This is a developing story that continues every Halloween with new suspenseful installments written by American author, Richelle E. Goodrich. Start here at the beginning and then read chapters for four years running to prepare yourself for the next werewolf adventure posted on All Hallows Eve!
Dedicated to my friend, Cathie Duvall,
the true Queen of All Hallows Eve.
Year 2012 - 'An Eye for an Eye'
Year 2013 - 'Closer as Enemies'
Year 2014 - 'Rats with Wings'
Year 2015 - 'Rock Beast'
Year 2016 - 'Vallatrece'
“Vengeance is a monster of appetite, forever bloodthirsty and never filled.”
— Richelle E. Goodrich
I brought my sword down hard in front of Thaddeus, preventing him from turning away from me. How dare he try to disregard my arguments so easily! As my blade sliced through the air, a strange high-pitched trill formed—the familiar, eerie ring its unique composition always produced.
Thaddeus jerked his head sideways, brown eyes bulging, gawking at me from beneath eyebrows so thick they curled like the dark mass of ringlets cascading from his scalp to below his shoulders. I had often wondered while watching this man—this silver-tongued conniver who had appointed himself leader of our puny village—if yanking on his curls wouldn’t prove his hair longer than my own limp, black tresses. I doubted a sharp edge had ever touched his mane.
My attention shifted as Thaddeus went for a dagger hidden beneath his leather jacket. His eyes narrowed, erasing their initial flash of fear. I locked my jaw to suppress a smirk, knowing it would be ill received.
Of course I couldn’t blame the man for pointing his stunted weapon at me. My sword had struck so near his toes, anyone who didn’t know better might have thought I’d wanted to chop off his foot, faltering the slightest bit in my aim. Our present argument could easily have supported that theory.
I glanced at the gold dagger meant as a threat, sculpted and bejeweled like one of King Solomon’s finest possessions. Background to it, Thaddeus’ heart pounded visibly in his chest. Scorn twitched my upper lip regarding him.
The coward. Pigeon. Weak, gritless swine. “You fool!” Only the last insult did I hiss aloud.
Thaddeus pointed at my sword with his dagger, gesturing with a slight flick of the wrist as though the action might shove my silver blade away from his toes.
“Back off, Catherine. I’ve no desire to harm a woman. Least of all you.”
I made a curt and lowly sound—a mix of amusement and disgust. As if this pathetic man possessed the ability to touch me without my allowing it. No one, not even the bedeviled creatures of Hallows Eve, could stand against my sword—a charmed weapon gifted to me by a haggardly witch of the forest. She had come in a dream, bent on revenge against the very creatures Thaddeus and I and all other citizens of our village would face this very cursed evening. As a young woman I had awoken in a panic, drenched in perspiration, the silver blade lying across my chest. It had happened fourteen years ago on the annual night of unleashed evil—the dreadful Hallows Eve. Tonight marked that anniversary.
I squinted at the western sky behind Thaddeus, a blood-red smear melting into blackness. Twisting my neck, I glanced the opposite direction. My teeth clenched at a magnified full moon nearly as scarlet as the portending sunset; its luminous face was half masked by hazy cloud cover. Hatred, vengeance, anger…..such emotions coursed through my veins in a poisonous concoction that muddied my mind, impelling me to grip my sword tighter and fight with every ounce of strength I possessed against those who threatened my family—my kind. Currently, Thaddeus was behaving as such a threat, using his powers of persuasion to condone human sacrifice for some outrageously perceived good. He wanted an offering for the monsters, a desperate but futile offering of human flesh that would in no way protect the other villagers from being mauled as he promised.
Sundown was near, the moon visibly whole. It seemed all things were coming together for the unearthly creatures that would soon appear in rite of this night. Nothing good awaited us. We, the few insane souls who continued to live year-round within the forested village of Tarishe, were at every disadvantage.
Thaddeus seemed to sense the need to calm me to some degree, to direct the fury heating every fiber of my being. Perhaps it was because of my murderous stare or the way my nostrils flared with every audible inhale or the way my sword dug deeper into the ground upon which he stood.
“Catherine. Catherine, please. Your skill and prowess will be needed tonight. Focus on guarding the village and defending our youth. Protect Nehemiah, your son. You wouldn’t want him to suffer the same fate as your daughter. Have you forgotten the evil that befell Natasha?”
My daughter had died as a babe, mauled by the claws of those demons we were about to face again this night. I had not witnessed the deed, but the retelling played like a grim memory in my head.
Swiftly, I lifted the tip of my sword to hover beneath our leader’s chin, threatening to slit his throat. “You will not leave those poor souls outside the gates, Thaddeus. Let them in.”
His palms opened up to me. “Catherine, you must understand…..they volunteered.”
“No, no, no, you convinced them of their worthlessness. You lied to them!”
“They’re old and weary souls, incapable of defending themselves against our murderous enemy. They’re as good as dead anyway, and you can’t….you won’t save them all, Catherine! They want to protect their children and grandchildren the only way they can. It’s depleted lives in exchange for preserving our young, a desire you should support as well. Think of Nehemiah! This sacrifice will appease a thirst for blood. It is not a vain act but one of love and compassion and…”
I pressed the tip of my sword into his skin, drawing a trickle of the night’s first blood. A crimson line quickly marked his neck and disappeared beneath his shirt collar. It was a test for me not to pierce him any deeper.
“Thaddeus, you vile, horrid monster, I swear I’ll kill you where you stand if you do not open those gates!”
I watched the lump in his throat bob up and down as he swallowed. Yet he failed to move.
My resolve was firm. I would kill him. Thaddeus must have seen the truth in my eyes, because he promptly flinched away and verbally agreed to my terms. Not without arguing my futility, of course.
“I will open one gate, but only briefly. Nightfall is nearly upon us. You put everyone at risk, Catherine, catering to those whom you cannot save. People are going to die tonight, you know that! You know it!”
