she always thought for my father, making him cowardly, uncertain.

I square my jaw and narrow my eyes at him before shaking my head, "Oh no. You're not replacing me with mother!"

"But I-"

"You need to learn to make decisions on your own and I most certainly will not be the one you run to whenever you're too scared to make a choice!" Not letting him say another word, I storm into my tent, leaving him out in the cold.

A few moments pass before I hear his reluctant footsteps retreating. I lay back on my bed and close my eyes. This time, sleep comes fast.


This chapter was revised 12/13/2014

Please help me improve my writing by commenting on the following:

1. Is anything confusing?

2. Are any scenes boring or repetitious?

3. Do you spot any general tics (repeated words, etc.)?

4. Do you spot any confusing plot points (let me know when and where I lose you and what needs to be clarified)?

5. Does the opening grab you?

You don't have to answer these questions, by the way, but I would still appreciate a comment. Thanks.

3: Chapter Three
Chapter Three

There's no one standing in my tent this morning, yelling at me to wake up. My eyes snap open far too early regardless, and I find myself covered in sweat. If I thought that the nightmares would end after the first one I was sorely mistaken. They had returned with a vengeance last night. Only this time there were more bodies, and I drowned in their blood.

I come to the realization that I'm not breathing. I open my mouth and inhale sharply, filling my lungs with the much-needed oxygen. I shouldn't be able to taste blood in my mouth. It was a nightmare after all, nothing real. But I do. As I run my tongue along the inside of my cheek I notice that I had bitten it at some point.

"Damn it, get it together…" I hiss at myself and rub my temples. When I move to sit up, my entire body aches. I pull my knees to my chest and stay there for a few moments, holding myself together as if I could fall apart at any second, before deciding that I'm being utterly ridiculous.

Of course I'm not going to fall apart. I'm fine.

I sorely crawl to the opening of my tent and pull the flap back to see what time it is. The sun is barely coming up over the horizon, bathing the sky in my favorite shades of pink and yellow, but I also see the smoke from our central campfire bleeding black into the vibrant colors. Normally everyone in the village is stirring by sunrise, but we don't usually get the fire going so bright and hot this early. In order to conserve wood, we only have a huge fire at dinnertime.

Or during a meeting. A meeting that I apparently wasn't invited to.

I don't know why it makes me upset to find out that no one cares about me enough to let me know what's going on when I purposely make myself unlikable, but I'm filled with a completely unreasonable amount of frustration. I rush out of my tent and head toward the gathered crowd, thinking that this must be about the hunt. After refusing to help my father last night, he must have finally stepped up and made a decision on his own. Or he let Ben do what he wanted.

I hear Ben's loud, assertive voice long before I see him and I squeeze through the crowd to get to the front, shoving aside a small child in the process to take her spot on the edge of a log. Her mother gives me a dirty look, but she takes it back when I shoot her one of my own, and taking her child by the hand she drags her far away from me to the other side of the circle. Good. More room for me. I make it a point to stretch out on the log that is all mine now before tuning into Ben's words.

"…so I propose that we take all of our strongest men with us this time. I know it's a bit of a risk, but they're not really needed here. We're protected well enough and besides, this might be the last chance we have to end this problem once and for all!"

Half of the crowd cheers in support of Ben's idea, but I notice that some look nervous about the whole situation. Most are torn between agreeing with Ben and questioning his sanity, but even if anyone opposes him no one would speak out against him.

Ben is a tall, muscular young man with a sharp gaze that might even be capable of silencing me on occasion. For being the new guy, he certainly has gained everyone's respect. When it comes to hunting especially, no one questions the recently appointed Head Hunter. Everything about him says that he's a leader; from the way he speaks to the way he carries himself. Most people follow him like sheep after a shepherd. I don't blame them.

The contrast between him and my father is painfully obvious. My father is taller than Ben, but the way he is slouching makes him seem much smaller. His indecisive nature makes him seem dull next to Ben and his passion. He offers no input to the conversation, just standing there with his hands in his pockets, staring at the ground.

"There are six other strong men here, Hunters, aside from Adam and I." Ben mentions my father by name and motions to him, "I will take them through the trail that I learned on the last two trips. It's dangerous, but I know it better than anyone else now, and I know what to look out for. With me, you'll be safe." I see his eyes scanning the crowd after this affirmation, almost as if he is daring someone to challenge him. I hear my father clear his throat.

"But Ben…" His voice seems to get lost in the wind. It's low and uncertain, but I can sense a small prickle of defiance it, "Who is going to guard the gates? What if something does happen while you're all away? I can't authorize you to just leave us here completely unprotected."

A few murmurs of agreement break out among the crowd, but I'm focused on Ben, observing his reaction. He's making that face- the one that he made before when he was angry with me, but just like at the tower, he manages to keep his composure.

"It's simple Adam." Ben replies, voice a little bit strained, "You will be here, and I'm sure you're more than capable of keeping things under control as our courageous, wise leader… Besides, I think a few of our boys are ready to step up and take on more responsibility." He directs his gaze to some of the children, three of which are boys between the ages of thirteen and sixteen.

The oldest one is Timmy, a lanky kid with black hair that falls down over his eyes. He nods his head eagerly at Ben and Adam, clearly seeing this as an opportunity to prove his worth and be considered a man. The other two boys huddle behind him and seem unsure of themselves, but their little eyes glitter with the prospect of adventure just the same. I'm not sure how much confidence I have in them myself, but it is about time someone made them useful.

My father is thinking now, and I can see him begin to give in to Ben, although he still doesn't look entirely convinced. Ben can sense that he hasn't completely won just yet, and so he tries another approach.

"I'm sorry Adam but we need the numbers out there." He sighs, "The last two trips consisted of only four people each, and that's not enough. We're not the only hungry predators out there. With the elk disappearing, our chances of getting attacked by other animals are higher. If we're too small of a group, we don't stand a chance."

"Is everyone else in agreement with this?" My father steps away from Ben and looks hopefully out into the crowd, eager to take in new opinions. But none spring forth, and the murmurs of dissent are few. The truth of the matter is ugly, and it's that everyone here is desperate enough to do anything in order to continue surviving. Not going on another hunting trip means sitting here and slowly starving to death. Risking lives to find food is the better option. At least, it's the one that offers some hope.

He waits for a long time before putting a hand on Ben's shoulder and nodding, "It's settled then. Get your men together as well as your supplies and you may leave as soon as you're ready."

Ben looks excited and shoots him a genuine smile, "I'll need about a week to prepare."

The two men go their separate ways, in the direction of their tents, and the crowd dissolves, leaving me alone by the fire. So the deal is done. I swallow the lump in my throat and try not to think about the inevitable fact that I will be writing in the records again, sooner than I ever wanted to. Will Ben and his men bring back food? Or will we be left with even less capable men than before?

I really don't want to but I can't help it- I start thinking about my mother again. Women aren't allowed outside of the camp walls. They are viewed as too precious to be put in any kind of danger. Here in our village their lives are simple- they stay behind and tend to the sick and the old, have children, die of old age. It's a fairly easy life, compared to that of the men, most of which are Hunters. Peace and tranquility, in this world, are hard to come by. So why did my mother leave? Perhaps she had lost hope.

Maybe she just wanted to run away.

But that isn't consistent with the memories that I have of her. She would never leave me behind. If this is about my father I would understand. Although she always did claim to love him, I never understood how someone could love such a weak person. I'd have no trouble accepting that she couldn't stand him anymore. But me? I was very close to her…

A new thought occurs to me, but it almost sounds too crazy to be true.

Maybe she didn't take me with her because she knew I'd try to stop her and keep her here where I knew she would always be safe and free from harm. Maybe she knew that she needed to do something more drastic and just disappear, knowing that I would follow her.

I crouch by the fire and pulls off my gloves, letting the heat of the flames warm them, as I entertain this notion that I know is probably insane. But I already decide that I want to do it.

I'm going to follow her.


This chapter was revised 12/16/2014

Please help me improve my writing by commenting on the following:

1. Is anything confusing?

2. Are any scenes boring or repetitious?

3. Do you spot any general tics (repeated words, etc.)?

4. Do you spot any confusing plot points (let me know when and where I lose you and what needs to be clarified)?

5. Does the opening grab you?

You don't have to answer these questions, by the way, but I would still appreciate a comment. Thanks.

4: Chapter Four
Chapter Four

"Are you out of your mind?" I knew that Ben might be a little iffy on my idea, but I'm not expecting him to react like this. As soon as the words come out of my mouth that I want to go on the hunt he reacts badly, and now his steel gray eyes bore into mine with an intensity that I have never seen before.

We are at the guard tower again. I thought it would be a good opportunity to approach him when we were alone up here in a more relaxed atmosphere, when he'd be less likely to tell me no, but I see now that this is going to be a lot harder than I had initially planned. I stand facing him and have to tilt my head back a bit to look him in the eye because he towers over me. My next words aren't so wise, but I let my rage, as always, get in the way.

"As a matter of fact, Ben, I am!" I snap, clenching my fists. My nails dig into my own skin but I can't feel the pain right now, "Being stuck in here is driving me crazy! If I have to stay here a moment longer, doing nothing, I'm going to snap!"

"I think you already have." Ben hisses before turning away from me. He starts pacing around the tower, running his fingers through his strawberry-blonde hair. The wood creaks beneath his boots, and just for a tiny moment I wish the floorboards could break so that he would fall and I wouldn't have to deal with this. "I'm sorry Lilith but there's no way that she's still alive, and I can't take you with me on a dangerous trip just so that you can satisfy some urge of yours. There are lives at stake here. Real lives. Not imaginary ones."

"Imaginary?" I feel heat on my face, the blood rushing to my head. I'm so enraged by his casual dismissal of my gut feeling that I find myself charging towards him, barreling down on him with my clenched fists. "She's alive, I know it! I can feel it!"

Ben blocks his face from my attacks and most of my hits land on his arm. I may be smaller than him but I know how to deal damage, and I aim to at least leave bruises on the bastard. But then the tables turn and Ben lashes out at me, grabbing me by the wrists and yanking them forcefully over my head, locking his arms so that he's holding me at a distance. I try to twist out of his grasp but he is much stronger than me, and his grip hurts. A dark look enters his eyes, and I get a glimpse of something sinister within.

I've never seen Ben like this before. It makes me stop in my tracks.

"You're out of line!" He snaps, and I'm brought back to reality.

There is an unspoken hierarchy in our village. The leader is my father, Adam. That much is plain to see. But the Head Hunter is seen as a second-in-command. By telling me I'm out of line, Ben is reminding me of my place. I swallow hard and swear I can taste bile in my throat. If I can't show respect for my own leader, I'm pretty sure my pride won't allow me to submit to Ben. But I have to. I don't know what will happen if I don't.

As if he can read my mind, he doesn't leave me wondering when he growls, more lowly this time, "Touch me again, and I'll throw you off this tower."

My arms are going numb because he still holds them above me. I offer up no snide remark and try not to look him in the eye, but he still doesn't release me. Instead, he pushes me against a corner and pins me to it, "Now listen to me. You're not going anywhere, Lilith. Women aren't allowed to leave camp. You aren't trained to handle the situations out there. You weren't made for that kind of thing. So stop causing trouble, stop getting ideas, and I might not be forced to hurt you."

I think I'm going to have bruises on my wrists. I'm shaking because I'm legitimately frightened of Ben now, but I still manage to find some defiance within me to ask one last question, "Is that a threat, Ben?"

Ben leans in closer until his face is inches from mine and locks me in his predatory gaze, smirking, "It's a promise."

I can't take it anymore. Catching him off guard, I bring my knee up to hit him in the groin. He releases me to double over, and with my now free hand I punch him in the jaw hard enough to knock him back so that I can move. Ben is momentarily stunned and I take the chance to grab my bow and arrows and get out of there.

I leap off of the tower and manage to catch one of the trusses along the way. My arms are nearly yanked out of their sockets, but the adrenaline that runs through me tells me to keep going despite the pain. I climb down the rest of the way and land with a thud on the ground below, stopping only once to look over my shoulder, where I see Ben's face peering down at me over the side.

He rubs his jaw and glares down at me but I'm relieved to see that he doesn't follow. Instead, his expression is already shifting again, back to the icy cool one that he usually wears, the malice leaving his eyes. He turns back to his job and stares out at the forest while I catch my breath. When I can breathe again, I sprint towards camp to gather my thoughts, and try to figure out what I'm going to do now.

By the time I reach the campfire my cheeks are flushed red and I collapse onto a log, pressing my face against the cool, rough texture of the wood. My arms lie limply at my sides, and I unconsciously close my hand around a stick on the ground, wanting to snap it in half just to break something. My grandiose plan has hit a wall that I don't know how to climb. If Ben won't let me go, I'll have to find a way to sneak myself in somehow. Because regardless of what he says, I'm going. This might be the only chance I get to find my mother and he's not going to blow that for me.

I push myself up into a sitting position and dig the heels of my fur boots into the ground. I poke the fire before me with the stick that I found, as if provoking it would give me some answers. I don't get any reply except for a small shower of glowing embers that blow away as soon as they are set free. God how I hate Ben… he's right about everything. It would be so much easier to poke holes in his logic if he didn't make so much sense.

I can't just go off on my own without the Hunters, otherwise that would have been my second choice and I would be gone by now. Ben wasn't wrong when he pointed out my lack of training on being on the outside. I can't imagine how it's much different from being in here, but my limited perspective comes from a girl who was raised within these walls and has never left them. Maybe he's exaggerating on how dangerous it is, but do I want to take that chance? I've watched grown, capable men disappear without a trace out there. Is a young woman with no experience any better than them?

I know how to fight. I don't know how to kill unless it involves hunting small game. Can I take on a ferocious wild animal? Or a pack of ferocious wild animals? I shudder when I think about the tales I hear of the beyond. I haven't seen any of the monsters described from the tower on my guarding days, but that doesn't make them any less real. There are creatures out there that, I hear, were not crafted by nature, but by man himself a long time ago. I've read about a few attacks in our history, although the last one happened years ago, before the walls had been built.

The disadvantages of being alone by far outweigh any benefits that could come of doing it. I feel a crushing weight of defeat in my chest, and yet I refuse to give in. There must be some way.

Ahead of me, slightly in the distance, I watch as two of our hunters- Maurice and Chris- load up a sled with supplies such as first aid kits and weapons. Chris tucks a long, curved blade safely into it- a hunting knife. They don't use those to kill elk, normally. They can't get close enough to an animal that big to take it down with a knife; that's what spears are for. I know that the knife is for other things. Things that would be on the hunt as well.

My hand twitches for a knife like that. I want to sink it into Ben, let him know just what exactly I think of him threatening me, but I take a breath and steady myself before I let my vengeful emotions carry me away. Murdering someone is definitely going to set me back quite a bit. I can't afford to do that right now.

I feel an unpleasant hot breath on the back of my neck and tense up. Whipping my head around, I come face to face with a long, pink tongue that reaches out to me and introduces itself to my nose, leaving it wet and slimy when it pulls away.

"Hey Fatso!"

The dog barks and I shove it out of my way, rushing to my feet and looking around to see who had dared call me a name. Timmy stands back a few feet, staring at me with wide, scared brown eyes, already backing away because he's realized the mistake he's made.

"What did you call me?"

"Not you… oh god no…" Timmy stutters and puts his hands up in surrender, "I was talking to the dog! That's his name."

"You named it?" A cold nose nudges my hand. I make a face of disgust, my nostrils flaring, and pull away to wipe my soiled fingers on my pants. I look down at the wolf-dog that wags its tail at me, and take a step to the side. "Timmy, these aren't our companions. We use them for work." I remind him.

The sixteen year old boy shrugs and takes a step towards the so-called Fatso while at the same time trying to avoid me. He moves carefully, as if afraid that I'm going to hit him. The stupid animal certainly is fat. I wonder what it's been eating, because our dogs mostly run wild, and they survive off of scraps that we feed them or what they can kill themselves.

