“Last one,” a deep snarling voice calls from somewhere in the distance. Groaning, I try to lift my head and find it takes every ounce of strength I have. My head pounds to its own, and I lift it where my chin is pressed to my chest. My ankle is still throbbing, and my eyes flutter open, and go to wipe them, only to find my hands restrained.
I blink rapidly, yanking on my binds in panic while looking out the huge doors to where Lycan and werewolves are coming in my direction. The ropes are extremely tight, and it is tied to the bench seat I am sitting on. I glance around, taking in my surroundings, my vision still a little blurry, when I realize I am in the back of a cattle truck.
Looking up, the moon is high in the sky peering back at me, almost as if it is taunting me.
Hearing a scuffle, I peer around once more, when yelling and screaming makes me turn my head to see a girl whose name I do not know get tossed heavily into the back of the truck. Her body makes a loud thud as she lands on her stomach, her head bouncing on the wooden floor between my feet. A whimper far at the back of the truck makes me turn my head to see three men huddled in the corner like scared rabbits. I recognize their faces, yet I also do not know their names.
“That’s the last one!” A man yells out to the driver as he grabs the handhold and steps into the back. The girl, whose name I do not know, scrambles for the back of the truck, where the three young men are huddled.
The man who tossed her takes a seat across from me after shutting the back of the truck and caging us in. It stinks heavily of blood, sweat, and what smelt heavily of cow crap. I stare at the wooden grated walls ahead. My thoughts drifting to my grandmother and how I couldn’t save her. Everything in me is screaming out for her, yet I do not cry, I do not plead for my life or fight against the situation because I no tears won’t bring her back, I know fighting is pointless, and my pleas will go unheard.
My mind keeps going back to the strange smile she gave me, I know it will forever haunt me. Her parting words are permanently seared into my head. “They found you, but they’ll regret it.” She had chuckled before she turned and ran for the ledge, her body careening over the side. It is almost as if she knew her fate was sealed and took life back into her own hands.
The truck’s engine rumbles to life, loud in the dead of night. Yet it didn’t drown out the whimpers at the back of the truck coming from faces I knew but people I didn’t.
This place was supposed to be safe, out of reach of civilization’s clutches, and far away from any harm. I grew up in these mountains, grew up in the sprawling fields of wildflowers, the rocky terrain of the mountains was my training ground, and flowing rivers were my escape. Out here, we were far from the four Lycan kingdoms. Yet all the that training is for nothing now that I am being hauled away to what I can only describe as hell.
The mountains were not far enough away, apparently. They came in the night, surrounded our home, and ripped us from where we slept. We are no longer safe or free of the King’s rule. And that becomes abundantly clear when what was left of us was loaded into trucks only moments ago. I stare idly head, my hands tied behind my back. The bumping road jostles me as it navigates the off-road track. I feel queasy until we reach the flat surface of the roads we were always forbidden to go near.
The mountains were all I knew, the only place I remember, and now it is gone, just like those of us that lived in peace for so long. Now I realize my grandmother was right. She tried to warn everyone for years that our place of sanctuary would be one day found. They wouldn’t listen. Even I was skeptical despite dreaming this scenario plenty of times, yet in my dreams Grandma was beside me not dead and floating away in the ocean’s current.
She warned them our rising population put us at higher risk, too many coming and going like we were untouchable. She warned the elders that someday one of those they let leave would be caught and give up our location. And she was right.
Crying sobs and pained moans fill the back of the truck that has seats running along each side. Which I know aren’t part of the original design. I may have never left the caves, but I know some things from granny or from the books she would find when off searching for supplies. I am the youngest in our little cave village. Everyone is far older. I have no memories of a world outside our small community, only that cave and the mountains surrounding it.
A feral snarl makes my eyes move away from the crack in the wood I am staring out of. My eyes move to the man sitting across from me. Only he isn’t a man at all. No, he is a monster.
Despite his glare’s coldness, his amber eyes seem to burn into me. Once there were fifty of us, now only five of us remain. The others must have been considered too old and killed instantly. Turning my head, I peer at the three boys and the other girl, all older and in their twenties, while I am only eighteen.
They cower together on the floor while I am tied across from this monster staring at me. Strangely, I feel numb. Maybe I am in shock. I don’t know. All I know is, I am being taken to a place of the unknown.
The man across from me leans forward, clicking his fingers in front of my face. I hadn’t realized I am once again staring into nothingness. My mind once again zoning out my surroundings.
“You are an odd one, aren’t you?” the man speaks. His voice is deep, and he moves in his makeshift seat across from me, his eyes leering as he takes in my barely clothed body.
“No, you just don’t scare me,” I tell him, shocked at how my emotionless my own words are, I turn my gaze back to those huddled in the corner.
They stare back, but none of them were ever my friends. Even in the caves and tunnels, they always kept their distance; I couldn’t even tell you their names.
My grandmother taught me everything she knows. Yet she always kept me from getting too close to anyone else. She said those that lived amongst us. Their names were never of importance. Now I understand why. None of us would live long enough to ever feel comfortable building attachments to someone.
“They don’t like you,” he states, glancing at them, and I turn my attention back to the man who bound my hands, so tightly I can no longer feel my fingers. “What makes you say that?” I ask, curious. They never gave me any reason to believe they hated me, yet they never gave me any reason to say they liked me either. They may think the same of me.
“Because when we entered the cave, they ran and tried to help each other. You, and that woman they left behind,” he states, turning his head and sneering at them. They whimper, pressing closer together as if it would shield them from his anger.
“They were frightened,” I answer, surprised at how robotic even my own voice sounds once again. Anyone would think I am merely conversing with someone from the cave, not someone responsible for slaughtering everyone.
“You smell strange. You don’t smell the same as them. They reek of fear. You reek of acceptance. Your reactions to us finding you are wrong,” he says, sniffing the air.
“As I said, you don’t scare me,” I speak slowly. I did not fear him, fear the kingdoms or anyone. Death is part of life, so there is no use fearing something we all one day would meet. Maybe that is why I feel so detached from my grandmother’s death.
“No, there is something else. You smell too different,” he adds, and I sigh, taking in his watchful face. His eyes sparkle back at me, and he licks his lips, the points of teeth that stick out a little too long are protruding from his lips.
“So do you,” I answer. I have always had a keen sense of smell, more than anyone back home. It is why I am the best hunter. My hearing seemed to pick up more than most back home, too, and I am quicker because I am smaller. All thanks to grandma’s training, not that it served me well once the cave was invaded. No training could prepare anyone for an attack by the King’s guards.
The man scoffs, folding his arms across his broad chest. “What do I smell like?” he chuckles, amused by my answer. “Death.” I answer his question.