“All I know is that I will fight to make it otherwise. They will not die because we spinelessly handed them over to the wolves!” I raised my silver sword—an enchanted weapon created by the sorcerous hag who had given it to me. It was a blend of Norse silver and mercury laced with drops of vampire venom. “This blade has never failed me, Thaddeus. One strike through the heart and those demons are forever destroyed. They cannot rise from the dead as they do when pierced by arrows or weapons of ordinary steel. This here is the power to annihilate those creatures for good.”
“But you have only one sword, and you lack the ability to be everywhere at once.”
I was aware his argument was both sound and true. That would not prevent me from trying to protect every last villager I could. Nor would it stop me from killing every demon of the night that crossed my path. I had to try. Every year I tried.
I glanced past Thaddeus and realized there was no time to argue with the fool any longer. It was a pointless endeavor at any rate. The sun was nearly set at his back now, the red smear of horizon pressed into a thin line by foreshadowing blackness.
I hurried out as soon as the locking board was removed and the gate yanked open. A few heads turned to look at me from across the way, each face sagged and wrinkled by harsh, graying years. These were our few elders, seated on a cluster of boulders outside the front fortress of Tarishe. The fury in my heart yielded to a powerful swell of both pity and shame beholding their dispirited forms. These were good human souls. Our parents. Our seniors. How could anyone possessing even a drop of conscience have contrived such a dastardly plan as to convince these precious jewels they were of no value other than to ransom their aged blood as a sacrifice to the enemy who threatened our village?
“Thaddeus, you’re the devil,” I murmured.
My footsteps hurried me forward, headed for one salt-and-pepper-haired woman in particular. Tears blurred my vision as I leaned over to wrap her frail form in one arm. I hugged the dear to my chest, my lips at her ear.
“Grandmother.” I choked on the word, fighting back the urge to sob. “Come with me. Come, quickly.” As I helped her up, I turned to the others. “All of you, hurry. Follow me inside.”
Though feeble, they didn’t hesitate to rise from their seats. Anger simmered once again in my chest. “Volunteers, my eye,” I spit, seething.
Turning to the village, supporting my grandmother with one arm, I glanced Thaddeus standing inside the gates. A bitter scowl set his jaw rigidly forward. His gaze refused to dart my way, and he offered no assistance with my rescue but kept himself within, shifting nervously from foot to foot while eyeing the darkening horizon.
“We must close the gates, now!” he declared with mock authority. His hands went to push on the thick swinging wood, yet he failed to creek its hinges but an inch. His eyes still refused to find me.
“You will wait!” I growled aloud.
I pulled my grandmother close to my side, meaning to move her along faster. A groan slipped from her lips that made me slacken my hold. I didn’t wish to hurt her frail bones, but Thaddeus was right about our need to hurry. Four other elderly figures passed us by, appearing to find it easy enough to abandon any altruistic intentions they had been convinced to entertain earlier. Thaddeus glowered at their hunched backs as they moved inside, swallowing hard as if he believed these defenseless human beings had somehow betrayed him by choosing to live. I made a mental note to punish our pathetic leader severely—a painful and prolonged torture—once this infernal night wore past. That is, if he and I both managed to survive.
Grandmother and I were the only stragglers, the last two outside the walls when a high-pitched, discordant howl echoed within the forest. A spine-chilling chorus replied, bringing even the wind to an unnatural standstill. My eyes shot toward the western sky. Blackness had erased everything. I gasped, knowing what this meant. It had begun. All Hallows Eve was now underway until sunrise, a night of unleashed evil observed by Hell’s creatures and its minions.
A weak form stumbled against me, and I caught my grandmother before she fell to the ground. She moaned in agony as my arms scooped up her old bones and cradled her as delicately as possible against my bosom.
“Sorry,” I breathed, hustling toward Thaddeus. “I’m so sorry, Grandma.” I truly didn’t wish to hurt her—my only remaining family besides my baby boy.
Barely crossing the border, I shoved her against our leader’s chest, forcing him to take the old woman in his arms. In the back of my mind I noted how he received her gently. It served to allay my detest for him by a degree.
My ears perked up at the sound of a low, deep-throated growl from behind, and I comprehended its significance immediately; it was a hostile warning. The wolves had wasted no time in gathering. I acted on instinct, pivoting on the balls of my feet to face our enemy. A lone figure stepped from the woods into the moonlight, his fur a thick, umber coat. The large werewolf paused momentarily to stare at me. Greater numbers were communicated at his back by a constant rumble, but their monstrous forms remained hidden within the trees. I moved toward the wolf. The gates slammed shut behind me, and I cursed the coward, Thaddeus, without glancing rearward.
“Spineless, pigeon-hearted waste of respectable manhood.” But I was grateful at least that my grandmother was safely locked inside. She would see to Nehemia.
Prepared to single-handedly engage the entire pack—an unknown number of wicked creatures seemingly immortal in their endurance—I unsheathed my blade and pointed it at the werewolf. The animal lowered its head yet continued to approach, two glowing, ochre eyes glued on my silver sword. Others skulked out of the shadows just then, exhibiting the same cautious advance as their apparent leader. They spread out, forming a wide half-circle.
“That’s right, you ugly dogs,” I breathed. “Come on. Come get what you deserve.”
Though the umber wolf guided the others in their wary press forward, I knew he wasn’t in truth their alpha head. That position belonged to the queen, a creature I had never actually laid eyes on in all the years I had wielded my sword against this fiendish pack. Legend gossiped of her vicious nature as well as her unique attributes:
“Black as the night she travels by,” some villagers would say, speaking of her nature as well as color.
Others whispered, wide-eyed, “The ebony beast is faster and more cunning than any man can conceive.”
“She’s queen of All Hallows Eve—a hellion creature without equal, devoid of mercy.”