"Yeah I know… but what's the harm in calling him Fatso?" He asks me innocently, tilting his head and hugging the dog's neck. Fatso turns and sticks his tongue in Timmy's ear. I fight the urge to vomit.

"You're letting him sleep in your tent, aren't you?" I pinch the bridge of my nose and scold him, "I'll tell you the harm of naming it. When you name things you get attached to them. Then they die and before you know it you're crying over a dumb animal when you could be doing something useful. Besides, you think you're helping him by overfeeding him like that? He's going on the hunt in less than a week and he needs to be fit or else he won't be able to survive. You're making him soft."

"Jeez Lilith… lighten up." Timmy stands up straight again and starts to turn away from me, mumbling, "I don't know what's wrong with you but did you ever notice that like, you don't have a happy mode? At all?"

I don't know how to reply to that, but the comment stings me for some reason. The way he looks at me makes me feel as if I've gone insane or something. I'm not crazy. I'm normal. I'm totally fine… I take a step towards him and accidentally kick a rock that sits by my foot. I pick it up and toss it at the boy's head, screaming, "Get lost!"

The rock misses its mark, but Timmy doesn't need to be told twice. He turns on his heels and runs. Fatso stops and looks at me with his big stupid eyes, tilts his head, woofs, and then bounds after him.

"That was a bit harsh Lilith." Maurice appears at my side. He must have finished packing the sled, because I see Chris dragging it away to go put it with the others. "He's just a boy…"

I squint up at the giant that stands beside me, meeting his black eyes. Maurice is easily the biggest man here in camp. He is somewhere in his thirties, with dark brown skin that is easy to find in this pale wasteland. The only thing I know about him is that he and his wife have a newborn baby. Their tent is right next to mine, although I don't consider myself to be close to them. I'm surprised he's decided to come talk to me.

"I'll throw a rock at you too." I glare at him, but it's such a silly threat considering the person I'm talking to. Maurice is strong enough to break me in half like a twig if he really wants to, although I know he won't, because he has the reputation of being one of the most peaceful people in our group.

Maurice's eyebrows blend in with his skin so well that I don't even see them when he furrows them together, thinking. He puts a finger on his chin as if he's contemplating something. "I think…" His long arm extends and he rests a hand on my shoulder, "You need some work to do. We need to go hunting for some food before the trip. You should come with us. That is, if you actually know how to use that weapon." He points to the bow and arrows that lie in the snow.

I know that the playful challenge is meant to motivate me. Normally, I don't respond to peoples' attempts at trying to lighten my mood, but there's something about Maurice that makes it hard to dislike him. His deep voice is soothing and yet powerful at the same time. I jerk my shoulder away and his hand falls, then I cross my arms over my chest and shrug, "You sure you want to be in the woods with me holding a deadly weapon?" My voice is much calmer now. I find myself actually fighting a smile.

Maurice's lips twitch like he's holding back a little bit of laughter, "As frightening as you are, I know you're not stupid enough to kill a Hunter during times like these. I'm safe."

I can't fight it anymore and actually crack a smile before turning to get my things.


This chapter was revised 12/16/2014

Please help me improve my writing by commenting on the following:

1. Is anything confusing?

2. Are any scenes boring or repetitious?

3. Do you spot any general tics (repeated words, etc.)?

4. Do you spot any confusing plot points (let me know when and where I lose you and what needs to be clarified)?

5. Does the opening grab you?

You don't have to answer these questions, by the way, but I would still appreciate a comment. Thanks.

5: Chapter Five
Chapter Five

If I had known that Ben was going to accompany us, I wouldn't have agreed to come. Maurice, Chris and I march in silence through the pine forest while Ben leads the way, taking us miles out into the woods where the Hunters usually look for small prey when they're not after elk. Since we're still inside of the walls that surround us we don't need to worry about being attacked by anything, but I notice that the experienced Hunters who have seen what's out there, Ben and Maurice particularly, don't drop their guard for even a second.

Maurice took me out here to help me clear my head. What he doesn't know is that Ben is part of my problem. I stare at the back of the Head Hunter's head and can't fight the sense of anxiety that I feel when I think about my last encounter with him. I don't think he's forgotten either, judging by his silence, and his stiff gait that indicates how uncomfortable he is. If the other Hunters pick up on our strange behavior around each other, they don't seem to notice. That is, until Maurice gives me a funny glance when he catches me rubbing my wrists absent-mindedly.

They still hurt from Ben's bruising grip, and being in his presence makes me relive the pain. I can't help myself, but not wanting to be asked any questions, I force myself to stop and flash Maurice a smile of reassurance. I think I succeed only in making it worse, because he doesn't smile in return and his eyes are laden with suspicion. I should know better than to try and deceive a Hunter who has been trained to notice details. He knows that I never smile. It's not normal for me.

I feel like we're going to just walk forever until Ben stops abruptly and turns on his heel to face us. I can't stop fast enough and nearly crash into him, but Maurice reaches out to steady me, and thank goodness he does. Ben's nostrils flare, his expression still just as dark as when I last saw him. I try to be nonchalant, but inside I'm trembling. It's not fair for him to be so angry with me when all I have are good intentions. But then again, I was plotting his death earlier. Not that he would know that.

"Why are we taking four people to hunt rabbits and birds?" His irritated voice breaks the silence when he addresses Maurice. It's the first thing he's said since he met up with us, and I know what he's dying to ask; he wants to know why I'm here. I'm not a Hunter.

Maurice puts his hands up in surrender and keeps calm. He's larger than Ben, and probably stronger, but the gentle giant makes no move against the man in charge of him, "I thought it would be a good idea for us to split into two groups. That way, we can each get one half of the forest and get more covered in less time."

I try not to feel so self-conscious when Ben's blue-gray eyes turn to me now. The words are on the tip of his tongue, I know it. I know he wants to kick me out of the group and turn me away, but something stops him. Perhaps he agrees with Maurice. Time is running out after all, and he'd be foolish to turn down whatever help he can get.

"She's going to help us?" Ben hardly holds back a sneer, "I've never heard of a Huntress before."

"She needed some fresh air." Maurice stops me before I can say something stupid, and the insult I'm about to spit at Ben dies in my throat. I still stand stiffly, my hands tight around my bow, and focus on not losing my temper. It's not working very well.

"Fine." Ben walks past me as if I'm suddenly insignificant and waves to Chris, who, up until now has been silent. "Chris, you come with me then."

The ginger-haired man shakes his head and looks at us sheepishly, disagreeing. "Actually, Maurice was going to show me how to set a rabbit snare."

I can't believe that the oldest hunter out of the four of us- someone in his forties who has been raised in this village- doesn't know how to set a simple rabbit snare. Maurice seems confused but says nothing, and I get the sense that I'm not the only one trying to avoid Ben's wrath right now. Not known for being the brightest crayon in the box, I suspect Chris has done something to get on the Head Hunter's bad side as well. Unfortunately for him that now he's on my bad side.

Ben's eye twitches ever so slightly when he considers this, and he looks at me again, then back to Maurice. "Fine…" His voice sounds strained. He tries desperately to keep it together. "I guess that means I have to go with Lilith."

I'm not thinking when my fingers reach for Maurice's arm and dig into his fur coat, clinging onto him as if my life depends on it. Right now, I'm actually convinced that it does. He tries to act casual but I can tell that he's gently trying to pull away from me, probably scared by the intensity of my reaction to this news.

"Are you sure you want to go with Maurice?" I ask Chris, fighting the panic in my voice, "Because I hear Ben's just the nicest guy… you'd be missing out on a lovely hunt."

If they weren't all looking at me strangely before, they truly are now. Chris's fuzzy eyebrows come together when he frowns at me, his eyes almost disappearing underneath them. Maurice stiffens beneath my fingertips. Ben is still wearing a sour expression, but I swear I see a hint of amusement. He probably thinks it's funny that I'm so clearly afraid of him.

"Um… no thanks. You can have him." Chris responds quickly, twirling a finger around his curly beard. It's clear that there's no convincing him of going with anyone else other than the safe, sane Maurice who is the only one here that's not liable to stab someone.

"But-but-but…" I stutter, and while I'm thinking of something else to say that might help me, Maurice finally escapes my death hold.

"It will be fine Lilith. Ben will protect you from any danger." He chuckles and waves to Chris. It's apparent that he wants to leave as soon as possible now to escape this situation that might seem embarrassing to him. It occurs to me that he probably thinks that, as a "defenseless" girl, I'm afraid of the woods. What he doesn't know is that he probably just sealed my fate. Ben can protect me from outside dangers, but who's going to protect me from Ben?

"But wait! You don't understand, he's going to-"

But Chris and Maurice have already disappeared, and I can't chase after them now. An awkward silence takes over now that Ben and I are left alone. I flip my thick, black hair to one side of my face to hide it, using it as a shield and blocking my view of him from my peripheral vision. I dare not look at him. Another human being has never made me so nervous before. I'm usually on the flip side of the situation.

"I'm going to do… what, exactly?" There's more amusement than malice in Ben's voice now, but I'm not foolish enough to think he's forgiven me so quickly.

He's going to kill me. That's what I was going to say. But now that he asks I'm not going to say it out loud. No need to give him ideas.

"Um… you're going to teach me how to use this?" It comes out like a question as I hold up my bow and arrows. That has to be the stupidest lie I've ever told, but I guess Ben buys it, because he's never seen me use my weapon before in person, so it isn't hard for him to assume I'm clueless.

"Right…" He trails off and adjusts his bow, redistributing its weight on his shoulder, "Listen, I don't have time for your neuroticism right now. We're wasting time. Let's go."

My neuroticism? I bite back a comment as I follow close behind him, my hands tight on my weapon. The farther away we get from Maurice and Chris the more my nervousness grows. Our Hunters travel this forest so frequently that it doesn't make sense for Ben to kill me and leave me here because someone would find me for sure. Still, I can't fight the feeling that something very bad could happen out here.

I observe Ben from the back, noticing how unusually messy his short hair is, as if he hasn't had time to look in a mirror lately. He's about twenty-five years old, but the dark circles under his eyes age him. I feel a minor pang of sympathy for the man in charge of putting together the hunt. It's a lot of weight to carry on one's shoulders. I still wish he could be nicer, which is ironic coming from someone like me.

"How did you end up coming with us?" He calls over his shoulder and tries to act casual, but I know it still upsets him that I'm here.

"I threw a rock at Timmy and Maurice said I needed therapy." I shrug.

"Why doesn't that surprise me?" He sighs and slides an arrow onto his bow, raising it to eye level and pointing it at the trees. I see a gleam of sunlight as it catches the tip of the arrow and suppress a shudder. I imagine that arrow going into me.

He wouldn't shoot me… he couldn't…

"You make it a habit of attacking people that you disagree with." He observes. It's a statement, not a question.

I frown, "Only when it's for something that counts."

"Don't be such a drama queen." He growls, "I'm sure half the people you hurt don't deserve it. You need to learn to control that temper of yours."

His eyes scan the treetops, searching for something to shoot, while I linger behind and finger the knife in my pocket. Maurice had given it to me for this particular hunt. It's useful for tying up any loose ends when you shoot an animal, just in case.

My gloved fingers feel the wickedly sharp blade. I love the coolness of the metal. To me it represents justice- cold, and swift. As I stand there in the shadows cast by the trees, the idea of sinking a blade into Ben pops into mind again. No one has ever treated me like he has. I should teach him a lesson. I could deliver justice right now…

No. Now is not the time. Instead, I occupy myself with searching for a reply to his stinging comment.

"Oh that's funny coming from the guy who threatened to throw me off of a tower because I said I want to find my mother!" I snap. The knife slides out of my pocket without my consent. So much for holding back.

"You know why I did that!" A bird that Ben had his eye on is startled by his voice and takes off in a panic. Ben's hands shake, and I swear he'll snap his bow in half if he holds that thing any tighter, "You attacked me first!"

"Because you told me I was crazy!" The knife begs for blood. The angrier I get the more it speaks to me, shouting at me to spill it. Shouting at me for vengeance. I don't want to fear Ben. He will learn to fear me.

Stop Lilith. No. The other voice speaks to me, desperately trying to override the first. But I don't want to listen to it. It's not my fault I'm angry. It's Ben's. He should have never gotten in my way.

My blade cuts through the air, faster than lightning, and I hear a sickening thud.

The knife sinks into the bark of the tree beside me. I carve into it furiously, imagining that it's flesh. The satisfying feeling of having it damage something, anything, helps me regain what's left of my sanity if only for the moment. Meanwhile, Ben is speaking.

"Because you are." He still hasn't turned to face me, but I'm not paying attention to him either, my eyes glued to the tree. Glued to the knife that I attacked it with. "Everyone's sick of your little rebel act, Lilith. You're nothing but a drag to these people and if you don't start cooperating then you might as well not be here at all!"

My lips part but no words come out. My hands start to shake and the energy in me drains. Pulling the knife free, I slowly fall to my knees, tears stinging my eyes. I refuse to let them spill, but they are there, burning me. Taunting me.

"Maybe you're right…" I whisper, and slide off one of my gloves. The freezing air bites at my skin but I ignore it as I press the blade lightly to my palm. "Maybe I shouldn't be here…"

I have the sudden urge to see my own blood and I can't explain it. Ben's words have such a profound effect on me that I realize he just said out loud what I've been thinking all along. I am a drag. I'm useless. I'm lost.

I start to press into my palm without really thinking about it, but something buzzes by my head, stirring my hair, and I scream, startled. I fall backwards and the arrow just barely misses me.

"What the hell Ben!"

Ben points to the fallen bird behind me and shrugs, "Just hunting."

I scramble to my feet and try to still the erratic beating of my heart, a rush of adrenaline making me dizzy,

"You did that on purpose!"

But Ben doesn't say anything, and when he walks away to continue our hunt, I follow him in silence.


It isn't long before we reach the clearing that I had visited not long ago on the night that my mother's official death was announced. All of the mixed emotions I felt that day resurface, hitting me like a brick wall as soon as I step foot out of the tree-line. Don't break down here. You can't break down here. I'm so absorbed with my inner turmoil that I scream with surprise when I hear the voice in my ear.

"So the first thing you have to do is stand with your feet shoulder length apart."

I whip around to find that Ben snuck behind me. His expression doesn't change when he takes in my unreasonable reaction. He is eerily calm. Almost bored. It's the first time he's spoken to me in at least a half hour.

"W-what are you talking about?" I hate the stutter in my voice as I puzzle over his strange piece of advice.

"You wanted me to teach you how to use a bow and arrow. I thought this clearing was a good place. Lots of open room." He shrugs and looks a little bit impatient, as if I am somehow forcing him to do this.

I laugh a little bit and toss my hair back, regaining my confidence when I understand what he means now. He doesn't realize that I already know how to use this weapon better than most people in the village. Mother taught me. I can tell by Ben's face that he doesn't really think I'm worth teaching. I want to show him just how wrong he is.

"So you mean like this?" I lift my chin and load an arrow into my bow in seconds, my eyes focusing on a target. I know what I want to shoot. And I'm not going to miss.

Ben barely has time to duck as the arrow soars over his head and pins a squirrel to the tree behind him. The animal lets out a short-lived shriek of terror before going stiff. I give Ben a smug smile, but he looks flustered and taken aback, his steel colored eyes wide and regarding me with something I'd never seen before- begrudging respect.

"Um… right. Like that… Keep up the good work…"

I smirk with satisfaction while he goes to collect the squirrel. We don't speak much more after this, and at nightfall we return to camp.


I sit by the campfire later that night with one leg tucked under me, sitting on a log and sipping some pine needle tea. I look up at the numerous stars in the sky and feel, for the first time in a long time, some actual tranquility. Maurice had been right when he said hunting would help me feel better. Of course, hunting with Ben had only made things worse at first, but after he discovered that I know how to use a bow and arrow better than even he does, he didn't seem to be so angry with me anymore.

