Chapter Two


“Ugh,” the wind is knocked out of me in a deep grunt as the blow lands on my stomach. Tears well in my eyes but I shake them away.  Instead, I square up and meet the hatred burning in my father’s eyes. I’d seen it before. In moments when he thought I wasn’t looking. My father wasn’t a kind man but that was why he was the society’s best hunter. The life of a hunter is cruel and short…there was never any room for kindness.

Taking a deep breath, I launch into the attack. My kicks and punches coming so quickly, I catch a moment of surprise in his eyes and I feel a trill of excitement. Today, ol’ man. I am going to win today.

I press forward as he scrambles to block each attack I throw at him; barely holding his ground. He moves away from me and I smile in triumph as I swing with my right fist. His eyes narrow and he dips below my swing, his own punches landing right in the middle of my stomach. I gasp at the pain ballooning through my body as his leg sweeps under my feet and I land hard on my back.

Struggling to get the air back that was just forced out of me, I bite back the cry of pain as he lifts up his foot and buries it as a hard as he can into my stomach. One, two, three, four; as the fifth kick sends a new blossom of pain through me, I gasp out, “Enough…I give.”

His disappointment hurts as much as the beating he’d laid on my body. It had been a week since I’d made that mistake. A week of brutal training from the early mornings until late into the night. He made sure I regretted every second of hesitation and my body was bruised and bleeding from all the beatings he’d given me and the grueling training I’d been going through as punishment.

“What did I tell you?”

I stare up at him through swollen eyes. The black eyes he’d given me earlier the week weren’t healed and I was positive he’d created new damage to them. “Never give up,” I whisper through cracked lips.

“You have become such a disappointment, Evangeline.” He sat down on the bench outside the sparring ring as he spoke. Taking a long draw from his water bottle, I watched him trying to control his breathing. The only consolation I had…at least the sparring was getting harder for him. I’d never seen him winded before.

“I’m not sure what is happening with you but you need to make changes. I will not have a daughter who hesitates when it’s time to kill a wolf,” he lectured. “You hesitate and it could cost you your life or the life of the hunters working with you.”

I nod but I can’t focus on his words. I know the spiel. He’s said them over and over to me when he first started training me at five. By seven, he’d taken me on my first hunt. By 10, I’d killed my first wolf; a rogue that we’d tracked for weeks. We’d found him in a home, a woman dead beside him as he gorged on her flesh. It had been an easy choice…I hadn’t even winced when I pulled the trigger and ended the pitiful monster’s life.

Even with that kill, I’d felt a pang. As though I’d just damaged something within me but then I’d looked at Father and his eyes glowed with pride…something I had never seen before. “All these years and I thought you were ready to be announced to the counsel. They were interested in you Evangeline but now, I don’t know if you are ready.”

I sighed. We’d been playing this game for the entire week. I knew what he wanted. I’d given in, which was worse than hesitating. I ground my teeth together and pulled myself up to my feet. I swayed for a moment as vertigo hit and fresh pain tore through my body. I was pretty sure he’d broken several ribs and maybe even ruptured my spleen. My eyes flicked toward the table where the healing elixir sat. It would fix my body…a hunter’s secret weapon. How else would hunters have survived all these millennia? We needed magic to heal our bodies and give us an edge. Without it, we would have been wiped out long before now.

I heard him tsk and I returned my gaze to him. No matter how much I needed to heal, I wasn’t going to get that elixir until I either won or he beat me to unconsciousness. “Let’s get this over with,” I said. Even I was impressed with how strong my voice was.

A smile spread across his face and for the first time in the entire week, I saw pride in his eyes. He stood up and grabbed the quarter staff sitting on the weapons rack. Tossing me one, he picked up another and moving much faster than a normal human could track, swung at me with his staff.

I barely blocked it, my movements a controlled frenzy as I blocked swing after swing. We moved around the ring like two dancers, each one in perfect harmony with the weapon in their hand. I closed my eyes and allowed my instincts to take over. I could hear his footsteps as he moved from one move to the next, smell the sweat dripping off of both of us and feel the staff shudder in my hand as I blocked each attack he made. I moved as though someone else was in control of my body and she was as capable, maybe even more so, as I.

Embracing the hunter within, I give up the control of my body and just allow it to move. I can feel my body respond and suddenly, I am on the attack. I can hear his breathing becoming more labored as I strike out with the staff…the sound of it whizzing through the air sends my eyes open and I can see fear in my father’s face for the first time in my life.

I don’t take control but continue to watch, like a spectator at a show as my body moves in ways I’ve never seen it move. The staff slips beneath my father’s guard and connect with his ribs. The sound of them breaking makes me grit my teeth and I fight to regain control of my body again. Something is wrong!

The staff twirls between my hands and it connects again with my father’s side. He grunts in pain and I see him retreating. As I struggle with the entity that has taken over, I’m aware of a constant babble in my head as the voice screams, “She is mine!”

And I am screaming with it as I wrench my arm back. “What the f—” I cry out as my father’s eyes darken in anger and his staff strikes the side of my head. I feel nothing as I crash down onto the floor, my world fading to black as unconsciousness pulls me under.

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