But the black wolf’s only distinguishing feature, one all survivors agreed upon, was a silvery front paw. No other werewolf possessed that peculiarity. Unfortunately, I, Catherine, had never in all my fighting years laid eyes on that rare paw. Yet somehow the queen of werewolves materialized each and every year to rampage our Tarishe village and slaughter numerous members of its populace. Always outside of my awareness. Consequently, that also meant outside the power of the one weapon able to ensure the vile demon’s demise.
Other rumors also circulated—stories explaining the silvery paw:
“A misstep in Hamartia’s Swamp that drained all the life from that foot.”
“A bite from a werewolf’s deadliest enemy. The vampire venom would’ve killed any other wolf.”
“A witch’s conjured hex, shielded by the queen’s lifted paw. The wolf’s desperate act became an enduring curse.”
But my favorite rumor I knew to be a lie. “The result of a touch from Catherine’s bewitched sword.” Had I truly ever been given the chance to brush by that fiend’s pearly paw, had my eyes ever witnessed the alpha werewolf herself, I would have thrust every inch of Norse steel deep into the demon’s heart with vengeful passion, denying the pack of their crafty, merciless leader forevermore! Then, yes, then they would assuredly falter and turn on themselves. And at that day, gone be the curse of Hallows Eve from Tarishe!
Just beyond the reach of my sword, the umber wolf halted his silent advance. His manner—the way the beast’s upper body appeared to bow in an exaggerated display of humility—might have fooled a less experienced huntress. But I could read the spark in his murderous eyes and recognize determination in a stare that never once flickered from my blade. The pack, with their thick coats ranging from sooty to rusted colors, mimicked the lead animal’s behavior. I kept my focus on this one, although my peripheral vision noted dozens had cleared the woods.
Feet apart, I crouched in anticipation of a strike. It came as expected, swiftly from each side. Turning hard to my left, I swiped my blade horizontally and cut at a wolf bounding in mid-air. My sword sang and the animal collapsed, nearly severed in two. Momentum brought me clear around to where my sword plunged into the exposed chest of a second wolf. This one had also meant to tackle me.
In a ready stance I faced the umber wolf again. His muzzle remained lowered, brow furrowing between squinted eyes. The look was bothersome, yet I couldn’t explain why. It seemed his expression held a depth of sorrow, a glimpse that reached into the back of my head, tugging at a blank slate of memories unavailable to my conscious awareness. “Dejà vu,” I reasoned, excusing my anxieties as dredged up scenes from past bloody battles with these creatures.
There was little time to consider the strength of emotion affecting me because my enemy had no intention of relenting. A pair of werewolves that could easily have been roan-colored twins snapped their bared teeth at me, thrusting their necks forward as if meaning to attack as a team. The corpses at my feet must have wavered their resolve, however, for the animals withdrew in haste at one wave of my sword. Standing firm, I jabbed right, then left, causing every hunkered werewolf to flinch at the power in my hand—hexed steel meant to clinch their fate.
I heard my name called from above and knew without glancing that the Tarishe men had positioned themselves on upper walks inside the fortress. Arrows and staves peeked over timber walls, aimed to defend me. The first spear soared overhead and struck near the umber wolf. This caused the hairy beast to lift its snout and shoulders high, relinquishing a submissive pretense and revealing a considerably massive stature. Though its eyes grew wide with awareness, it paid little heed to what posed the lesser danger. I understood the werewolves would view the village men and their flimsy sticks as more annoyance than threat. Only my silver sword held death in its design for the demons.
A swarm of arrows arched through the darkness, some hitting their marks and piercing furred flesh. This attack provoked a rise of voluble growls from the wolves in stark contrast to the low rumble I had been greeted with. The majority of the pack appeared ready to leap at the timbered walls in an effort to punish those responsible for the rain of stinging needles. Being an experienced huntress, I took advantage of this brief shift in attention.
No war cry heralded my intent, only the trilling vibration of my sword as it fell on the enemy directly in my path, slicing through three hideous monsters before others became aware of my swift-and-deadly assault. Yelping carried up to a rising full moon. A wider circle cleared out all but the dead. Another shower of arrows assailed the wolves, but new wounds went basically ignored. Their attention had returned to me. To my sword.
“Come on, you ugly dogs, come at me!” I swung my arm wide, gesturing for a brave foe to step up to the challenge. “Come on, you mongrels! See if your fate doesn’t mirror that of your brothers!”
I had hoped for a fight, a few daring werewolves to test my strength and die by the steel in my clutches. I was confident I could take on a gang, especially aided by the Tarishe bowmen above. What I didn’t expect was the entire pack responding like a herd of crazed buffalo, every wolf on four legs coming at me at once. My heart faltered at the noiseless stampede. It started up again, thrumming in my throat.
Men in arms called down to me. “Catherine! Catherine, run!” Their arrows zoomed overhead in an attempt to buy me time. But I ignored the call to flee, following my own stubborn instincts. I raised my weapon high, tightening my grip on the hilt. Expecting to be buried by demon mongrels, I prepared to cut my way out.
“Open the gates! Open them now! Bring her in!”
I distinctly recognized the commanding voice that shouted out the last order. It was Thaddeus. But he was wrong to try and help me in this way. Opening the gates meant putting everyone in danger! He was inviting death inside!
“Thaddeus, no! No, don’t!” I cried. My thoughts at that moment were for my grandmother. She would be with Nehemiah, my innocent babe. “No, no, no! Close the gates! Close the…”
I hit the ground hard, disoriented and panicked. Not knowing what else to do, I clutched my sword with both hands and stabbed at the fur-covered masses, slicing through a thickening pile of bodies. Moonlight was cut off, blinding me entirely, but my blade continued to twist and jab within the mounting force that pinned me down. Warm liquid streamed in ribbons around my arms, coating my skin with spilt blood. My nose naturally wrinkled, bombarded by the sweet, metallic scent. In my ears, human cries mixed with beastly yelps, background to my own desperate grunts and groans. Then, unthinkably, my weapon met an obstructing force. I tugged, but the sword wouldn’t budge. I shoved on the butt end, but my efforts failed to drive the blade forward by even a hair. I tried to lift up my neck, desperate to catch a glimpse of who or what had paralyzed my weapon.