Or maybe he just realized that I could kill him if he pissed me off and was smart enough to not step on my toes.

We had collected a decent amount of prey and I could see Chris in the distance preparing it, cutting it into strips to dry it out. I feel proud of myself that I did something to help the Hunters. Not only is this the first time I can feel a small sense of peace, but also a healthy kind of pride.

I feel the log beneath me shift and turn to see that someone sits beside me. It's Ben. But this time I don't react or feel uncomfortable as usual. All I do is turn to look at him, meeting his gaze curiously.

"How did you learn to use a bow and arrow like that?" He asks me. His light colored eyes reflect the glow of the flames, making them appear red and orange. I don't know why this thought pops into my head, but I notice that I like how his eyes can do that

"I wasn't raised in the conventional way." I shrug, sipping some more of my tea without breaking eye contact. I'm trying to study his face, to see if I can find any traces of the monster within that I had seen before, but it's all gone now, for whatever reason. I actually feel… safe. "While the other girls were braiding hair and singing songs my mother taught me how to do a lot of things."

"Your mother huh?" For some reason he seems to find this amusing, "She was a crazy woman. I didn't know her for long, but I can see where you get your insanity from." Unlike before, he's clearly joking. The tone of his voice is not implying anymore that I've actually gone mad.

"She is pretty special." I refuse to speak of my mother in the past tense. It takes me a second to realize that this is actually the first time I've actually talked about her since her disappearance.

Ben clears his throat and nods. He laces his fingers together and stares at his hands, "Listen… I'm sorry I got so mad at you before. I thought you were just being stupid. I mean, you are stupid. But I should have known that they made you a Guard for a reason, and now… you're a Hunter too. Or should I say, Huntress."

I can't believe what I'm hearing. I'm actually tempted to pinch myself to see if this is a dream, but I don't have to, because I sip my tea too fast and it burns my tongue. Ouch… yes I'm awake. I choke on it and cough into my arm.

"You're making me a Hunter?!"


"Right… I can't believe I'm going to be a Huntress!"

"Shhh… keep your voice down, the other guys won't like it…" Ben cautions me, his eyes searching the camp to see if anyone had heard us, "Yeah, you're coming with us. I don't know how we're going to sneak you out of here without the other guys rioting, but you'll do more good out there than in here. You've proved to me that you are capable of a lot, Lilith. You've earned it."

I'm still in shock. My brain can't even process this. So Ben not only makes me a Huntress, but he's complimenting me?

I stare at him, dumbfounded, for a few seconds. I'm not sure what to do. I'm pretty sure there's an appropriate response to this but I've forgotten how to express joy. And then I remember- there is something I can do.

I throw my arms around him and pull him in for a tight hug. The gesture is surprising, even to myself, as are my next words.

"Oh Ben! Thank you! Thank you so much!"

For a moment, he doesn't really seem to know how to respond either, but then I feel his arms around me too, hugging me back gently. "Um… yeah. Sure. No problem."

I'm a Huntress!

And now I'll finally get to go out past the wall. I'm coming mother.


This chapter was revised 12/16/2014

Please help me improve my writing by commenting on the following:

1. Is anything confusing?

2. Are any scenes boring or repetitious?

3. Do you spot any general tics (repeated words, etc.)?

4. Do you spot any confusing plot points (let me know when and where I lose you and what needs to be clarified)?

5. Does the opening grab you?

You don't have to answer these questions, by the way, but I would still appreciate a comment. Thanks.

6: Chapter Six
Chapter Six

Part Two


"Into the nothing, faded and weary.

I won't leave and let you fall behind.

Live for the dying. Heaven hear me.

I know we can make it out alive"

– Into The Nothing, Breaking Benjamin



After much careful preparation, the dreaded day has arrived for the Hunters to depart. For an entire week the tension in camp has been building. Every day that passed was a day closer to the time where every wife and child would once again have to know the pain of loss, even if it was only temporary. For some, it would be permanent.

All seven Hunters are lined up at the gates, each one with his own sled and team of dogs. They wait for the signal to leave and begin the hunt, but first, they must say goodbye to their families. It may be their last opportunity to ever see them again, after all.

"Stay quiet and sit still." Ben whispers to me when no one is looking. I nod to let him know I understand, even though he can't see me.

I'm kneeling inside of Ben's sled. It's made of hand-carved wood and still smells like the trees that it came from. The scent of pine is concentrated because I'm in an enclosed space, cloaked by a fur blanket. All of the supplies that the sled carries, including me, are kept in place by ropes tied tightly over the blanket that covers them. It's dark, stuffy, and uncomfortable, but at least a sliver of light comes in from the top where Ben cut a hole for me to peek through.

This was his best idea for hiding me and sneaking me out of the wall. I wasn't exactly thrilled about it at first, but Ben was right about keeping my little promotion to Huntress a secret. He wasn't joking when he said that the Hunters would riot. The roles of men and women in our society are very strict, and it's bad enough already that I'm allowed to be a Guard. There are certain lines that weren't meant to be crossed. And I'm about to cross them all.

I can see through my little peephole that the crowd is trickling in reluctantly. They are stalling, perhaps wanting to make this moment last a little bit longer before they have to say goodbye. I know that it may be selfish, but I wish they would hurry up so that we can go already. I'm growing impatient.

Out of our seven Hunters, four are married. Five have children. This means that the semi-circle of people pressing in on us is quite large. I try to move as little as possible while I strain to catch a glimpse of some of them.

Maurice's sled is directly next to Ben's. I watch him hold his newborn baby, Jake, in one of his sturdy arms, while the other is wrapped around Laura, his wife. The two whisper softly to each other, too low for me to hear, and share a gentle kiss.

On the other side of us, Chris is kneeling in the snow, hugging his ten-year-old son Ian, who cries bitterly and pleads for him to stay home. Chris's face is blank, and paler than usual. He forces himself to ignore his son's desperate demands and simply tells Ian that it's all going to be ok.

The last hunter that I can see clearly from where I am is Neal, Timmy's dad. His older son Dustin, also a hunter, ruffles his little brother's hair. Neal's wife holds a toddler by the hand. The little girl pulls against her mother's grip to kiss her father on the cheek when he kneels beside her.

I'm not sure what I'm feeling when I notice that I don't like watching any of them. It makes me feel sick to my stomach, and I'm forced to turn away. It takes me a moment to realize that it's jealousy. Maurice, Chris, Neal, Dustin… all of them have something in common. They have solid relationships with their loved ones. They have bonds that cannot be broken.

I have no such bonds. Perhaps at one time I did, with my mother, but since she's been torn away from me I have no way to fill the empty space in my heart. At the thought of my father I can't summon up any emotions, even if I try. It doesn't matter if I care about him or not either, because I won't get the chance to say goodbye to him.

These Hunters are risking their lives in order to feed their families, to keep them alive. I'm risking my life to go out in search of the one person that completed it.

But I forget that I'm not the only one without a family to live for.

I peek up at Ben and observe that he seems to be uncomfortable, standing by himself at his sled with no one to talk to. He is the only one that doesn't have someone clinging to him, someone telling him that they love him and want him to be safe. It never dawned on me until now how much I relate to him.

Why does Ben want to go on the hunt? What are his motives? I find myself wishing I could pick his brain. I doubt he'd ever answer those questions if I asked.

"Open the gates." I hear my father say when he's decided that enough time has gone by. For once, I wish I could see his face one last time, but that's impossible in my position.

I hear the pulley system used to operate the gates come to life, the massive doors creaking, unused to being opened. I feel the energy of Ben's dog team as they eagerly pull against their restraints and jump vertically into the air, ready to run.

I'm not sure who's excitement is greater- theirs, or mine. What dangers wait for me beyond the camp walls? I want to face them all. I'm ready.

Ben and the other hunters give the command for the dogs to go, and we take off at an incredible speed, the dogs barely containing themselves. I shudder when we pass the wall, as if I've just gone through a portal into another world. I get one last look at the hopeful yet sorrowful faces of the ones we left behind before they disappear in the distance.

Five men died in the last two hunting trips, leaving three women widowed. How many more widows will we have when we return?

None. I think to myself, trying to be positive. We'll be successful. We can pull this off.

The sweet taste of rebellion, adrenaline, and danger overcomes me when the idea of what I just did sinks in. I can't believe that I'm actually here. I can't believe that I've left the only place I've ever known. I'm in a whole new universe. I'm out of my element from here on out.

The sled violently rattles beneath me, the ride much rougher than I had anticipated. I feel every bump, every rock. Although I've never guided a team of sled dogs before, I know that it isn't an easy job to do. Being the actual cargo, as it turns out, is no small feat either.

I need to steady myself, and I grab onto the first thing I see. It's Ben's backpack. The fabric is old, torn, and full of holes. But it serves its purpose. In our village we don't really have many things that come from our ancestors, but Ben brought this with him when we met him. It's strange to touch something that isn't leather, fur or wood. This material is scratchier, and has a rough texture. The weight of it keeps me rooted in place.

All I brought with me was a knife and my bow and arrows. I feel my arrows now, rattling in the quiver that I keep strapped to me. One of them slides out and hits me on the head before clattering to the bottom of the sled.

We hit another bump, a big one this time. My chin hits something and I end up biting my tongue. The painful ride has only just begun, and already I'm injuring myself. I hold on tighter to the backpack, and think about something else.

My mind wanders to another time when I once felt the same mix of excitement and uncertainty as I do now. The bittersweet memory is as fresh in my mind as if it had happened yesterday, even though it was years ago. It was another day that had changed my life, just like this one.

I close my eyes and envision it, reliving the events…

"I don't like this…" Thomas, one of the elder members of the village, frowned at my father. We were all gathered around the campfire, and Thomas stood closest to us while the rest of the crowd hung back, "She's a woman! I've lived a long time Adam, and never have I seen a Guard that was a woman!"

My parents stood on either side of me. They both looked at the sixty-year-old man that stood before them, each with a different expression. Father seemed slightly worried, his gray eyes flickering between Thomas and my mother. Mother's blue gaze was sharp, and seemed to look right through Thomas.

I was looking down at the snow, unsure of what to say or do. My arms were limp at my sides, and I let my hair cover my face. I had never been the center of attention for a meeting before. It made me uneasy.

"And who exactly invented that rule, Thomas?" Mother snapped, "I know that several generations ago we adopted a certain lifestyle in order to survive. But things change. We need all of the help we can get. Lilith is a woman but that doesn't mean she's any less capable of guarding the gates. Besides, she's handy with a bow and arrow. I've seen it."

This was unsettling news to the watching crowd. Everyone looked at me in disbelief, as if I'd grown two heads or something. In a sense, they probably would have been happier with me actually doing that than hearing this disturbing revelation.

I began to feel a little more nervous, but I wasn't afraid. I held my head up high instead. I faced them all as courageously as I could, attempting to copy my mother's icy glare. A nearby woman named Ana clutched her small child to her and turned her away, as if looking at me could turn her to stone.

"She knows how to use weapons?" Thomas's jaw fell open. It made his wrinkly turkey-neck waddle, "Are you insane? Who would teach her such a thing?!"

Mother didn't hesitate for a second, "I would."

The confession left the crowd in a small state of panic. Murmuring broke out amongst the circle. Their shifty eyes didn't know if they should rest on me or my mother. Both of us had just put ourselves in a dangerous position as women.

"Kaya!" Thomas scolded, his voice taking on a pleading tone. He had watched my mother grow up before me. She was like a daughter to him, and his tone was fatherly, "As the keeper of records, you should know that things have always been a certain way. We want to keep Lilith safe. She's a valuable asset to us. Just like you. That's what we men are here for. We're here to protect you. If the women are to be there with us when the danger happens, we'd have nothing left at home to fight for!"

"You're wrong Thomas." Mother argues, "There was once a time where women were free to do as they wished. A time before us. While I respect your wishes to protect us, I think it's wiser to teach us to protect ourselves. Besides, Lilith won't be in any actual danger. Guarding the gates doesn't require her to go past the wall."

"Who cares what things were like before?" Thomas's face took on the look of a shriveled tomato as he began to seriously lose his temper, "Look at where we are! Clearly the old way of doing things didn't work out so well!" He turned to the rest of the crowd, shaking his liver-spotted fist, "Do you see this? This is what happens when you teach a woman how to read! Suddenly she wants everything!"

It was common knowledge that before I was born, my father had taught my mother how to read and write even though it isn't the norm. It was because of her that there even was a keeper of records, because she saw the importance of learning the past and not repeating mistakes. She had fought long and hard for the knowledge that she received, and now Thomas had directly insulted everything that she stood for.

Mother pursed her lips. She looked as if she was going to attack Thomas, but she had enough self-restraint to not harm the man she once viewed as a father figure, "The old world didn't crumble because of women. It fell because of greed and ignorance!" She growled, "But I'm wasting my time with this argument. This meeting is over. Lilith will be a Guard, and she will start tomorrow. That's final."

Father cleared his throat, "Sorry Thomas."

I felt embarrassed but elated at the same time. For so long I had secretly hoped to become a Guard, never believing that it would be possible. And now here I was, finally living my dream. But I knew that not everyone would back me up. As I looked out into the crowd, most of them wouldn't look me in the eye. Some of them looked offended.

"Of course you're not going to stop them, are you?" Thomas mumbled as he turned away, "They're your family…"

Either my parents didn't hear him or they pretended not to, because I didn't hear a response. They stood there like statues, grave-faced. I wanted to do something to help, to make people feel better, so I just said the first thing that came to my mind, "I'll keep you all safe. I promise."

A few people nodded in my direction, but it was clear to see they had little faith. The only thing keeping them from speaking out like Thomas was their respect for Kaya Bane. As the three of us made our way back to our tents to break up the meeting, everyone parted and gave us more than enough room to pass. I felt like I was being quarantined.

In that moment I knew that no matter what I did, from that day onward, I would always have something to prove. And I also knew that I was willing to accept that challenge…

The memory ends when I get flung sharply to the side of the sled. I bump my head on its floor and hear a crack as the wood splinters. My brain is rattling in my head. Ben's heavy backpack rolls in my direction and slams into my gut, pinning me down.

Outside, I hear the team of dogs whining. They sound panicked, but no voice calls out to them to give them commands. They make a sharp turn and I get thrown to the other side of the sled now, but I don't have enough time to recover before I'm slammed into something else. I get tossed again and again until I don't even know which way is up anymore. We seem to be moving in an uncontrolled zigzag. I begin to panic.

Where is Ben?!

I don't think he's on the sled anymore. Everything feels lighter now without his added weight. The dogs are running so fast that I feel myself lifting off the ground a few times, and I get whipped around in a serpentine pattern. Before I can make sense of it, I hear a sound in the distance that sends an icy shiver down my spine.

It's a menacing roar, like something I've never heard before. It shakes the ground and rattles my bones. I hear the panicked voices that belong to the other Hunters shouting, "A spear! Someone get a spear!"

I hear another roar and the sound of more splintering wood somewhere near me. A dog yips in the distance, but the sound gets cut off after an audible crunching sound.

The Hunters are being attacked.

And I'm on a runaway sled.

I need to get out of here. Reaching into my pocket, I slide out my hunting knife and blindly slash at the fur blanket that is covering me. It rips open, no longer able to hold me inside the sled. I find myself airborne before smashing into a tree. The impact winds me. I hold onto my ribs painfully while I try to make sense of the scene before me, fighting the dizziness that makes my head swim.

I got separated from the others, but I can see them not too far off in the distance. Clearing the spots in my vision, I slowly rise to my feet and stagger forward as I attempt to decipher what I see.

In my life, I don't think I've ever been frozen with absolute fear before. This is the first time that it happens to me, right here, when I see the massive white animal that looms over the hunters. Its wicked claws slash through the air, taking aim at a sled. The entire thing is smashed in one blow, shattering to pieces against a boulder.

I've only ever seen this thing before in our history records. I remember the detailed sketch on the page that I once had to study when I was learning how to read. Its name is Experiment 372. We call it the Ice Beast.

