The cold light of the moon cast its pale rays on the surrounding snow, causing it to glow eerily. The light dazzled the eyes of night creatures. Trees appeared skeletal and bushes appeared bare, weighed down as they were by the snow. A faint breeze whispered amongst the branches. Apart from that, nothing could be heard. The forest was absent of life.
Except for one.
The snow crunched softly under the hunter’s footsteps. His body was tense and alert. His eyes flickered back and forth as he scanned the undergrowth. His nose sniffed the air as he tried to pinpoint the scent of prey. Hunting was thin this winter.
The trees and bushes stood silently with their burden of snow, impassively watching the hunter. They were patiently waiting for the first stir of new life and the warmth of spring. The trees had lived long and endured much. They had sheltered many and lost countless numbers of their companions to the sharp blades of axes. They held no grudges and made no judgements. They merely stood and watched: guardians of the forest and its creatures.
A gunshot rang out through the forest. The hunter’s head swivelled towards the sound. He waited, motionless. His eyes soon picked up a slight movement towards his left. The hunter changed his course, heading towards the new sounds. His footsteps were careful and his progress was slow and cautious. He came to the crest of a hill and crouched, wriggling the rest of the way, and peeked over the top.
Below the hunter, two men dressed heavily in thick clothing were standing over the corpse of a deer. By their side stood a large dog – a husky, judging by its appearance. The dog’s panting created light clouds of steam in the frosty air as it obediently waited for an order from its master. The two men were quietly discussing their plans for the deer.
The hunter’s mouth watered as he gazed upon the prone body of the deer. He had gone long without a solid meal, and the prospect of fresh meat was too good to resist. He silently calculated the odds of overcoming two men and their dog, then dismissed these thoughts from his head. He was desperate. If he did not eat soon, he would be too weak to hunt.
The hunter crouched and prepared to spring.
'I don’t like this. We should just take the deer and go,' muttered one man.
'If we carry it like it is now, we’ll tire ourselves carrying it,' argued the other man.
'These forests make me uneasy. We need to leave as soon as possible,' said the first man, glancing around uneasily.
'What are you worried about?' laughed the other. 'Wolves?'
Even as the words left his mouth, a loud growling erupted from behind a large snow bank. The two hunters barely had time to turn around before they were surprised by a snarling wolf.
The men had been taken completely by surprise. Their canine companion was no match for the hunter’s ferocity and strength. Their corpses soon joined the deer’s on the blood-stained snow. The hunter howled his victory to the pale moon, giving his thanks to an invisible god that he would live to hunt another day.
A young wolf nearby pricked his ears at the howl and instinctively pulled back his lips in a snarl. There was something in the howl that went against every fibre of his being. It was a wolf’s howl uttered by one who was not wolf. It set every hair of his body on end.
But then the scent of fresh meat suddenly drifted past his sensitive nose, and the wolf’s hunger was aroused. He followed the scent, eventually coming across four corpses: two men, one tame half-wolf and a deer. Crouched amongst them was another man-figure. He wore no protection from the cold, and his eyes stared challengingly at the wolf, daring him to come closer.
The wolf growled and raised his hackles. There was only this one man-creature standing between him and fresh meat. And he had no protection, unlike the other two man-creatures lying on the snow. If he had been older, the wolf might have checked himself and taken into account the four corpses. But he was young and still learning the ways of hunting. He gathered himself and sprang for the man’s throat.
The man smiled as the wolf launched himself at him, though the wolf did not know why. The man’s form seemed to change and morph before the wolf’s eyes. If a wolf was ever capable of feeling surprise, it certainly would have felt it now. Standing before the wolf was yet another wolf, but larger and most certainly stronger. It was too late for the wolf – which only now realised its mistake too late – to stop its leap. With an almost casual swipe of his paw, the man-wolf swatted his attacker aside in mid-leap.
The wolf was flung against a tree, its ribcage crushed in an instant by the powerful blow. The wolf knew it was dying. As its consciousness faded away, it finally recognised the futility of its attack on the man-wolf. The unnatural howl sounded again as the wolf shuddered and took its last breath.
A lesson learned, but at the cost of a life, for the world of the hunter is harsh and allows no second chances. Only the strong survive.
Kill or be killed. That is the law.
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