“Aaaaauuuuugghhh!” A sudden flood of tears pooled in my eyes, streaking my blood-stained face as moisture spilt over. An anguished cry had originated from my lungs, yet it took a moment for my brain to comprehend that it had truly been me crying out in pain.
I was hurt. My ankle burned as if a branding iron had been applied and left to seer deep into the flesh.
Something yanked on my leg, dragging me across the ground a few inches. The throng of werewolves stepped aside as I was pulled, allowing a full moon to grant me sight once again; however, my sword remained immovable, grasped on the pommel end by my fingers, and on the other end…..
I lifted my neck once more to look. Blinking to clear my watery eyes, I focused on a cold, wet snout set in auburn fur. Jagged rows of teeth dripped saliva onto a blade of silver held tight within the locked jaw of a bold wolf. I blinked again, amazed. How in the netherworld had he managed to bite down and trap my sword?
Angry, I yanked on the hilt again, determined to rip it from the creature’s mouth. The wolf growled and returned my tug, twisting its muzzle in an attempt to loosen my grip. I was dragged forward unexpectedly and screamed at the intense pain. My eyes searched for the source, darting past the mass of auburn fur, past carcasses lying lifeless at my side, focusing in on the umber werewolf who had my ankle in his bite. I tried jerking my leg, but the action only served to intensify my pain.
Feeling my fingers slip, I clutched tighter at the hilt. My heart thudded fearfully in my chest. I wasn’t scared of what these demons would do to me but of what might happen if they gained control of the only weapon Tarishe possessed to destroy them.
The auburn werewolf seemed to sense my hold slipping, so he twisted and tugged all the more, trying to rob me of my only defense. At the same time, my body raked across the soil another few inches. I cried out, realizing there was only one option left.
Recalling the nightmare from fourteen years ago and the haggardly witch who had entrusted me with her enchanted sword, I opened my mouth and uttered the same incantation that had fallen from her shriveled lips.
“Grim darrsa, ee Tarishe svellnarishe. Grim dettarias, ee Duvalla swen anon!”
The sword—held in a tug of war between myself and our most awful enemy—vanished.
At the same instant, the gates protecting the village were shoved outward. Two lines of men in fabricated armor blocked the opening, pointing their staves and blades at the werewolves surrounding me. I crooked my neck to see, scanning a small army of brave faces for Thaddeus. He was not among them.
“Get away from her, you fiends! Let her go!” they shouted, waving their useless weapons.
A number of werewolves turned toward the unlocked gates and crouched, baring razor-sharp teeth at those who stood in the way.
“No!” I shouted, somewhat attempting to roll onto my side. My arms reached above my head, palms held flat toward the men who would be my heroes. “Go back inside! Shut the gates! Don’t let them…”
My ankle burned once again, the pain shooting up my spine. I cried out, suffering, as my body combed across the ground a greater distance than previously. The pack seemed to separate at that point, a small group encroaching upon the men of Tarishe. The larger host encircled me. A few wolves opened their muzzles and took hold of my clothing, my hair, my ankles, and towed me hastily away from the village and well into the trees. One last glimpse past my head made it clear there would be no rescuers on my tail. Nothing short of a miracle would close the gates again this cursed night.
It was in my core nature to fight, to never allow a title to be painted on my head like “victim,” “prey,” or worst of all “casualty.” But something abnormal, something feverish, was challenging me internally, hindering my ability to concentrate on keeping up a physical struggle. I could feel an influential force, both in my body and mind, opposing my will and working to overpower by degrees what I knew to be reality. Though I resisted with tenacity, this elusive enemy seemed to be winning. I was weakening, unsure of how to battle a mystical threat.
Fighting to keep my grasp on what was real, I opened my eyes wide, focusing on one of many encircling werewolves. The umber wolf widened his eyes as well, moving hesitantly closer to meet my stare. His were dark, gaping, troubled eyes—hauntingly familiar. A pain shot through me again, this time emotional agony. I felt a sickening wave of grief, despair……regret.
Regret for what?
I thought of the blood already spilt on this violent Hallows Eve. The blood of my enemies. The life force of demons who would ravage Tarishe and destroy all of my kind if undeterred. Why would this warranted vengeance, this justifiable act of self-defense, suddenly pain me? Why the regret weighing heavier and heavier on my heart?
I lifted an arm to look at the evidence of my actions. Thickening blood matted my fur. My fur?
I gasped and screamed at the same time, blinking my eyes wide, gaping at an arm that ought to be hairless and smooth. Had I screamed? Opening my mouth, I pushed the sound from my throat again creating a gravely, raucous, beastly noise that was anything but human. A chorus of howls swirled about my head in reply, too closely mimicking the awful screech that had formed in my own throat.
What was happening to me?
I scrambled to rise, wanting to run, to return to safety within the house of my grandmother. But my attempt to flee was prevented by the umber wolf who put his body over mine, not pinning me to the ground, but protecting me.
Protecting me? Why? From what? From whom? I was aware my thoughts were accurate, but how? How did I know this?
My snout brushed against his hairy chest as I lifted my head to look at the beast. My face! What hideous black magic had deformed my pretty face?
The umber wolf looked down at me with a solemn expression, and I comprehended the unspoken words he meant for me to hear.
(The hunters who hide within those walls are not your kind. The witch is not your grandmother.)
I refused his lies, pushing against him. No! No! He allowed me to rise to my feet……four black paws. No, that wasn’t right. I lifted the bloodied arm my eyes had beheld moments ago, all furred and black. Then the opposite.
It was silver-gray.
My eyes shot up, straight at the umber wolf. Internally I trusted him….with my very life. No, no, that couldn’t be true, he was a werewolf! Sanity struggled to suppress wild thoughts, fighting emotions that made no sense to me. I was supposed to hate him—the enemy—but I didn’t. I knew of his loyalty. And I knew this wolf held answers. My big eyes, my thrumming heart, my clouded brain, they begged an explanation.