The gigantic, furry animal is exactly how I had imagined it to be. The body is heavyset, reaching its widest point at the back, with a stubby bobtail. The paws are wide with sharp claws used to impale, and the ears are small and round. On its face is something similar to a dog muzzle only thicker, and the hind legs are slightly longer than the front legs. The eyes are red. They're always red. Like the color of blood.

From a distance, it might seem like something harmless, if you can't see the claws and the soulless eyes. But the Ice Beast is known as the most aggressive monster of them all, notorious for attacking humans without warning or provocation. We either stumbled across its den or it stalked us here.

I don't know what to do.

I see the shine of Dustin's knife in his hand from a distance, although he makes no move to attack the Ice Beast at such close range. The sled that had been holding all of the spears lays upside down, buried in the snow, with everything scattered all around it. I can see him making his way slowly towards it, never taking his eyes off of the beast. Maurice makes it there first and grabs one with shaking hands.

He charges at the creature, and the Ice Beast begins to back up before rising onto its hind legs, towering over the hunter. It swings at the spear with so much force that it gets driven into the ground, cracking in half. Maurice can't stop his momentum and he tumbles to his knees, falling right in front of the bloodthirsty creature.

But before the Ice Beast can bear down on him, an arrow pierces its shoulder. It roars with rage and turns to Chris, who had shot it with his poor archery skills to get its attention. The beast charges at Chris now on all fours at an alarming speed, sparing Maurice, but the other Hunters now have spears. They rush to their comrade's aid, forming a perimeter of sharp weapons around the animal.

I still can't find Ben. Where is Ben?!

My eyes scan the wreckage until I see a familiar form lying limp against a sled. Ben is unconscious. Or dead.

My body finally breaks free of its frozen spell and I rush to his side, turning him over and putting my ear to his chest to listen for a heartbeat. I hear a weak thump-thump, thump-thump, and know he's alive. He must have hit his head when he fell, but at least he's fine. For now.

All of the dogs are either cowering or snapping at each other in their fear, tangled up in their harnesses and unable to do anything other than work themselves into a frenzy. A few of them lay lifeless, victims of the Ice Beast.

The hunters attempt to push the Ice Beast to the edge of a shallow cliff, forcing it back with the sharp points of their spears, but the animal is too intelligent to let itself plummet to its death. With a surprise charge, it breaks through the line of hunters, trampling those who can't roll out of the way fast enough, and makes a beeline for the next closest living thing it can find.


I can't just run or it will take Ben instead. My trembling hands reach for my bow and I load an arrow onto it, trying to hold it as steady as possible, but I feel like gelatin.

According to the records, it's nearly impossible to kill an Ice Beast. They move too fast, and their bloodlust is so strong that they tend to overpower you before you even know they're there. But this is the only thing I know how to do, and if I can't save myself, then at least I'm taking it down with me…

I try to focus on the charging animal. Time seems to slow down when I control my breathing, but my heart still wants to rip out of my chest. I don't even think when I release the arrow, going on instinct, and hit the Ice Beast in the eye.

It doesn't stop charging. I don't expect it to. But it does hesitate for a moment to scream in pain. Lowering its head, its one good eye meets mine with a hatred that I didn't think was possible in an animal, and it barrels towards me again.

I don't have time to load another arrow.

I feel the beast's hot breath in my face. It opens its jaws, revealing a frightening set of bloody teeth, but my life doesn't even flash before my eyes before the animal collapses to the ground. A puddle of dark blood forms beneath it and its one eye goes dull, the spark of life leaving its body to turn cold and hard.

Standing over the beast, I see Maurice holding a spear that he had jammed into the monster's back, snapping its spine. I feel light-headed and take a step backward, realizing how close I had just come to my demise in only the first hour of me leaving home.

My legs can't hold me up anymore and I fall to my knees, shaking, while the chaos around me slowly dissolves. Everyone is running to the sleds, to the dogs, to Ben, assessing the situation. Everyone except for Maurice, who just stands there, his dark eyes focused on me.

I don't know why but I start laughing hysterically and look up at him, cracking a smile, "Whoa… so this is what Hunters do, huh?"

Maurice just frowns at me, nostrils flaring, before he yanks his bloody spear from the Ice Beast's cold body. The sucking sound makes my stomach flip sickeningly.

I don't know why he's behaving so strangely until I remember who I am and how I got here.

"What the hell are you doing here?" He says harshly. It's the most unpleasant tone I've ever heard come from Maurice.

The other Hunters begin to murmur, shooting glances at me, while I just sit there, not sure how to reply.

"I-I… um." I stutter, "Surprise?"


This chapter was revised 12/16/2014

Please help me improve my writing by commenting on the following:

1. Is anything confusing?

2. Are any scenes boring or repetitious?

3. Do you spot any general tics (repeated words, etc.)?

4. Do you spot any confusing plot points (let me know when and where I lose you and what needs to be clarified)?

5. Does the opening grab you?

You don't have to answer these questions, by the way, but I would still appreciate a comment. Thanks.

7: Chapter Seven
Chapter Seven

The smell of smoke fills my nostrils.

I squirm, twisting and pulling to try to get away from the suffocating black cloud that rises towards me, but I can't move. The ropes are too tight.

The aftermath of the Ice Beast attack is a bloody one, but the hunters have managed to begin getting their damaged sleds in order. Ben, still unconscious, lays safely wrapped in a blanket where he is kept warm by some of our dogs who were ordered to stay with him, curled up around him in the snow.

Ben is safe, but I wish I could say that about myself. Out of everyone here, he's the one I need the most, and he's the only one who actually seems to have suffered any true injuries in the attack. Now that the chaos of the previous hour has dissipated, most of the attention is on me.

Randall, a hunter around Chris's age, kneels at my feet with a stick in his hands. He is of a medium build, muscular like all of the hunters, with a thick head of hair that was once black, but is now beginning to go gray. His yellow-green eyes are trained on his task of creating friction with the stick between his palms in order to start a fire. So far, all he's managed to summon is the smoke that chokes me and makes my eyes water.

"Is this really necessary?" Chris nervously twirls a finger around his beard, his faded blue eyes wide as he looks on, watching Randall.

Randall stops to wipe a bead of sweat from his brow with his sleeve before returning to the grueling task of starting the fire, "It's absolutely necessary." He growls with conviction.

Maurice puts a hand on Chris's shoulder and gives him a small nod as if to tell him that everything is going to be ok. Although he does nothing to stop Randall, he doesn't exactly seem too thrilled about it himself. In Ben's absence, Maurice had originally been the first person to lecture me for my heinous crime. But due to his kind nature, he was going to leave it at that, and offered no punishment. Randall, with his extremist views, took over from there. He didn't think it was fair to let me off so easy.

"The law does say she needs to be punished." A Hunter named Nathaniel adds, his expression neutral. He doesn't really seem to care what happens either way.

"Punished. Not burned at the stake." Dustin, who stands beside him, rubs the back of his neck uncomfortably.

Randall springs to his feet and turns to Dustin, growling, "For the magnitude of her crimes, I think this is fair enough punishment!" He snaps, "She's been defying the natural order of things for so long anyway that she deserves what she gets!"

Everyone falls silent. Nathaniel flinches away from Randall, and Dustin squints a little. Neal takes a protective step closer to his son, ready to come to his defense. Maurice's mouth is a thin, straight line. Chris just looks pale.

"You don't understand. I'm doing what has to be done. She's a danger to us all!" Randall continues to speak, pacing between the other hunters and I, "Now, are there any more objections?"

His words are greeted by silence. Even if they think he's being a bit extreme, a woman sneaking out of camp to join the hunters on a dangerous trip is a very serious crime. They've probably never dealt with this situation before, and drastic situations call for drastic measures. It doesn't help that their leader is lying unconscious, unable to guide them on the matter.

"object!" I snort, giving the ropes another jerk, but they only seem to tighten.

Randall turns on his heel to face me and lifts his arm, bringing it across his chest and over his shoulder, before releasing it. The back of his hand slams into my face, its impact making me see stars. I bite my tongue to keep from crying out in pain.

"Shut up woman. You've lost your right to speak." He hisses before kneeling again to return to making the fire. This time it doesn't take him so long before a flame ignites, and slowly the fire begins to spread at my feet.

I thrash against my restrains again but it's no use. Randall had tied the knots well, barely allowing me enough room to even breathe. The log that I'm tied to stands firmly upright, embedded into the deep snow, unmoving. I feel the heat of the small fire and know that it's only a minor sample of what I will feel once it engulfs my body, burning me alive.

This is it. This is my tragic ending. I suppose it's the price I pay for wanting things, for allowing myself to feel. If I had known that loving someone so much would eventually end my life, I would have never allowed myself to feel love in the first place. For the second time in less than twenty-four hours, I find myself face to face with death.

Except this time there's no way out of it. I got lucky when Ben threatened me. I got lucky when the Ice Beast charged at me. But there seems to be no escape from this fate of mine. Death keeps following me, and it will not stop until it has me, it seems.

Randall stands upright now, facing me, and watching the fire hungrily eat away at the sticks and twigs gathered at my feet. Soon they will run out of fuel and search for something more substantial. Like me. He crosses his arms over his chest and the corner of his mouth twitches ever so slightly as if he's fighting a smile.

I can't say I'm surprised that he wants me dead. He was one of the first people to shun me on the day that I became a Guard, and he's refused to work with me on the tower ever since I started. In his eyes I am a cancer that needs to be cut from the group before my ideas start to spread.

I'm just trying to resign myself to my defeat, and hope that it's over with quickly. I will not give him the satisfaction of dying as a coward.

"Any last words, Lilith?" Randall asks me with a smirk.

This is such a stupid thing to die for. I really want to tell him that, and I'm about to, when something catches my attention. I see movement behind the line of Hunters watching me, and when I realize what it is, I find that it's my turn to smirk.

"You should probably duck." I grin.

Randall looks puzzled, but the confusion doesn't last long. He gets it just in time for Ben's fist to crash into his face, knocking him to the ground. He tumbles backward and groans, holding his jaw. I watch him spit something bloody into the snow. A tooth.

Ben looms over him, breathing heavily, awake. A dry trickle of blood stains his forehead from where he had hit his head, but he seems to be more alive than ever.

"Idiot." He hisses before turning to the fire and hastily kicking snow onto it to put it out. It had already begun to singe the fur on my boots. The heat instantly disappears with the death of the fire and I can breathe again, my lungs no longer oppressed by the smoke.

The line of Hunters stands there in shock, before Maurice joyfully cries out "Ben! You're ok!"

They rush in unison towards their leader, but Ben brushes them off irritably to cut the ropes that tie me. Weak from a lack of circulation to my body, I begin to fall, but not before Ben grabs me by the elbow and jerks me up to my feet.

"Who authorized this?" Ben releases me and takes fast, threatening steps towards the others. Everyone retreats as if pushed back by a force field, and they all point to Randall, who still sits in the snow, cursing.

Ben turns to Randall, hands balled into indignant fists, "Is this what we're doing now? Setting people on fire?"

"You know the law." Randall mutters, stumbling to his feet.

Ben knocks him down again with his boot, kicking him in the chest. Randall curls up on the ground, holding his ribs painfully, "The law doesn't give you the right to murder!"

"Well what am I supposed to do?" Randall wheezes, "Return her to camp and waste precious time? Keep her here as a prisoner where she'll slow us down and put us in danger?"

"She's here under my authorization, so you do nothing, Randall."

A moment of shocked silence passes when everyone hears this, and I'm reminded once again of the fateful day when I became a Guard. Their expressions are not any different from what they were back then. Ben, of course, hadn't been there to experience that day, three years ago. But if he had been there, he probably would have been more careful about admitting something like this.

I step away from them and let my hair fall in my face again, wanting to curl up into a ball and disappear. I know the anger that comes next. The rejection. It's time to build my walls.

No one really seems to know what to say. While Ben has his eyes on the row of slack-jawed hunters before him, I see Randall get to his feet again.

"Traitor!" He yells, outraged, and rushes at Ben.

I don't know if it's my gratitude to Ben or my hatred for Randall that drives me to action. Before Ben has any time to react, I rush forward and intercept Randall, driving my shoulder into his ribcage. Although I'm significantly smaller than him, my momentum and the element of surprise manages to knock him away from Ben's path.

Randall grabs me by my long, loose hair and drags me to the ground with him. My head hits the ground so hard that I almost black out. I lash out with my hands and feet, landing random blows on him, although I can't see because of the way he's twisting my head back.

Now all hands are on Randall. The other confused Hunters try to keep the peace as they pry the enraged man off of me. Maurice, Chris, and Dustin drag him away, but not before Randall manages to rip out a handful of my hair. I feel the warm trickle of blood somewhere on my scalp and bite my lip, fighting back tears.

Nathaniel and Neal grab me by the arms, pulling me to my feet, all while Ben watches in silence, arms crossed over his chest. His metallic eyes are locked on Randall. I recognize the monster within that I've been seeing a lot of lately and hold back a shudder. It's clear to see that he reached his limit of patience a long time ago.

Randall yells a string of curses at both Ben and I, kicking up snow and forcing the three men holding him to use all of their strength. Ben looks to me for a moment, his stony expression softening only the slightest bit, before he turns to Maurice.

"Tie him to the log." He orders.

The three men in possession of Randall hesitate, and Ben repeats himself with an impatient snap, "I said tie him to the logNow!"

The men follow Ben's orders obediently, and soon Randall is hoisted up in the same way that I was only moments before.

Neal and Nathaniel's fingers are digging into my arms. They're so nervous that they've forgotten to let me go. I can't really say that I notice the pain, because I'm just as nervous as they are. I never know what Ben's going to do when his dark side emerges, but I know what it's like to be on the receiving end.

It's not that I pity Randall though. He deserves what he gets.

Ben stands before Randall, Maurice and Chris on either side of him, while Dustin checks to see if the ropes are secure. A small trail of blood dribbles down Randall's chin, and there are deep scratch marks on his face. I think I put those there, and it makes me feel the tiniest bit of triumph.

"So tell me…" Ben paces around Randall, like a predator does when circling its prey, "Since you know so much about the law, what is the punishment for someone who attacks the Head Hunter?"

Randall doesn't reply and stares off blankly into the tree line, refusing to answer. He's trying to appear unconcerned. I know he's afraid. I can see him shaking.

"Anyone?" When Ben doesn't get a response from him he turns to the others

"The punishment for attacking someone in authority, sir, is solitary confinement for twenty-four hours." Nathaniel says in a weak voice. Everyone else nods, agreeing.

"Very well." Ben seems to look disappointed when he turns back to Randall, "Looks like you've been spared. For now. But next time you decide to pass judgment without consulting me first, you won't be so lucky." That dark look enters his eyes again, before he waves to the rest of us, "Let's go make camp. Leave him here."

"What?" Randall gives way to panic, struggling against the rope, "Come on guys! You can't leave me here!"

But his pleas fall on deaf ears, and we all turn away. I know why he's so frightened. Randall might have escaped the burn of the fire but that isn't the only thing a man can die of out here. The Ice Beast was only the beginning of our trials. There are still many more creatures out here just like it. Creatures that crave human flesh. We might not have burned Randall to death, but we might be sentencing him to a much worse fate.

I can see that some of us feel guilty. It shows on Maurice's face, and in Chris's unsure walk.

But as for me, I don't feel a thing, and I don't think Ben does either.

I only look back once at Randall to flash him a small smirk of satisfaction, before flipping my hair, and strutting off.


An hour later, we sit in a semi-circle around a small fire, trying to warm our bodies up after being exposed for so long to the intense cold.

We didn't stray too far from where we had left Randall. I can see him off in the distance, in the place that had almost become my grave. He makes no sound, and wisely so, as that would only make it more likely that a predator would find him. I would think that someone would interfere before Randall's life is actually in any danger, but knowing myself, I don't forgive. And I won't be saving him.

I wonder how long Ben will keep him there. The law says twenty-four hours, but I don't think it was created for this specific situation. Left out that long, Randall would die of the cold even if nothing got to him first. I'm assuming Ben will save him before he freezes to death.

And yet, it's been an hour, and Ben still hasn't told anyone to cut him loose.

I can't imagine standing immobile for an hour out here with no fire and no warmth of any kind. If he's still alive, he'll have frostbite for sure.

I sit alone on my end of the fire, except for Ben who sits beside me, probably to act quickly in case anyone else tries to kill me. Everyone else is on the farther end, huddled together. None of them speak or look at us, probably because they're afraid to. Nobody wants to risk making Ben angry and ending up in the same position as Randall. As a result of the silence, Ben hasn't offered them any explanations as to why I'm here either. They must be feeling a wide range of emotions right now, from confusion to indignation to rage.

I wish I could clear everything up but I don't know what to say. Even if I did try to explain, I'm the last person they would want to listen to. The wind would just carry my voice away.

All I know is that I'm part of this team now. But I still feel so alone. Even Ben, who is the only reason I'm even alive right now, isn't exactly my friend. After all we've been through in the past two weeks, I'm not even sure what to call him, but it's not like he's overflowing with warmth. We shared that one hug by the campfire a week ago and that was it. And it was weird.

I'm reminded of how much I used to hate him. Ever since I spiraled into my depression I've always resented how little he seemed to care about my feelings. I was jealous of his power, his confidence. And then, he managed to turn that all around when he offered me the chance of a lifetime. It was as if that door of hatred and bitterness had slammed shut, and another one had opened. But I'm not sure what that other one leads to just yet.

Positive emotions are rare to me these days. I've forgotten how to handle them. And that's why I begin to feel a bit panicky when I notice that I don't dislike Ben anymore. If I can't be mean to him, then what the heck am I supposed to do?

I hold a stick over the fire with a piece of meat on the end of it, just like everyone else. Ice Beast is on the menu for dinner tonight, and the ravenous crew isn't going to waste any of it. In a way, there was a silver lining to this cloud. Not only did the Ice Beast provide food for us tonight, but it also gave us its fur for life-giving warmth. The large animal had more than enough fur for us to divide the pelt among ourselves. I have my piece draped over my shoulders.

I take a bite of the warm meat when it's been cooked well and finish my small meal in silence. When there's nothing left, the Hunters begin to grow restless, the awkward stillness around the campfire filling the air with tension. Dustin is the first to leave.

"So… I'm going to fix the sleds that were damaged." He speaks up, and his father follows after him, the two ditching the uncomfortable scene together.

I've been trying to make eye contact with Maurice this whole time to see if he'll speak to me now, but once Dustin and Neal are gone, he too gets to his feet, avoiding me, "While they do that, I'm going to scout out the area. We don't want to be surprised again."

Nathaniel leaps to his feet almost immediately, "I'll take this half, you take the other."

Finally it's just Chris, and he doesn't even try to make an excuse. All he does is give us a sheepish grin, "I'm going to… just… go." He shrugs and practically runs to his sled.

That leaves just Ben and I behind, and it's no coincidence. We're possibly the two most hated people here right now.

Ben looks at the fire and I fidget, tugging at my sleeves and trying hard not to look at him because I don't want to be weird. But I don't have anything or anyone else to look at either, so it ends up being weird anyway. He seems uncomfortable as well, narrowing his eyes as if thinking.

He still has one piece of meat left, and he holds it over the fire for so long that it chars at the edges.

"You know, they used to call this polar bear." He finally speaks.

I'm confused. It takes me a moment to realize he's talking about the Ice Beast, "Really? I've never heard that before." That's such a strange name to give to an animal. Ice Beast is clearly much more fitting, in my opinion.

"Yeah well… it's based off of a polar bear, anyway." Ben pulls the burnt piece of meat out of the fire and tosses it to one of the dogs that sit nearby, begging hungrily.

"What do you mean?" I ask him curiously. The only stories I've heard of the monsters that plague the wasteland were stories of horror and blood. No one's ever really explained to me anything else about them.

"Before the whole world froze over, there used to be all kinds of animals." Ben explains, "But they started to die off when humans stopped taking care of the earth." He gestures to the wasteland around us, "That's also why it eventually turned into this. The ecosystem started to crumble, and when the more important animals started to go missing, like polar bears, there were men- scientists, they called them- who tried to recreate their DNA in order to replace them."

"DNA? Scientists?" These words sounded strange on my tongue, and they confused me. They didn't teach us this in the village.

Ben sighs and rolls his eyes, "Goodness, you people don't know anything. DNA is the code that makes you who you are. Every living creature has one. A scientist is a person who studies science, and some of them know how to read that code."

"Whatever you say…" I pull back my sleeve and stare down at my arm, wondering if I'm supposed to have a code written on it somewhere. I don't see anything. It all sounds kind of silly to me, "Why would anyone want to recreate an Ice Beast anyway? I say we're better off without them."

"The animals that our ancestors knew weren't like the ones that we know now." Ben frowns, "DNA is extremely complicated and it was never entirely understood. While the scientists managed to write the important parts of the code correctly, there were mistakes that they didn't know how to fix. Their creations were too aggressive. They had some kind of neurological imbalance. And their eyes always came out red. The Ice Beast is one of those creations."

I let this information sink in, and wonder how I never knew that before. They don't have that written down in our records. "How do you know all of this?" I raise a brow at him.

"My father taught me." He shrugs, and gets a distant look in his eyes, "My ancestors were scientists, I think. Much like your village, we wrote our history down too. Except ours goes back further than yours."

I forget sometimes how Ben doesn't originate from my people. I never questioned before what his past was, but now I find myself wanting to know.

"Hey Ben… where did you come from? What happened to your family?" The words rush out of my mouth before I can stop them.

But Ben doesn't answer me and suddenly gets to his feet, frowning, "What are you doing?"

He's not looking at me anymore, but at Maurice and Chris, who approach the campfire.

And with none other than Randall between them.

His arms are thrown limply over their shoulders because he can't stand on his own. The Hunter looks weak, tired, and half frozen.

"We went to go untie Randall. I think he's paid for his indiscretion. If he's away from the fire for much longer, he'll die." Maurice explains calmly.

Ben's nostrils flare. He's clearly displeased by the fact that they released him, but the logical side of him must recognize that Maurice is right, and he keeps his calm, "Well he'd better warm up fast, because we need to move. The sleds are almost ready, and I want to get out of here before sundown." With that, he stomps away from the fire, leaving me behind.

I watch him leave, disappointed, and stare at Randall. His skin is pale like paper. I could have mistaken him for a corpse from close up. The sight of him unnerves me. I don't think he would have lasted another half hour out there. I kind of wanted to not have to deal with him anymore.

I wonder how long Ben would have kept him there if no one had done anything.

Not wanting to be anywhere near the man who tried to murder me, I stand up and say, "I'm going to assemble the dog teams." And I walk away, hoping that Randall has learned his lesson.

But I'm not stupid enough to think that it's over.


A/N: From this chapter onward, you may need to consult the page titled "The Experiments" for some extra information not explained in the narration.


This chapter was revised 12/20/2014

Please help me improve my writing by commenting on the following:

1. Is anything confusing?

2. Are any scenes boring or repetitious?

3. Do you spot any general tics (repeated words, etc.)?

4. Do you spot any confusing plot points (let me know when and where I lose you and what needs to be clarified)?

5. Does the opening grab you?

You don't have to answer these questions, by the way, but I would still appreciate a comment. Thanks.

8: Chapter Eight
Chapter Eight

There's no sense in me hiding inside of Ben's sled now that everyone knows I'm here. As we get ready to leave again, I stand in front of Ben, my hands firmly on the handle of his sled. I don't have my own, so I'll be sharing with him.

Since I've never ridden on a sled before (and my previous experience this morning doesn't count), Ben stands behind me to make sure that I won't fall off. It's not really about me getting hurt- Ben has confidence in the fact that I can handle a few tumbles. It's more about saving time. The Hunters can't afford to stop for me every time I lose my balance, and as a beginner, that's bound to happen frequently, or so they say.

As much as I look forward to not having to be the cargo this time, it feels strange to be so close to another person. In my lifetime, I've never had much physical contact with others, including my own parents. We just weren't a touchy family. It's a stark contrast to what I'm doing now, and I'm trying to decide how I feel about it.

I can feel Ben's muscular chest against my back as he leans forward to grab the handhold, putting his hands on the outside of where mine are. He surrounds me, and I'm forced to stand very still. I'm even afraid to breathe, as if somehow that will make it worse, but I find myself fighting for oxygen for some reason when I feel his warm breath stir a strand of hair by my ear.

I focus on the dogs in front of me now and try to pretend like he's not there. I must have my mental faculties intact. But it's hard to control my thoughts when he's so warm, and even out here in the freezing temperature it's making me sweat.


We lost three dogs today, so we may not be able to move as fast as we were moving earlier. Ben and I have a full team of eight dogs pulling our sled, but I notice that Nathaniel only has six, and Randall has seven. That's not going to affect us in a huge way, but I suspect that we'll be losing many more dogs before this trip is over. It always happens.

I just hope that we return home with the same number of hunters.

Everyone is ready except for Randall. He takes a little bit longer to reach his sled, and walks with a slight limp. It's a telltale sign of frostbite in his toes, although I can tell that he's trying hard to hide it. After sitting by the fire for a little while he's no longer so pale. However it's easy to see the toll that this whole experience has had on him.

I wonder how useful he's going to be to us now that he can't walk as well as he used to. I've made it abundantly clear that I wouldn't care if he died, but the village needs all of the Hunters it can get. Ben's decision to leave Randall out there in the cold for so long might not have been the wisest one.

Once Randall is in position, Ben gives the signal to take off and once again we're moving. This time, the ride is much more thrilling for me than it was before. I feel the butterflies in my stomach when we accelerate and let the biting wind whip my hair around behind me. The terrain zooms by us so rapidly that I don't even know how Ben can tell where he's going.

I'm amazed at how beautiful it is out here. There are distant mountains on the horizon that reach towards the sky with their lofty peaks, and frozen lakes that bubble with life just underneath the surface. We pass by snowy meadows and steep cliffs, every sight more stunning to me than the last. It makes me wonder what I've been missing out on all of this time, being cooped up behind the village walls. Who would have thought that the world was this big and exciting? It feels like being born again. I know nothing. I feel so small.

The sled makes a sharp turn, catching me off guard. I feel myself slipping off the sled when Ben's hand quickly meets my waist, steadying me. I learn fast that I can't focus so much on my surroundings, as much as I would love to. I need to concentrate on hanging on or else I'm going to fall off.

I don't know how long we travel, but the sun seems to set much too soon, ending our first day. Most of the time the sky is thick with gray clouds, but lately the sun has been shining more than usual, and it gets in my eyes as it begins to sink below the horizon. I have to squint when it shines in my face, but the glimpses we get of it are so rare that I don't mind. The sky is pink when our sled slows to a stop and the dogs collapse into the snow, exhausted.

We begin to break for camp.

In no time, a fire is made, the dogs are released from their harnesses, and the tents are put up for the night. I realize with dismay that I don't have a tent of my own. I should have thought this through better when I was packing my things before leaving. I think through my options as I hold a piece of leftover Ice Beast over the fire, feeling hungry again after the long journey.

Ben, Dustin, and Nathaniel don't join us by the fire. They leave us to scout the perimeters of our camp to make sure that it's safe. I stay behind with Maurice, Chris and Neal and we eat together. Randall makes it pretty clear that he wants nothing to do with me by going inside of his tent to spend the rest of the day alone. If it's meant to sting me, it has the opposite effect.

It's perfectly fine with me. I don't want to stare at his sour face anyway.

I stare across the flames and take in the three Hunters before me, coming to the conclusion that I really need to make myself more likable to these people. After all, the only thing that saved me earlier was my allegiance to Ben. There's nothing stopping any of them from turning on me again the moment they get the chance. Befriending them can mean the difference between life and death.

I know just the person to start with, and once again I look to Maurice, wondering if he is going to ignore me again like he did the last time I tried to get his attention. I raise my eyebrows at him and tilt my head a little bit as if to ask: Are you still mad at me?

I know he can see me staring at him but he refuses to look up, and opts to keep his gaze locked on his lap instead. I, however, refuse to back down and stare at him for a longer time than what is considered socially acceptable. Eventually he is forced to give in and, with a sigh, meets my eyes with his.

"I'm sorry." I whisper, as soon as I have his attention. It's all I can think of to say. Chris and Neal sit up straight now, focused on me, and I turn to them as well, "I'm sorry that I snuck out, and I'm sorry that I got Randall in trouble." The last part is a lie. I'm actually pretty pleased that I got Randall in trouble, but I figure it would help my case to apologize for it out loud.

"Randall always gets in trouble anyway. He doesn't exactly like Ben." Maurice shrugs, and a weak smile plays on his lips, "You don't have to be sorry."

Relief washes over me now that I have my comrade's forgiveness. I sit up a little straighter and return the grin.

"Why are you here?" Now that the ice has been broken, Chris sits forward eagerly and asks the question that everyone has on their mind, "Why did Ben say you're here under his authorization?"

The answer to that question is complicated. I can't tell them that I'm here to find my mother. They'll think that I'm crazy, more so than they already do. I decide to tell them the other half of the truth instead, "We were in need of more Hunters. I figured I could help."

Neal snorts condescendingly from his corner. His eyes are too close together on his head, and they stare at me impishly through the flames, "How can you help? All you've managed to do is give Randall frostbite. The Ice Beast probably attacked us because of you too. You're bad luck."

"Now, Neal, Randall overreacted and was punished for his own actions, not Lilith's." Maurice rushes to my defense. It feels good to know that he's on my side again, "She also helped us take down the Ice Beast by slowing it down and distracting it long enough for me to kill it." He turns to me with a surprised expression, "It seems as if you actually do know how to use that bow and arrow."

Neal just shakes his head, groaning in protest.

"Your mother taught you, right? When you became a Guard? I remember that day." Chris rubs his chin, probably thinking back to his own memories from that day, "She was a great woman, but it was times like those where it was hard to agree with her."

"No doubt she did a lot for the village, keeping it together. But she should have stayed in her place. All she ever did was walk all over Adam." Neal mutters.

Although Neal echoes my exact sentiments with regards to my father, I don't appreciate hearing him talk about my mother that way. It's hard to fight the anger that tries to claw its way out of me. Be likable Lilith. Win them over. I tell myself this, and I hold my tongue, turning to my food and finishing it as calmly as I can.

Maurice shoots a glare at Neal before turning to me again, "Honestly this is a very strange situation. When I first found out that you were here I didn't know what to think." He admits, almost looking ashamed of himself, "I let myself get carried away by Randall's insisting that you needed to be punished. Now that I've had time to think it over, I think what you're doing isn't a crime. It's an act of courage."

I feel tears of emotion sting my eyes when I hear those words from Maurice. My mother always spoke to me that way, but I have never heard similar words coming from anyone else. A strange feeling hits me, so strong that I nearly fall over. And it feels… good. Is this what they call happiness?

Chris nods in agreement with what Maurice says, also welcoming me to their circle. Neal on the other hand chews his meat quietly, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. I can sense that there are a lot of things he wants to say but he's holding back, perhaps remembering what happened to Randall.

"I… I'm glad to be here." My voice shakes and I'm at a loss for words when I turn to Maurice and Chris again, smiling genuinely at them.

"Well…" Neal interrupts, getting to his feet, "while you ladies discuss your feelings I'm going to bed." He waves goodbye to us half-heartedly before disappearing into his tent.

"I'm… tired too… actually." There are comical pauses in Chris's sentence when he yawns. I find it charming, and it makes my smile widen just a little.

"Let's all head to bed then." Maurice nods and the two of them rise to their feet, turning to me, "You coming too?"

I'm glad that I was able to make some allies, but I can't go with them. Firstly, because I don't have a tent. But also because there's something else that I need to do right now. Alone.