Standing on all fours, I waited, impatient and expectant. What was happening to me? Who was I?
I answered the question myself, determined not to allow these demons to steal my mind. I was Catherine the huntress. Granddaughter and mother. Protector of Tarishe. A human! But I felt no truth to these claims, only deception. So who was I really?
I glared demandingly at the umber wolf. (Tell me!)
He was the first to lower his head, eyes still warily set on me. His broad shoulders followed until the great animal was crouched in a humble bow. All other werewolves copied his lead.
I stood in the midst of them…..remembering.
His name slammed to the forefront of my mind first. Kresh.
My own was attached to it. Duvalla.
Why had I recalled this werewolf’s identity before my own? The answer stabbed at my heart, and at that moment I regretted dispelling my silver sword to oblivion. If only it had remained with me so I could fall on the blade and die, a fate I justly deserved. Catherine had been determined to kill Kresh. I had sworn to kill Kresh—my soul mate. A horror-struck wave of nausea engulfed me, imagining the evil I had meant to perform.
But what about the others? My brothers, my sisters…..those I had managed to cut down. Murdered by my own hand! How many were dead, slaughtered before they stopped me?
(None of it is your fault.)
Kresh was assuring me. I could feel tenderness, compassion, forgiveness transferred in our mental communication. But I also sensed sorrow at the loss of our own—werewolves who had given their lives in an attempt to secure me and bring me back to the pack.
I grasped my true identity clearly at that point. I was Duvalla, Queen of Werefolk.
My tail hit the ground and I slouched heavily over mismatched paws. Kresh’s loyalty, his sympathy, his love…..I was undeserving of it all. The entire pack would be justified to turn on me, to destroy me now as I had destroyed their friends. My friends. The mental image made me whimper, envisioning those for certain I had killed. The tremendous pain Kresh had caused me biting down on my ankle, dragging my sorry body across abrasive terrain, had been more than deserved.
(I meant no harm to you, Duvalla, but there was little time. And human bodies are weak.)
Humans. When lugged into the forest I had been human. Just moments ago these wolves had fought me. Me, Catherine the huntress.
Now me, Duvalla the werewolf.
Had a bite transformed my identity?
(No. You are Duvalla. Our queen. My love. You are not the monster, Catherine. Do you not remember so many years ago when that witch cast her spell?)
Hazy visions struggled to form in my head. The nightmare from years past came to me but not as a dream, as actual events—a living nightmare I had survived.
(Your mind and your will were stolen from you, except for on this one day a year when the curse lifts and you return to us in your true form.)
On this one day, All Hallows Eve…..the curse lifts? Why would the werewolves fight me as Catherine if my destiny alters my form on this day? Why not wait for the transformation? Then I would recognize my family and join the pack willingly, never lifting a paw to harm them.
(But the humans, if they were to witness the change, they would know your true identity. Then, in either form, men would target you for death. You must see that it’s imperative we steal you away beforehand—a difficult challenge faced each year.)
He was right about the humans. But how wrong for me to slay members of my pack whose only aim was to protect me. The depth of anguish afflicting my soul was near unbearable.
Kresh approached my wilted form, no longer cautious of my mental state. I felt his head rest against mine, pressing affectionately, nuzzling me with his muzzle. I returned the gesture, overwhelmed by an indescribable swell of love that had not touched my heart in so terribly long. He was the sweetest nectar—my deepest desire.
(A year, my love, since we’ve been together.)
Far too long. Painfully too long apart!
(And it will be another year…..)
I could feel the hollowness of his despair, how it chilled me. No. No, no, no, this nightmare couldn’t be allowed to continue! Alarm erased all other sensations as I understood what sunrise meant for me—transformed once again into the hateful murderer, Catherine! Once again forgetting my family and losing my soul mate! I would revert to loathing this beautiful umber werewolf as deeply as I desired him right now. My glistening eyes lifted to fret at a rising red moon. Time was short. Fleeting.
How to stop this from happening?
Kresh brushed his face against mine as he pulled back enough to look at me. His long face, the despondency embedded in his features, it nearly shattered my heart.
(There is only one way to break the curse.)
(Then we must do it!) I feared nothing but losing him.
His sadness deepened and my heart ached with empathy. (Every year we try, Duvalla. Every year we fail.)
I knew the time since my nightmare. Fourteen years. So many attempts at failure.
Nudging Kresh beneath his chin, he lifted slightly. My dark eyes narrowed staring at him, demanding that he look at me, insisting he believe me as I swore in my heart we would not fail this year.
His eyes narrowed in response, but he couldn’t shake the shadow of doubt.
(I love you, Duvalla. No matter what happens.)
(And I love you, Kresh.)
I could stand the torment no longer. The choice was both impossible and unbearable, being torn between devoting these short midnight hours to my one true love, or with a vengeance reclaiming my destiny and taking my life back from that haggardly witch. How dare that venomous serpent poison my memories and make me love her—make me endearingly call her grandmother! A snarl curled my upper lip envisioning the frail old woman. How easy it would be to tear her scrawny muscles to shreds, to snap her brittle bones in two. Once within the walls of Tarishe, I would sniff out the hag and put an end to this curse forevermore!
My snarl turned into a savage growl consistent with the bile in my throat. I jerked my neck upright, stretching as high as my form could reach toward the full moon. A powerful howl tore into the night, beckoning all werewolves to rise to the call of defending their queen once again. We would seek our revenge on the wicked witch of Tarishe! And anyone who stood in our path would suffer death as well.
Kresh ran beside me as I led our pack from tree cover into the open. It was all I could do not to look at the mangled bodies on the ground before me. I had executed this atrocious deed in my human form. The onslaught of remorse hardened my heart even further, warping the emotion into hatred toward the evil being who had caused me to raise a sword against my own family. That witch had made me do this, and she would pay dearly—with her life!
We discovered the gates left wide open. I smirked, thinking of the humans who had foolishly compromised their stronghold and thus their safety. My brothers were here somewhere, those werewolves who had stayed behind to protect me from pursuit. Perhaps they had already cornered the old woman we now sought. I knew better than to trust this to be the case, however. She was a witch—a skilled and cunning sorceress. I conveyed to the pack to be cautious.
Though I yearned to race inside the fortress and be the first to tear straight to the mud-patched hut I knew to be my enemy’s residence, I conceded to Kresh’s desire for me to stay behind and allow our best warriors to rush the village first. Agitated, I stepped from paw to paw, silver to black, anxious for a signaling howl announcing it safe to enter. Kresh moved closer to me, touching my side. His warmth tempered my agitation.
We exchanged an anxious look. The despair still lingering about him pained me. I resolved to erase it, somehow.
The signal came and I moved at once, eager to get inside the humans’ fortress. Kresh and the others were a half-second behind, not near as quick to react as I.
Within the gates everything fell darker, shadowed by high, surrounding walls. Little huts built from timber planks and twigs stood in clusters that extended to each end of the village. The roofs were fragile, like the humans who occupied them, consisting of broad, piled ferns. The random arrangement of buildings obstructed a far-off view, but the sound of violent scuffles reached our ears easily—short, dying cries from one direction and then another. The shrinking moon proved hardly enough light for the humans to see by, so they had started glowing fires; however, the firelight had nearly reduced to embers, having been neglected additional fuel. The smell of fresh blood was potent enough to compete with the scent of burning wood.
I tore through the center of the village, fixed on my destination. Getting to that wrinkled, old hag was my only priority. I would allow nothing—no one—to stand in my way. Saliva coated my mouth as I anticipated sinking my teeth into her throat, puncturing the flesh and biting down. I would cause her to choke on her own fetid blood. Her death would avenge the lost lives of my brothers and sisters as well as serve the purpose of restoring my life.
I sensed Kresh as he caught up to me. When his larger form nudged against my own I complied, steering clear of firelight and into the shadows.
(You are the most hunted of all, Duvalla. Men recognize your paw. We can’t let them see you.)
As if his words had been prophetic, a group of five men appeared from behind a shelter, stepping directly in our path. These ruthless humans had resorted to makeshift weapons—a pitchfork, hatchet, shovel, and torch—besides their blades. My instinct was to crouch and lunge at the torch bearer first, he being the closest, the one to illuminate their way. Kresh pressed my shoulder against a wall, preventing me from acting on my plan. I was hidden by him while our werewolf brothers sped past and ambushed the men, silencing them.
(The witch will be expecting you to come for her, Duvalla. You cannot be seen, or word will get to her that you’re here.)
I nodded my snout, understanding.
Kresh moved, letting me push away from the wall. Even lacking adequate moonlight I could read in his eyes the thoughts he dared not share. He wanted me to turn back, to escape into the forest with him. He yearned for this night to be ours, safe and warm and shared as lovers. He longed for a precious few hours unspoiled by a curse lasting years in his memory, a single day for me. As much as my heart swelled with love and honest sympathy for him, the hatred simmering in my soul toward that wicked witch was the stronger driving force. Her death meant freedom. Her demise meant endless years for Kresh and me to be together. Her destruction would quiet the howling blood of slain werewolves.
(I have to end this, Kresh.)
I resolved, for him, to be careful.
As secretly as a ghost roams within the boundaries of its cemetery, I made my way between one dark avenue and the next. Kresh kept right with me. All human obstacles were swiftly dealt with by the loyal werewolves in our company. Eventually, we reached the small hut I knew by recollection of Catherine’s memory to be her grandmother’s home. My ignorant and savage human form shared the witch’s house.
I determined to go in and seek my revenge alone.
(Duvalla, there is something you should know.)
My pulse quickened, concerned by the rising anxieties I sensed in Kresh.
(The child, Nehemia…)
I waited, feeling a motherly stir for the human child.
(He is ours.)
How could that be? The babe was Catherine’s. Mine, yes, sadly, but…a werewolf father?
(Not every Hallows Eve have you chosen to confront the witch first.)
I understood and felt a pang of guilt for denying him my love this time. A low, steady growl vibrated in my throat. I would destroy the sorceress hag, and then Kresh and I would be together. Forever.
(One day Nehemiah will take on our form and join us. I fear the witch knows this to be true.)
My anger boiled more violently against the old woman. (I swear I will kill that devil witch this very night!)
(Take our strongest warriors with you. I will protect our son.)
I agreed and skirted the hut to the front door with five werewolves close at my back. Kresh went for an open window where he could easily slip in. I was certain he would find Nehemia asleep, lying in a small wooden crib lined with linen cloth. As Catherine, a new mother, I had carved the bed out of a solid piece of lumber.
The front door stood ajar—either an open invitation or a mark of disaster already fallen upon this house. I sniffed at the air, unable to detect the stench of death within. Hoping to preserve even a slight element of surprise, I slinked on soft paws, stealing over the threshold without a sound. My brothers slipped in behind me, spreading out inside a drafty front room. Candlelight flickered on a mantle that shaded an empty hearth. Another single flame burned on a tabletop. Though eerie shadows danced across every wall, my keen eyesight zeroed in on the old woman sitting vulnerably alone on a rickety stool, central to the room. Nehemia was nowhere to be seen.
“Every year it takes you longer to confront me. What kept you this time, Queen of Dogs? Has your worthless mate grown tired of this futile quest? Do your blinded followers finally understand that you alone are the fated death of them all? How many of their bodies did you coldheartedly carve up this year……Catherine?”
A mutual hiss rose from my brothers, reacting to the old woman’s words. I opened my mouth as if I would refute her harsh statements, but only a rough and grating bark sounded from me. I was unable to speak as a human in this form. My enemy held the upper hand in that respect, and she seemed determined to take advantage of it. Her voice was deceptively frail and shaky, unlike the crushing jabs she verbalized.