"Nah you guys go on ahead. I need some time to digest first." I tell them, and let them leave.

Once they're gone, I turn my attention to the forest. We've set up camp at its edge, so I don't have to walk far as I wander off into the trees. The darkness is hard to navigate through, and I stumble a few times, holding onto tree branches and roots to keep myself from falling. I've never been out in the woods so late before. Part of me knows that I should be afraid, but the other part of me could care less, and I push onward.

I don't know what I'm looking for exactly, but I have to try searching for some sort of sign that my mother was here. I wrack my brain and try to think about what sort of sign she'd leave me. Would she leave behind a piece of cloth? Or maybe a drawing? I can't see anything in the blackness of the night. It probably wasn't such a great idea to search for this now in the dark.

I hear a twig snap somewhere near me and freeze, my blood turning to ice. What was that sound? It's just a squirrel or something, I tell myself. I'm getting panicked unnecessarily. It must just be the stress of everything I've been through lately. My nerves are on edge.

I continue my search when I hear something again. My heart hammers in my chest. Easy Lilith. There's nothing to be afraid of, right?

And yet I find myself slowly reaching for my knife.

Something springs at me from behind. A hand covers my mouth while another one grabs me by the wrist, rendering my knife useless, and my arm immobile. I try to scream but the sound of my voice is muffled.

"Hey relax! It's just me…"

"God dammit Ben!" I hiss when he lets go of me, and whip around to face him. All I can see is his silhouette, dark and imposing, his outline illuminated by the silver moonlight, "You nearly gave me a heart attack!"

"I know. It was hilarious." He snickers before becoming serious again, "Why are you out here alone?"

"I was just…" Just what? Looking for ominous signs in a deadly forest at night? "I don't know. I don't have a place to go." I shrug, pointing out the fact that I don't have a tent.

"U-huh…" Ben narrows his eyes at me. I'm pretty sure he can see right through my bluff. "Well what were you planning on doing out here then? Befriending the forest animals and hoping you'd find a house with seven dwarves to sleep in?"

"What are you talking about?" I ask him, irritated and not understanding.

"Ugh… never mind. It's just a story my mother used to tell me."

"Your mother must have been a strange woman."

"Funny, that's what a lot of people say about yours." He flashes me a grin and holds his hand out to me, "Come on, let's get back to camp. I don't want something to happen to you out here."

I look at his hand and frown, "But I told you, I don't have anywhere to spend the night anyway."

"Sleep in my tent." He says it as if it's so obvious, rolling his eyes.

I'm suddenly glad that it's night time so that he can't see the sudden flush of red on my cheeks, "Um, excuse me?"

Ben seems to realize what that sounded like and he puts his hands up in surrender, "Whoa relax. I packed extra blankets that's all, and I can share. You can sleep as far away from me as you want."

I sigh, "I don't really have a choice, don't I?"

"Not unless you've happened to meet some friendly dwarves, no."

"Fine." I take his hand and let him lead me back to camp. It's true that I am exhausted. I can delay my mission until tomorrow morning, but I still can't help looking back just one more time as I walk away.

That's when it catches my eye. I wouldn't have seen it at all if the moonlight hadn't been shining on it at that exact moment. There, sketched into the trunk of a tree are two letters.



This chapter was revised 12/20/2014

Please help me improve my writing by commenting on the following:

1. Is anything confusing?

2. Are any scenes boring or repetitious?

3. Do you spot any general tics (repeated words, etc.)?

4. Do you spot any confusing plot points (let me know when and where I lose you and what needs to be clarified)?

5. Does the opening grab you?

You don't have to answer these questions, by the way, but I would still appreciate a comment. Thanks.

9: Chapter Nine
Chapter Nine

I reluctantly postpone any further investigation until morning. I need a clear head if I'm going to try to piece together this puzzle, and there isn't much I can see in the dark anyway, not to mention I don't really want to get anyone else involved. I'm already with Ben in his tent, and I'll have to give him an explanation if I try to sneak out. No doubt he'll notice me trying to leave, even if he's asleep.

As the best Hunter we have, it's safe to assume that his observation skills are above average. That aside, from what I know of Ben, he's more intelligent than he lets on- Hunter or not.

He would ask questions. Questions that I really don't want to answer. Although he knows I'm here for my mother, I only told him this so that he could help me get this far. I don't need his help anymore unless it involves saving my life from time to time. I don't want his help either, preferring to keep my problems to myself.

The fur blankets that Ben hands me are soft and warm. One is made of elk fur, like most of our clothes and blankets back at the village, and the other is wolf. I recognize it as the pelt of one of our dogs from this morning. Rather than letting that bother me, though, I understand perfectly.

There isn't much room for emotional attachment to things when you live this kind of life. There's no sense in letting something go to waste when it could save your life one day. If something dies, you take what it has. This dog might not have survived our journey, but it hadn't outlived its usefulness yet.

I lie down on the blanket of elk fur and use the wolf as a sort of pillow, covering myself with my share of the fur we took from the Ice Beast earlier. The heat that comes off my body doesn't take long to fill up the small cocoon I've created around myself, and I stop shivering from the cold.

Ben and I don't have much conversation as we both settle down for the night. Even if we wanted to talk, we're both too exhausted. Ben mutters goodnight before he pulls his blanket over his head and I can't see him anymore. I can tell by the way his breathing immediately slows down that he has no trouble falling asleep.

I wish I could do that too. I close my eyes and wait for sleep to kick in, but it doesn't take me long to realize that I'm in for a long night, as tired as I am. The gears of my feverish mind refuse to stop turning, even after my body has given in to the fatigue. As a result, I end up losing only half of my consciousness, and I have very strange dreams that all merge together and confuse me.

Somewhere in the midst of my dreaming, my reoccurring nightmare returns, only it has evolved once again to include the bodies of Chris, Maurice, Dustin and the others. But the last one that I see, the one that the nightmare ends with, is Ben's. I don't know why, but his death seems to impact me more than anyone else's, and all I can hear is my mother's voice echoing in my head saying, "It has to be done… It has to be done…"

By the time dawn arrives, I'm in that strange place where you can't tell the difference between reality and imagination. My muscles ache, and I feel anything but well rested.

I get the feeling that something is near me. There is another source of heat here other than myself; I can feel it against my back. I shift slightly and press against something warm and solid. Then I feel someone's soft breath on the back of my neck

Whoa, what is going on here?

I stiffen and sit up suddenly, my head spinning from the rush of blood to my brain that ensues.

"Hey! Stay on your side of the tent you creep!" I growl and lash out at Ben with a fist, fully intending on sending him to the other side of the world if need be.

Except it's not Ben at all.

My arm stops just short of hitting the now cowering figure at my side and I let my fist drop, not sure how I should react. It's that damned dog… Fatso. He crouches low, belly brushing the ground, and looks up at me with pure terror in his eyes as if he wasn't expecting that reaction from me. It only proves his stupidity, because every other living creature in the world knows what happens when you try to snuggle with Lilith Bane.

"Wow." Ben raises his eyebrows in what seems to be an amused way while he sharpens his knife, calmly sitting on his side of the tent, far away from me, "You thought that was me? Let's make one thing very clear princess: I'm way out of your league."

The burn of embarrassment makes my cheeks turn hot and I don't know what to say to him to recuperate my dignity. I think he knows this, because the edges of his mouth twitch like he's fighting a smile. I turn my attention to the dog instead.

"What is he doing in here?" I ask while Fatso rolls over onto his back and starts wagging his tail at me as if to ask for forgiveness.

"You tell me. He's your dog." Ben shrugs, "He kept whining to come inside and eventually I had to let him when he started trying to chew his way in."

"He's not mine." I seethe, glaring down at the animal. Does this imbecilic dog not know who I am? Of all the people here, why did it want me? "What's wrong with you?" I ask Fatso directly, but he just takes that as a sign of encouragement and tries to lick me.

My boots are somewhere on the ground near me, and I pick one up to toss it at him. Fatso finds a way to dodge the projectile and leaps on me, knocking me flat onto my back, before attacking my face with his disgusting tongue. The smell of his dog breath is extremely unpleasant and I grapple with him, trying to shove him off. He's stronger than he looks, and his tail wags a hundred miles per hour while he just continues to shower me with affection against my will.

I finally manage to grab Fatso by the scruff and drag him off of me, wiping my now slimy face with the sleeve of my coat. As I sit up, I see that Ben is laughing, probably finding this all to be very entertaining. I don't think I've ever seen him laugh before… Why does it make me want to laugh too? I hold it back and try to look as irritated as possible.

"You should be thankful that at least someone in this world likes you." Ben teases, putting his knife away and getting to his feet.

"Shouldn't you be outside bossing people around or something?" I snort, stretching out my sore limbs and yawning.

"And miss the show? No way. You're funny when you sleep."

I raise a brow at Ben, "What show?"

"Oh… nothing." Ben smirks, "You talk in your sleep. That's all."

I do what now? "N-no I don't…" I stutter, feeling a little bit violated. I've never shared a tent with someone before other than with my parents when I was very small, so I guess I wouldn't know what I do in my sleep. Oh no, what did I say?

"Yes you do. You said my name like ten times in your sleep last night." Ben offers me a hand to help me stand, but I don't take it, "What was I doing in your dreams, hmm?" He winks, taking full advantage of this opportunity to have a laugh at my expense.

I'm not really sure what to do. I feel a mix of emotions ranging from embarrassment to anger at being mocked by Ben, and yet somehow I find myself battling a grin. Such conflicting thoughts in my head give me a headache. In the end I choose a more noncommittal response, as it seems to be the only one I can decide on.

I stand up without his help and toss my hair over my shoulder before stepping out of the tent, leaving him behind. He chuckles and follows me out, Fatso at our heels.

The crisp, cold air that hits me sharpens my senses when I step outside, waking me up. I leave the nonsense of the past few minutes behind me to focus on the day ahead, and on what has been my objective since the beginning of this journey.

Ben and I aren't the only ones awake. Everyone else is already preparing to leave, and while they distract themselves with the chore of packing up their tents and gathering their things, I take off towards the forest. I know that I will never have any true rest until I settle this once and for all.

K.B. That has to stand for Kaya Bane. No one else here has those initials, and we're the only people around as far as I can tell. It takes me a while to find the tree but eventually I see it. My heart pounds wildly in my chest as I run my fingers over the carved letters. It seems as if my mother had used a hunting knife to embed her initials into the trunk of the tree.

I start to think about what this means, putting myself in her shoes. Did she leave this to mark her trail so that I could follow her? If so, that means there has to be more marks somewhere. Also, the fact that it's on the trail that we're taking tells me that this mission was linked to the Hunters.

My father said on the night her death was made official that she always did hold onto the hope that the missing Hunters were ok somewhere. I don't really think that makes sense though, because none of the Hunters that survived those trips had even the slightest doubt that the others were dead. Is it possible that she lied to my father when perhaps, he noticed she was worried? How did she know what trail the Hunters took? How did she even sneak out? There were too many questions and no answers anywhere.

I venture deeper into the woods, scrutinizing everything that might be suspicious to me, but end up finding nothing to explain the mysterious initials. I don't want to give up, but for the moment I have to admit defeat. Maybe I'll find more clues along the way, but right now I need to return to camp.

When I get back I make a beeline for Ben's sled and start rummaging through my supplies to find something for breakfast. I catch Nathaniel walking past me in my peripheral vision, and something seems off. Normally I wouldn't care enough about Nathaniel to really notice what he's doing, but this just strikes me as odd.

Why is he limping?

Dustin's sled is closest to mine so I turn to him, tugging on his sleeve to get his attention. "What?" He turns to me curiously.

"What's wrong with him?" I nod towards Nathaniel.

The blonde boy frowns when I ask him this, and his baby blue eyes take on a worried expression, "Last night when we went patrolling he lost his balance and fell from a shallow cliff. I heard him calling for help and pulled him out, but he busted up his ankle pretty badly."

"Will he be ok?" I know the answer to the question but I ask it anyway, hoping against logic that there would be a better reply. But Dustin's silence means that we're both thinking the same thing: no, he's not ok.

If we had been at home, an injury like this would mean nothing. Some rest would help him heal in a couple of weeks, depending on the severity of the damage done to his ankle. But out here there was one rule: survival of the fittest. If you're handicapped in any way, you've already lost half the battle, and nature will take notice.

Randall is probably going to lose a couple of toes from frostbite, but Nathaniel seems to be much worse off. I suspect that he fractured something. With every step he takes I can tell it's agony for him to put any weight on the injured foot. How will he even ride his sled?

Ben is with us now at the sled, assembling his dog team, and Dustin looks at his leader expectantly, "Nathaniel needs help. Maybe Lilith could take his sled and he can ride in one of ours, lying down."

I can see Ben thinking while he tightens the straps that hold his supplies in place, his mouth a straight line, "I want Lilith with me. She doesn't have enough experience to guide a sled. Anyway, there's no room for Nathaniel to fit in someone else's sled with all of the supplies. He's just going to have to be strong."

"But there's no way that he'll-"

"Dustin…" Ben stands up straight and looks the younger boy in the eyes, as if challenging him to say something else, "Nathaniel knows the risks of being a Hunter. He wouldn't be out here in the first place if he wasn't strong enough to survive."

"Yes s-sir." Dustin replies reluctantly.

Someone puts out the small fire we had going this morning, and the conversation ends there, because now it's time to leave.

Like before, Ben takes his place behind me and waits for everyone to be ready. Randall hobbles over to his sled while Dustin helps Nathaniel get to his. Nathaniel's dogs are enthusiastic and ready to run. Every movement they make rattles the sled, and I watch the injured Hunter's face go pale with the pain that it causes him.

Impatient to leave, Ben takes off without warning and the other Hunters scramble to follow him. We fall into a single file line as we once more race through the icy tundra in search of the missing elk.

Today, I'm better prepared to handle the tricky business of staying on the sled. Unfortunately, that leaves my mind free to wander, and I find myself becoming distracted by Ben's proximity to me. The more time I spend with him, the more I think of him, it seems. Six months ago I barely knew the guy. I even learned to hate him. Now he's my lifeline, and I'm already frightened that I rely on him too much. This can't be allowed to continue.


"Ben! Where are you going?" After about an hour of traveling in silence, Maurice calls out to Ben, and the Head Hunter slows to a stop.

We've reached a fork in the path. To the right is what seems to be an ice field. To the left is more forest. Ben had started bearing to the left, and that's when Maurice spoke up.

Ben turns around to answer him, "It's not safe the other way."

I can see a nervous look on Maurice's face, "This is Dire Wolf territory… it's not safe this way."

None of the Hunters here had been on the last two hunts. None of them, that is, except for Maurice. He had gone with Ben to the last one, and they had been the only two survivors. If I had to trust anyone's opinion, I could trust his. But I also trust Ben, and as I look at the faces of the other Hunters I know they're just as torn as I am.

"Don't you remember what happened last time we crossed through here?" Ben frowns, insisting stubbornly, "The other way is Ice Beast territory. We've already been attacked by one Ice Beast and we got lucky. I don't want to go through that again."

"I'd rather face a lone Ice Beast than a pack of Dire Wolves…" Maurice swallows hard, clearly upset but trying to stay calm.

"I'm not going there again!" Ben replies with finality, refusing to listen, "We're going this way."

Without another word, he takes off in the direction of his choice. Moments later, the other Hunters reluctantly follow.

Dire Wolves, like the Ice Beast, were also created by scientists; that is, if Ben's story is correct. The Dire Wolf must have been the first creation ever, because in the records it's known as Experiment 1. I'm not sure why they were created, because wolves never went extinct. Maybe, in view of their dwindling population, the scientists thought they'd start early and prevent extinction in the first place. But although Dire Wolves have been known to interbreed with other wolves, they are not the same. We can domesticate a wolf. A Dire Wolf would rather kill a human than befriend one. As a matter of fact, we're their preferred prey.

Personally, I don't think either choice is a good one. It doesn't matter if we choose left or right, because something is always going to attack us. I can't help but feel a bit overwhelmed when the gravity of this situation sets in. Ice Beasts, Dire Wolves, and who knows what else would be things that I would actually have to face out here. They were no longer tales that the elders would tell me to make me behave. They were real. People that I know would probably die. I could die. My nightmares would come true.

The image of the bodies lined up in the snow flashes before my eyes again and I shake my head to clear it. No… it won't happen. We'll be ok. That's not going to happen. It's almost like I have to have a chant to tell myself over and over again, but none of my lame attempts to convince myself work.

I don't realize that I'm leaning back against Ben, shivering, until he says, "You ok? You'll be safe. Nothing's going to happen. I know I'm right."

"Can you promise that?" I stutter, unable to take comfort in his reassurance.

Ben is silent for a long time before he finally answers me, "Nothing's going to happen to you. I can promise that."

That's a strange thing to promise, I think to myself. I know he's trying to make me feel better by making me feel safe specifically. But I know he can't keep that promise no matter how hard he tries. Too many things can go wrong. So many have gone wrong already.

"You don't believe me." Ben can sense by my silence that I'm still uneasy, "I mean it though. I'll keep you safe."

Unless you bump your head again. I try really hard not to say that out loud.

I don't say anything while we traverse through the forest around us. I have a very uneasy feeling. I can instantly see why Maurice didn't want to come here, although I can't speak for how it compares to wherever he wanted to go originally. The air somehow feels colder, the sky darker. Everything just feels… off. I shudder and, unlike yesterday, I don't look around in awe. I just stare down at my hands and try to shake off this bad feeling.

Are we being watched?

We're forced to slow down to navigate around the trees. I notice that the dogs are alert as well, their ears pricked forward attentively, hackles raised. I believe that animals can sense things before people can. If they don't like being here, we should probably listen to them.

That's when I hear a low growl followed by a whimper. It didn't come from our dogs because the sound is very distinct. It's deeper, and comes from a larger animal. I don't know if it's my mounting fear but I swear I see red, glowing eyes peering out at us from behind the foliage, watching our every move. The shadows are alive. I see them moving.

Something darts out from under one of the trees and snaps at one of our dogs. The dog leaps away, frightened, but he's ok. Whatever had provoked it must be purposely toying with our minds, because it retreats without trying anything else. However, now the whole pack is panicking, and they start to whimper and howl.

"We need to move faster…" Maurice dodges nervous glances behind him.

"We can't." Even Ben sounds nervous now. He does pick up the pace ever so slightly, but we still can't run through the forest at top speed without risking smashing into something.

The howling gets louder. But it's no longer our dogs that are doing it. It's them. And they're rallying for the hunt.

We're going as fast as we can go now, but it's still painfully slow for someone in our situation. Finally, it seems as if fate has decided to smile down on us just this once because there's a break in the trees, and we run out into a clearing, where we instantly take off at full speed.

We're not safe yet. We're still in Dire Wolf territory, but now there's a possible chance that we can outrun them. I turn around to see if everyone is still behind us. Maurice is the first one I see, then Chris, Dustin, Neal and Randall.

But the last one, Nathaniel, is taking too long.

I begin to worry about him when suddenly there he is. He's barely holding onto his sled and he starts to slide off. His dogs are so frantic that they don't listen to his command to slow down for him to adjust himself. As soon as they see the rest of us running they follow suit without missing a beat.

He's going to fall off…

The inevitable happens and Nathaniel loses his grip on the sled, falling to the ground hard enough that I can hear the impact. He struggles to get to his feet, but with his injury he can barely move, and even if he could run he'd still never catch up to his sled.

"Ben! Stop! Nathaniel needs help!" I turn to him and then try to meet the eyes of the other Hunters, who all glance backwards as well. Still, none of them stop, even if they see what's happening.

"There's no time." Ben says in a flat voice.

I turn to get a glimpse of Nathaniel again but all I can see is the tip of his gloved hand as his body gets dragged back into the forest by some unseen force. A four-legged form breaks out of the tree line and gives chase to us, followed by two more.

All we can do is go faster.

I try to block out the sounds of Nathaniel's agonizing screams as he is eaten alive, and focus on not suffering the same fate.


This chapter was revised 12/20/2014

Please help me improve my writing by commenting on the following:

1. Is anything confusing?

2. Are any scenes boring or repetitious?

3. Do you spot any general tics (repeated words, etc.)?

4. Do you spot any confusing plot points (let me know when and where I lose you and what needs to be clarified)?

5. Does the opening grab you?

You don't have to answer these questions, by the way, but I would still appreciate a comment. Thanks.

10: Chapter Ten
Chapter Ten

As we rocket across the wasteland, our sled narrowly misses hitting a large rock in its path. We swerve around it with enough time to avoid a crash, but one side of the sled still rides up on it and we get tilted to the side for merely half a second.

Half a second is all it takes for the unthinkable to happen.

At this speed, paired with my inexperience, the inevitable occurs. I lose my balance and fall off the sled at the worst possible moment. Not even Ben can stop me as gravity forces me to the ground.

The hard-packed snow meets me with an impact so strong that it knocks the wind out of me. I don't have time to sit there dazed, so I just do what I have to and immediately get back on my feet to chase after the sled that has left me behind.

"Lilith!" Ben holds onto the handle of the sled with one hand while he leans back and holds the other one out to me, "Take my hand!"

At first I stumble, but my adrenaline fuels me to recover quickly from the pain of my fall and I sprint faster than what I thought was humanly possible. I fly over the snow until it feels as if my lungs are burning. When I'm near enough to Ben, I calculate the distance left and use the last of my strength to leap towards him.

I grab hold of his hand but lose my footing, and I get dragged across the ground by the sled while Ben struggles to not fall off with the added burden of my weight. I get disoriented with the snow flying up in my face, and it's hard to breathe. I have to regain my footing.

If I don't, I'm going to run out of time. I can feel the hot breath of a Dire Wolf at my heels.

"Pull me up!" I cry frantically as the beast looms closer, catching up easily with its long strides.

"Working on it!" Ben tries hard not to let the fear creep into his voice as he attempts to haul me onto the impossibly fast sled without hurting me.

The enormous wolf that pursues us is easily twice the size of a regular wolf. Its large paws are much more adept at running in the snow than my feet, and it confidently advances towards me. Its mouth parts open, dripping saliva. I can tell by its calculating red eyes that it's planning to spring at any moment.

"Now please!" I begin to panic. My arm feels like it's going to be wrenched out of its socket, but Ben can't seem to pull me hard enough by only using his one free arm. I occasionally gain a foothold in the snow and try to use that as a boost but always end up slipping.

The wolf continues to salivate at the thought of the easy prey before it. It's been starving for a long time possibly, just waiting for this moment to come. And now, the time for waiting has ended. It springs into the air and jumps to deliver the killing blow, jaws open and aiming to snap my spine in half.

The animal's jaws close with a sickening snap.

But they close on empty air.

Ben manages to pull me onto the sled, yanking me so hard that I think it dislocates my arm. I grit my teeth from the pain, but it's nothing compared to what the Dire Wolf feels as it takes a face-dive into the snow. A piercing yelp cuts through the air and the animal falls behind, looking dazed after its rude crash landing.

I ignore the throbbing in my shoulder and throw my arms around Ben, hanging onto him tightly and refusing to take any more chances. I literally cling to him for dear life itself. Neither one of us can afford to make another mistake like that again and we know it.

The wolf doesn't continue to pursue us and seems to decide that it's a better idea to partake of the already served meal that it left behind. Turning tail, it runs off to meet with its pack mates. But we're far from safe.

Since I'm now standing behind Ben, I let him focus on where he's going while I look back to assess the situation. The Hunters have scattered, but I manage to find Dustin and Randall. Only three wolves broke free from the pack to give chase to us. As horrible as it sounds, Nathaniel's death might have actually saved our lives. Otherwise, the pack's attention wouldn't be divided between us and fresh kill, and we'd be outnumbered and outrun.

We zoom past Dustin's sled and pull ahead. The young, inexperienced Hunter finds himself in the same situation that we were just in, with a famished wolf trailing after him. All he can do is will his dogs to run faster, but the relentless predator behind him does not intend to let him escape.

"Hold me!" I shout to Ben.


"I have to let go of you. Don't let me fall." I explain, and he wraps an arm around my waist when I release him.

I'm backwards on the sled now, facing behind, but at least I have Ben to hold me steady and I lean against him for balance while I do the only thing I can think of to do- I slide an arrow onto my bow.

"What are you doing?" Ben's voice sounds distant as he concentrates on where to go, and keeping me on the sled, "Don't fall off again!"

But I can't answer him right now. I don't have enough time to.

The Dire Wolf's muscles tense and it readies itself to spring on Dustin. I can't let us lose another Hunter.

The sled beneath me rattles, and my loose hair gets in my face. Everything is moving so fast that it's hard to see. I squint and try to hold my bow out steady, and I aim for the wolf, releasing the arrow.

I've never had to hit a target like this before. The arrow misses wildly and lands somewhere in the snow, useless. I curse and scramble to load another arrow just as the wolf leaps.

I just have to let myself go with my instinct. I try to control my breathing despite my frantic heartbeats and eliminate all thoughts from my mind. You can't mess up Lilith, I tell myself, You have to do this. Time seems to slow down, and it gives me just enough time to clear my head and calculate the direction and speed of my arrow.

I release the second arrow. The events pass in slow motion before me as it sails through the air and meets the wolf in mid-leap, piercing its ribcage. The wolf lands on the back of Dustin's sled and stubbornly snaps at him as it struggles to stay on, its back end dragging behind it in the snow, slowing Dustin down. Its forepaws scramble on the wood, desperately trying to pull it up so that it can reach the Hunter, but every movement just causes the arrow to sink deeper into its flesh.

"Get off!" Dustin growls at the wolf, gaining more confidence now that his opponent has been weakened. He delivers a powerful kick to its jaw that sends it tumbling into the snow where it struggles to get to its paws before going limp.

I let out a sigh of relief and nod to Dustin when he mutters a thank you. Two wolves down, one to go.

Randall is also being chased, but it seems like the older Hunter doesn't need my help. I watch as he does an amazing job at keeping his attention well balanced between the path ahead and the Dire Wolf behind, glancing back occasionally to keep track of its movements.

He seems to be waiting for something specific to happen. It doesn't take long for me to find out. The wolf finds enough momentum to hop onto Randall's sled, but Randall is ready with his knife in hand. He swings his arm out behind him with one swift movement and the blade cuts across the animal's face, blinding it.

Surprised, and with crimson blood staining its vision, the Dire Wolf falls off the sled and joins its pack mate in the now bloody snow, weakened and confused.

Now that the immediate threat has been removed, we still have no time left to stop and celebrate. It won't be long before the other Dire Wolves decide that one Hunter isn't enough of a meal.

Dire Wolves are notorious for their cunning. Unlike the Ice Beast, who opts for displays of brute force to attack its victims directly, the Dire Wolf is known to engage its prey in a battle of wits and endurance. They may not be strong enough to kill someone in one blow, but if they manage to wound you in any way, it's usually game over. They will stalk you until you go insane. They will wait until you are weak, until your wound is infected or you are bleeding out. They will bide their time, anticipating the exact moment when your campfire dies, knowing that you can't survive without it. They will cut you off from all of your resources, and will ambush you at every turn.

Part of me hopes that the pack of scheming canines has forgotten about us already. But the rational part of me doesn't believe that we'll ever be free of them now. Not unless we kill every last one of them.

Over the course of the next few minutes, the rest of the hunters make their way back to us one by one, and soon we're all together again. Even Nathaniel's empty sled rides beside us, seeming so light without its rider. Although the sight of it is depressing, we don't have time to mourn his loss. Life has to go on, or else more life will be lost.

It isn't long before a colossal glacier rises up out of the ground, blocking our path and preventing us from being able to go any further. It seems endless on either side, but Ben, who is in the lead again, shows no signs of slowing down. No one can question him this time, because no one else has been here except for him, and all anyone can do is follow him blindly. An opening appears in the solid wall of ice and we disappear into it, entering a cave.

I've never been in a cave before, much less one that belongs to a glacier. The smooth walls made out of transparent ice allow the light of day to filter through, illuminating the crystal stalactites that hang above us. The ground beneath us becomes precariously slippery, and the dogs tread carefully, their legs splayed out stiffly for more balance. The beauty of it renders me speechless, and I take in the aqua colored hues that the ice reflects, thinking that they remind me of my mother's eyes.

Ah, my mother. How will I ever find her now? Judging by Maurice's argument with Ben earlier, the Hunters hadn't been this way before. At least not at the time that my mother disappeared. She wouldn't have come here, and even if she wanted to, she'd never be able to face what we just did on her own.

We travel silently through the narrow tunnels of the cave in single-file line before the path widens enough for us to roam freely, and the formation breaks.

"Why did you bring us here, Ben?" Randall wipes his bloody knife on his pants and pulls up beside us, sending a glare his way, "Do you want us to get trapped in a dead end when those wolves follow us here?"

"Relax…" Ben still has his arm around my waist, and I can feel him tense up when faced with this accusation, "I know every inch of this cave. On my last trip with Luke, he brought me here, and said it was one of the safest places to hide in. It's harder for predators to track us by scent when on ice, and there are several exits."

"Is that so?" Randall's yellow eyes narrow, "Well forgive me for my faithlessness, but I have a hard time trusting you after your last decision got Nathaniel killed!"

"Shut up and let him do his job!" I snap, getting in Randall's face threateningly. How dare he, after all we've gone through, blame this on Ben alone? "Or do we need to tie you up somewhere again?"

"Oh, look how bold she is when she's got her boyfriend to defend her!" Randall's fist tightens around his knife as he sneers at me, "Next time I catch you alone, I'm going to see just how brave you really are…"

"I knew this was a bad idea, letting her come with us." Neal speaks up from behind Randall, frowning, "Before you know it she'll be telling us all what to do as if she actually knows what she's talking about!"

"Luke would have never allowed it if he were here!" Randall adds.

Our sled comes to a stop and everyone halts when Ben's aggravated voice cuts through the air, "Everyone shut up!" His words echo off the walls, ringing loud and clear in our ears, full of authority, "There are bigger things going on here, things that are just a tiny bit more important than your egos." He hops off the sled and approaches Randall and Neal, fixing them both with his look of disapproval and impatience, "Do I need to remind you that I'm the only one here who actually knows where we're going? Your lives are in my hands. I wouldn't get on my bad side…"

"Was Nathaniel on your bad side?" Randall retorts, "Or how about Luke? It's funny how you replaced him when he died, even though you're not even one of us. Seems like a big coincidence to me…"

"Sounds like someone's jealous." I interrupt, coming to Ben's aid. I know a lot about Randall, more than Ben does, and I recognize the sound of a sore loser when I hear it, "Head Hunter is a coveted position, isn't it Randall? Only the best Hunters are considered for it. Get over the fact that you didn't make the cut when we had to choose a new one!"

I see the veins on Randall's neck pop from high blood pressure and watch as he turns a dark crimson color. Ben, who stands between us, is shoved to the side without notice and Randall charges towards me.

Instinctively, I put my hands up in defense, having no time to do anything else. The blade of his knife cuts through the air and slices the palm of my left hand open. Immediately, a curtain of red blood spills down my wrist, soaking the sleeve of my coat, and I stumble to my knees, clutching it to my chest with a gasp.

Before Randall can do anything else, someone knocks the knife out of his hand and punches him in the face. He slips on the icy ground beneath us and falls to the ground, his bruised face collecting yet another contusion.

"Don't touch her! She's only speaking the truth!" Dustin stands over him while I look on in shock, not expecting him, of all people, to use violence on another Hunter.

Ben gets the last word when he kicks Randall's knife away, out of his reach, before slamming his boot down on the man's chest, pinning him there on his back, "Did I not give specific orders to leave her alone?" He looks absolutely livid, upper lip curled into a snarl.