“Or could it be that your mutt lover is dead? Is that why he’s not here cowering at your rear? Did you stick a blade to the mongrel’s heart?” The witch cackled lowly, a noise that raised the hackles along my spine. “If so, his demise was deserved…..and inevitable.”
Two glossy, grey eyes continued to stare at me from center stage, glued on my werewolf features. The words that fell from my enemy’s mouth, however, shifted course, aimed at those in my company.
“Your queen wields a blade of silver against you. She puts an end to your lives—one by one by one—and yet irrationally you continue to follow her. Fools! Idiots! She is not a wise and caring leader but the death of you all! Every year, more and more will die. Next year…and the year after…and the year after. There is only one hope for the prosperity of your pack, and that is her certain end. Take her life now while you can! Support a new queen in her stead, one who values your lives more than her own—a decent soul not bent on hunting down you worthless dogs!”
The steady growls about me rose in volume, transitioning into vicious snarls and gnashing teeth. I crouched to pounce, having heard more than enough from this silver-tongued devil. She had flapped her lips to a greater degree than I could ever recall; it reminded me of another human whom I intensely despised.
Springing myself forward, I widened my jaw, ready to sink my teeth into the witch’s throat. She rose abruptly to meet me, swifter than her feeble frame seemed capable. An uttered incantation crossed her lips. Words I recognized.
“Grim dettarias, ee Duvalla swen areir!”
My pallid paw slammed against the flat face of a silver sword that materialized from out of nowhere, held secure in a bony fist that by all observations looked too weak to support the weapon. Somehow, by implausible physical force or mystic power, my body was shoved to the ground and stayed.
I snarled, angry at my initial failure to trap some part of the wretch within my bite. While preparing to thrust my jaw forward and snap, hoping to rip off an arm or tear into the flesh of a leg, I felt my muscles lock. An unnatural paralysis claimed my entire being and held me to the ground against my will. A crying yelp tore from my throat at the onset of horrific pain, consuming my front paw and climbing partway up my leg. My silver sword—Catherine’s silver sword conjured up by the witch—pressed against my front paw. The blade did not draw blood, but the pain caused by a simple touch felt as if the tip were carving out slivers of bone.
Tortured in this manner, I was held fast by magic powers. Meanwhile, the old woman turned her attention to my brother werewolves.
“I will keep your Queen of Dogs for another year because of this madness among you to allow her continued life. The punishment will be for you to watch more of your kin die at her hand.” The witch spit, proclaiming, “You pathetic mongrels deserve your ill fate.”
I made a sound, a whimpered groan. It would’ve been a cry of agony had I not the power to stifle it somewhat. The pain in my leg made me want to gnaw it off….if I’d had the ability to move.
My brothers kept silent as the witch went on. “I can be generous, however. Sympathetic to your plight even. Seeing that none of you possess the capacity for mutiny, allow me to kill her for you. Let her blood spill freely this very Hallows Eve and the curse she maintains over your pack will lift. If this is your desire, then stay. Stay, dogs, and witness your queen’s death by the same sword she uses to slaughter so many of your loved ones. But…….if you wish for me to spare her life for another year…….leave this village now!”
I heard Kresh in my mind, his tone despairing. (Next year I will convince you not to fight. We will avoid the village next Hallows Eve.)
(No!) I screamed in my mind, whether due to desperation or pain, I couldn’t tell. (No, Kresh, let her kill me! Make the pack stay! Save them!)
His grief was immense as he refused me. (I can’t, Duvalla. They cannot either. We have sworn to defend your life. We will never stop searching for a way to destroy the witch and bring you back to us.)
I was in tears. (But I might harm you unknowingly!)
(It would not be your fault.)
I went to argue with him. (No, Kresh, you must…) But he spoke over me.
(Nehemia is in my care. Rest easy, he is safe. He will grow up with his sister, Natasha.)
I repeated the name, hit hard by woeful recognition. (Natasha.) My baby girl. My human daughter. I had lost her six years ago. Could it truly be that she lived as a werewolf?
(Yes, Duvalla. Every year I tell you, and every year you forget.)
I knew why. Because of the witch’s lies.
(I promise to return and fight for you, Duvalla. I love you.)
The old hag began to speak to me again, and I realized the room had cleared. The werewolves’ retreat had been silent.
“Fourteen years of needless, innocent bloodshed, dog. For fourteen years our men have rebuilt their homes, only to be overrun by murderous werewolves on one hellish, annual night! And it is you, dog, who maintains that cycle. You convince the humans to stay. You convince the werewolves to fight. And then you slaughter both sides, either by your sword or by your orders. You are the true demon! No one knows it as I do. I understand, oh yes. I see. I’ve witnessed who you really are.”
I agreed with her on one point, that saving my pathetic life was a mistake. I yearned for the power to move so I might fall on her enchanted sword and slay myself. One swift act to save my family—my kind.
The haggardly witch took a step forward, putting her decrepit figure directly before me. Her grey eyes bulged wide, reflecting a flicker of candlelight. The image seemed in line with the measure of hatred driving her. I couldn’t help but yelp when she twisted the blade against my paw, shooting needles of pain through me.
“Do you remember fifteen years ago when your actions brought this curse on us all? The village was young. Barely developed. We lived peacefully, in harmony with the land. My sons led the people, directing their affairs, feeding them by utilizing our forest resources. We were a happy, prosperous, self-sufficient people. Until you came along!”
The memory was deeply buried, but as her story unfolded, images arose as if from the dead. A resurrected past haunted me.
“You ordered the werewolves to descend upon us. You and your mindless, mongrel followers slaughtered men, mothers, and children! In cold blood you killed my eldest son!”
I remembered. It was I who had taken the man down myself. The vision replayed clearly in my head. But did she understand that he and his fellow huntsmen had done the same to our pack weeks before? The humans had attacked us under cover of darkness. It was her son who had slayed my family first! I groaned, wanting to communicate my defense, but possessed no way to do so.
The old woman’s stature seemed to shrink—her shoulders wilting like a tired willow tree. Her eyes glossed over, appearing both grief-stricken and drowsy. “I cannot bring him back. You cannot bring him back, though I take all that you have……all that you treasure.”
For a moment she seemed as paralyzed as I, lost in conflicted thought. But when her eyes revived, they flashed the same vengeful hatred.
“You deserve the curse that is now your life. I demand it in exchange for my son! His brother, Thaddeus, his spitting image……he is a lasting reminder of the joy I once had. But Thaddeus can only comfort me to a degree. I’m lacking…..empty…..wanting! You…..you murderous, vile, fiendish mongrel, you did this to me! You stole my precious child! I demand retribution!”
When I cried aloud, holding nothing back for the pain, a chorus of grave howls filled the night, crying with me. For how long, I could not say.
Sunlight rested on my eyelids and urged me awake. The warmth stirred me, and I turned my face away from a thin sliver of sunbeam before greeting the morning. My head hurt. The oppressing gloom of ambiguous nightmares rested heavily on my subconscious. I was aware it had been a difficult night. Stretching my arms in front of me, the sight of blood caked on my slender fingers jarred my heart. I searched frantically through the cobwebs for an explanation. A full, scarlet moon illuminated my memory, and I pictured it hovering behind a pack of vicious, snarling werewolves—their massive umber leader in particular. I loathed that hellion creature.
Apparently, I had survived Hallows Eve. But had the wolf?
I turned in bed, eager to rise and asses what level of devastation the werewolves had wrought on our village. All I could hope was that I had managed to protect our gates and strike enough of the animals down to send them running with their tails tucked between their legs. Lifting up, I noticed my grandmother, her hunched form standing at my bedside. The first emotion to hit me was relief at finding her alive and well. But my focus didn’t rest on her glistening eyes, dropping instead to a bundle resting in bed with me, tightly wrapped in linen. Mummified in blood-stained linen.
My heart stuttered, and I prayed it would fail.
“Catherine, dear, are you alright?”
I tried to swallow, but my throat had closed, making it impossible to utter a word. Her bony fingers reached from beneath long sleeves to take the bundle resting on the edge of my bed.
“No!” I managed to choke out.
Grandmother’s fingers recoiled.
I reached with my own trembling hand, hesitant to touch, but forcing myself to discover the truth. When my palm rested on the heap it sensed no warmth. I could feel the shape, the form of a babe inside. No movement. No pulse. My eyes flooded with tears and I collapsed on the bed, breaking into fierce sobs. How could this be? Not again! Not another child claimed by the wolves!
My grandmother hardly disturbed the mattress when she sat beside me. Her hand patted my back, offering comfort that failed to ease my pain.
“Catherine, dear. I would not have left him on your bed, but you wouldn’t let us take the child. You threatened anyone who tried.”
My grief intensified understanding I had forgotten in my sleep the dreadful truth torturing me now for a second time. How long had I held my dead child in the night? How many tears had I already wept over my lost Nehemiah?
A door squeaked briefly, falling shut with a thud. “Is she going to be alright?” I recognized Thaddeus asking the question and curled up into a tighter ball, not wishing for him to see me this way. The coward. The pigeon! He should’ve been out there…
“Not for some time,” my grandmother answered. “The loss of a child brings unbearable pain. And it must be more so when endured a second time.”
Those words ringed accurate. Grandmother’s weightless touch fell on the back of my hair and brushed lightly.
“Catherine, you should know it was Thaddeus who recovered the babe. Those dogs meant to feed on the boy, isn’t that right, Thaddeus? But he chased them off and saved little Nehemiah’s body.”
Thaddeus cleared his throat uncomfortably. “I’m sure Catherine doesn’t want to hear about it.”
In truth, I did wish to hear it. I rolled over, despite how awful my red, swollen features must have appeared. I blinked to clear my vision and stared up at our village leader.
“You confronted the wolves?”
Thaddeus nodded wordlessly. I was stunned, both by his bravery and humility.
Disbelieving, I asked again, “You risked your life for my dead child?”
The man swallowed hard, clearly stung by the insult inherent in my wording.
“I was thinking of you, Catherine. I reacted solely for your sake.” Thaddeus looked at his hands while uttering a word of regret. “If only I’d had your sword at the time. Then I might have killed their queen and ended this Tarishe curse. It was that silver-pawed, black-hearted she-wolf who did this. She stole and killed your child, helped by her mate—that oversized, dirty mongrel who runs with her.”
My jaw locked as I studied Thaddeus. He seemed sincere. Sorry…for me. Tears streamed down my face and splashed on the mattress. My grandmother went to pick up the lifeless mummy who was my boy. She hesitated, but I nodded it was okay for her to take him. Thaddeus approached without a word and received the bundle. He left quietly.
“The deceased will be buried together, dear. There are so many this time. I’m sure you’ll want to be there.”
I fell on my pillow and hid my face. No, I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to witness anymore death. I didn’t want to hear the wailing and bemoaning of those who had lost loved ones. What I wanted was my son alive and wrapped up safely in my arms again. What I wanted was an end to the werewolves’ brutality. What I wanted was revenge! Retribution for my insufferable losses!
I made a heart-sworn oath at that very moment, vowing on my son’s grave to hunt down the black queen of the devil and strike her dead with my silver sword. And I would do the same to her companion, that foul umber wolf.
“Grandma, it hurts,” I cried, lifting my face to seek compassion in her gaze. “I want that wolf to pay for what she’s done!”
Her cold hand rested on my cheek and wiped at a spill of tears.
“Oh, the wretched creature shall pay, Catherine,” Grandmother assured me. A fiery glimmer flashed in her eyes, and I knew my pain was understood. “She shall pay dearly.”
“Misery is a river of tears that whispers my name in a constant hiss.”
~ Richelle E. Goodrich
Copyright 2012 Richelle E. Goodrich
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