Randall seems to have trouble breathing and just glares up at Ben, the color on his face never fading.

"Answer me!" Ben increases the pressure, and Randall begins to turn blue.

"Yeah… whatever." He coughs.

"I want to hear you say yes sir."

"Yes… sir…" Randall gives Ben the answer he's looking for, but he says it with a mocking grin. Even in his weak tone, he is ever defiant, refusing to ease up on his blatant hatred for me.

Ben takes the pressure off of Randall's chest, but he delivers a swift kick to the ribs before letting him go. The older Hunter curls up on the ground and tries to recover, sucking in deep breaths and clutching his bruised ribcage.

The Head Hunter turns to me now and observes me trying to stop the bleeding in my hand. I hadn't sliced open a major artery or anything, but the blood is still flowing strong. I had been using my sleeve to try to stop it, but it is now soaked in scarlet.

"We'll have to take a break to tend to Lilith's hand." He sighs, rubbing his temples.

"Ben, if I may…" Maurice objects, a worried expression on his kind face, "We don't know how much time we have before the Dire Wolves find us again."

"Then be prepared to handle it." Is Ben's simple answer, "We have no choice. You can thank Randall."

With that, he takes me by my good hand and helps me to my feet, leading me away from the others.


This chapter was revised 12/21/2014

Please help me improve my writing by commenting on the following:

1. Is anything confusing?

2. Are any scenes boring or repetitious?

3. Do you spot any general tics (repeated words, etc.)?

4. Do you spot any confusing plot points (let me know when and where I lose you and what needs to be clarified)?

5. Does the opening grab you?

You don't have to answer these questions, by the way, but I would still appreciate a comment. Thanks.

11: Chapter Eleven
Chapter Eleven

Ben seems to understand the twists and turns of the cave as he drags me along behind him, leading me further and further away from the other Hunters with every shaky step I take. It doesn't dawn on me, at this particular moment, that it doesn't make sense for him to take me so far away, especially when I'm feeling weak. All I know is that my blood is leaving my body. And it's all Randall's fault.

I'm in a maze. It feels like a maze of mirrors, actually, when I catch my distorted reflection in the crystalline walls. I see my slightly tanned skin, just a few shades darker than Ben's, and my raven black hair, wild and in need of attention. I see my almond colored eyes peering back at me. But the girl that I observe changes constantly, her body shifting and morphing into strange shapes. She seems disproportionate, out of balance.

How fitting, I think. Is that not what I am? Unstable, unbalanced… ugly. And I don't mean in a physical sense, although I have never really stopped to think about myself in that way to really know. I'm internally ugly, with a fresh scar marring the face of my soul. How is it that I've become so disfigured, and will there ever be a chance for me to heal?

I can handle the physical attacks that I receive. Those wounds go away with time. But how much more emotional and mental torment can I take before I finally crack? I know now why Ben was so against me leaving the village to join them on the hunting trip. I wasn't sane enough when I left home.

And now, after all of this, I may never be sane again.

Finally we stop in the middle of one of the smaller tunnels that break off the main one. I lean against the cold wall for support and keep my injured hand balled into a tight fist. The blood trickles through the cracks between my fingers, staining the ground beneath us red. When I look back, I notice too late that I've left a trail of blood in my wake. I don't have to be a genius to know that I've made a very dangerous mistake by allowing it to happen, but right now there's no sense in fretting over what can't be changed.

Ben turns to face me and reaches into his pocket to pull out a wad of gauze that he had taken from his sled prior to leading me here. He removes my soaked glove, which Randall's knife had easily sliced through, before taking off his own. His warm hand closes around my wrist, holding my arm still, while the other unfurls my fingers to better observe the damage done.

"It's ok, really." The words come out of my mouth faster than I can stop them, even though I know they're ridiculous. It's obvious to see that I do need some medical attention, and I'm not fooling Ben, who just shakes his head.

"I'm going to kill Randall with my bare hands." He frowns, cursing under his breath, "At least it won't get infected. Knife wounds rarely tend to have that problem. The cut is clean." He uses some of the gauze to wipe the blood off the surrounding area.

I flinch from the sting. It didn't hurt so much before, but the mind has a funny way of convincing itself to feel more pain when directly looking at something. Now that I am actually taking the time to stare at the wide gash on my palm, I imagine that I can feel my exposed veins pulsing with every beat of my heart.

I have to turn away and look at something else. Gritting my teeth, my eyes focus on the tunnel around us. The fact that we're farther than necessary from the other Hunters draws my attention at this moment, and my gaze flickers back to Ben, who seems rather calm, if not mildly flustered.

"Shouldn't we be with the others?"

Ben releases a dry laugh when I ask this, and he begins to wrap my hand with the gauze, "I can't stand to be around any of them right now. Besides, if one more person tries to kill you, I might lose my mind."

"You and me both." I reply, but I find myself biting my lip in thought. That answer isn't quite satisfactory. I can understand Ben taking me aside. But I don't understand him taking me this far out. It seems a bit extreme. I try to think of something else to say when I suddenly gasp in fresh pain. The movements of my injured hand being wrapped, however small, make me remember how I had injured its corresponding shoulder earlier as well.

"Damn it… you hurt your shoulder too, didn't you?" Ben finishes wrapping my hand and for a moment just holds it in between his, his silvery eyes catching the bluish tint reflected off the ice, "That was my fault. I'm… sorry." It seems hard for him to say this, and he hesitates at first as if that specific word is foreign to him and he doesn't know if he's using it right.

"It's nothing." I lie as convincingly as I can and force the pain to the back of my mind. I don't say this to make Ben feel less guilty, I just don't like advertising my weaknesses. I've already been letting too much slip as of late, especially in front of Ben, "It's a small price to pay for being alive. You…" Now it's my turn to search for words that I never use. Words of gratitude. What are they, and how does one express them? "You risked your life to save me back there. I mean, you could have fallen off the sled hauling me up like that. Thank you." I don't mean to make it sound like I'm spitting the last two words out, but it seems as if my mouth has forgotten which way to move to form the correct sounds.

It's the second time I've said thank you in over a year. And both times it was to Ben. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm broken or something, because not too long ago I never would have imagined that I'd have so much to thank him for, of all people.

"Don't thank me." I don't know if it's my imagination, but Ben's metallic eyes seem to radiate some warmth for a change. As I look into them, I feel like I'm standing beside a fire. It makes an unfamiliar warmth rush through me, and I'm reminded of our sled rides together, when his closeness to me had forced me to feel things that I didn't want to feel. Things that I still don't want to feel, "They told me about how you saved me from the Ice Beast, you know. You could have run away when it charged at you, and it would have gotten me instead. But you didn't."

"Yeah… well…" Come on Lilith, you know how to form sentences. Say something. Why can't I concentrate on a response? I take far too long to come up with an intelligent reply, "My motives were completely selfish, you know. After all, you were the only one that was on my side at the time. Now that I have Chris, Maurice and Dustin to back me up, you're expendable." I flash a smug smirk his way.

"Oh really? I'm expendable to you?" Ben takes a small step closer to me. I'm angry with myself for not stepping back to re-establish the set distance between us. I'm angry with myself for not wanting to.

"As expendable as I am to you." I answer while I focus on remembering how to breathe, "Which puzzles me, actually. I'm not that valuable. Out of everyone here, let's face it, I'm more of a liability than an asset. Why do you bother to protect me?"

Ben narrows his eyes, but the warmth doesn't leave them. He seems to be thinking about what to answer, almost like he doesn't really know the reason himself, "Randall is more of a liability than you. For all of his skill, his attitude is an accident waiting to happen." He looks pointedly down at my hand, which he still holds in his own, "I brought you out here to give you a chance. Maybe I did it because I thought it would be funny. So far, it has been entertaining. I enjoy our little talks whenever I need to get away from it all. You're kind of like a pet. Our mascot, if you will." He winks and tries to keep his voice light, but I can perceive that he's hiding behind humor to mask what he really wants to say, whatever that is.

"I find it hard to believe that you enjoy me for my conversation." I say skeptically, ignoring the part about being a mascot. I'll be offended about that comment later, but right now there's something else I'm searching for. Even I don't know what it is, but instinct compels me to keep pushing until I get something specific, "I'm not exactly the life of the party."

"Oh but that's where you're wrong." One of the corners of Ben's mouth turns up to give me a wolfish grin, eyes gleaming with something reminiscent of the dangerous side of him that I've seen before, "This trip wouldn't be half as fun without you. Do you know how long I've been waiting for a valid excuse to punch Randall in the face? Now I have him as a personal punching bag, ready to provoke on demand. As for your conversation, I don't think you realize how refreshing it is to talk to someone who's neither afraid of you nor wants to kill you."

I ponder over this, and am genuinely surprised by his words. He likes the fact that I'm not afraid of him? That I don't hate him? It's kind of funny that those same qualities, which we seem to share, were what made me dislike him in the beginning.

Again I'm struck by how similar we really are to each other. Similar, and yet, opposite at the same time. It's almost as if Ben has walked in my shoes before, except the path he chose led him to become strong and self-assured. I wonder if I'll ever be as resilient as he is, or if fate will eventually make me evolve into something else entirely.

Was he broken like me at some point as well? He must have been, if he lost his family and his home. Which reminds me, I still don't have the slightest clue as to where he came from.

"I can't help but notice that you aren't like the others." I tell him seriously, "The way you talk to me is different from the way they do it. You act like I'm an equal." I frown, thinking that maybe this is another reason for why I never got along with Ben in the past. He was always different, and I didn't know how to deal with it. So the only response that I could think of in view of the unknown was to push him away. But now that I know this, I realize that I don't want to push him away. Not anymore, "Is this how they treat women where you come from?"

I look down at my bandaged hand now, afraid of his reaction to my curiosity. He still holds it between his, and my skin burns where we make contact. Normally this would be strange, and I would feel uncomfortable. But it's not strange with Ben. It's almost an unspoken rule between us that neither one of us should pull away. Instead, I take both of his hands in mine and hold them lightly, our fingers interlacing. I've never done this before, but I don't really think about it now. Ben seems to accept this gesture without much surprise, although I can feel his body stiffen ever so slightly at my question.

He chuckles at first, like something is funny, but if there's supposed to be a joke in all of this it must be something only he can understand, because I don't get the humor in my inquiry, "Where I come from…" He pauses before biting his lip, and then shakes his head. He does his best to hide a tremor that passes through him, but I can feel it in his hands, "It doesn't matter. I treat you the way I do because you're different too, like me. Don't ask me to explain it, but it's easy for me to be more relaxed around you."

I feel a stab of regret for making him recall memories that are probably painful for him. I know what it's like to not want to relive certain events. I know what it's like to cry myself to sleep over something that I have no control over. Although it's hard for me to picture someone as strong as Ben crying for a family that he'll never be with again, I can see it now in his eyes. Yes, we're very much the same, aren't we?

"But why now?" I remember the indifference between us back home. I remember the eventual hostility as well. None of my past experiences with Ben match any of this, "If I stand out to you as much as you say, why have we never been friends before?"

"I didn't know you then like I know you now." He explains, "You always seemed like you had something to prove. What I perceived to be your arrogance irritated me. Although you're far from perfect, and perhaps lacking a healthy amount of sanity, I now see someone else in the madness. Maybe I even see a little bit of myself."

I know what he means, because I can see some of myself in him too. But Ben is still so many things that I'll never be, and I fear that he overestimates my strength and courage. I have the strange desire to not disappoint him. It comes with the fear of knowing that I will.

"So if it's someone else you see, who is she?" I whisper, because I don't know who I am anymore. I've become so internally mangled that I've lost myself. Maybe Ben knows where I am. Maybe he can help me out of the darkness.

He seems to think carefully, before tilting forward ever so slightly until his forehead leans against mine. The heat that I feel in my veins intensifies and I find myself paralyzed, unable to pull away even if I wanted to. And still, even now, I don't want to, even when I see the danger of what lies ahead if I don't stop this right here.

"She's afraid." Ben says softly, his warm breath mingling with mine in the small space left between us. I can feel it wash over my lips, a surprisingly pleasant sensation, "She's lost, and she's alone. But she's stronger than she thinks, and more valuable than she'll ever know."

My breath catches in my throat. I find myself unable to speak, but even if I could, there would be no right words to say. We've gone beyond the point of talking, and something else needs to fill the space of the silence. My heart races because I know what it is that comes next.

I consider walking away. There's still time to, before it all gets out of hand. That's what broken Lilith says, the one who's too afraid to let herself feel. But then there's the Lilith that Ben sees, the one that got swallowed up in dismay so long ago. And she wants nothing more than to close that space between us.

Ben inches closer, our noses brushing, and I tilt my head to the side ever so slightly. I can almost feel his lips on mine, the space nearly nonexistent. Time seems to slow down, and I close my eyes.

“Wait.” Ben pulls away suddenly, making me jerk backward in surprise, “Don’t move.”

And then he reaches for his knife. 


Note: I re-revised this chapter and changed the ending because it didn't flow right into chapter twelve and it was giving me some serious writer's block. Now that I've tweaked the ending a bit, hopefully my words will flow more smoothly and chapter twelve will be up soon.

Since I changed the ending, what do you think of it? Is it too abrupt? Does it interrupt the flow? Does it seem out of place? Or does it catch you by surprise in a good way?

This chapter was revised 12/28/2014

Please help me improve my writing by commenting on the following:

1. Is anything confusing?

2. Are any scenes boring or repetitious?

3. Do you spot any general tics (repeated words, etc.)?

4. Do you spot any confusing plot points (let me know when and where I lose you and what needs to be clarified)?

5. Does the opening grab you?

You don't have to answer these questions, by the way, but I would still appreciate a comment. Thanks.

12: The Experiments
The Experiments


Before the ice age, scientists attempted to bring back from extinction certain key animals that had long since disappeared. They created their own creatures, writing their own DNA codes. However, the creatures that they created were flawed due to a lack of understanding of DNA. They were uncontrollable, untamable, and much more aggressive than their nature-made counterparts due to a neurological imbalance. Their eyes are also always, inexplicably, red. The animals that Lilith and the others come across in the story will be listed here in order of appearance for the reader’s understanding. (Note: This section will always be at the very end, so that new readers don’t read this first before the rest of the story. Every time a new creature is introduced, this will be updated.)


1)  Experiment #: 372, Local Name: Ice Beast

Origin: Was created to replace the extinct polar bear. Earned the name “Ice Beast” because it is commonly found dwelling near ice fields that border large bodies of water.

Appearance & Behavior: Looks like a polar bear only slightly larger. Lives in dens and normally does not actively seek humans unless it stumbles across them, in which case it will attempt to kill what it perceives to be either prey or an intruder. Attacks using brute force and its long, sharp claws. Nearly impossible to kill because of its size, strength, and unstoppable blood-lust.


2) Experiment #: 1, Local Name: Dire Wolf

Origin: The wolf population, although not extinct, was dwindling. This, paired with scientists’ fascination for resurrecting the prehistoric Dire Wolf, led to the very first experiment that preceded all of the others. It actually contains preserved Dire Wolf DNA and is more “authentic” than the other experiments, but it still isn’t free of the “glitches” that resulted in human manipulation of DNA. Earned its name from the original Dire Wolf. When the village formed, someone must have known what it was called, because this is indeed its correct name.

Appearance & Behavior: Twice the size of an average Gray Wolf with the same coloring as its cousin. Its legs are long in proportion to its body, unlike the Gray Wolf, and the length of its body is extended, making its head appear smaller although the jaws are actually larger and much more powerful than the jaws of the Gray Wolf. Lives in packs, normally of five or more. Extremely social and very intelligent. Actively seeks out humans and prefers them over all other prey. Rather than use brute force, it prefers to injure its prey in some meaningful way and then stalk it until it’s weak enough to go in for the kill. Prefers to eat its victims while still alive, which is why it uses this more passive approach, especially for powerful prey like elk, or dangerous prey like humans.