The music of the Loup is comprised of bloodcurdling screams and goose bump-inducing snarls. Interspersed in is the soft, menacing scraping of boots against stone floor, of labored breathing as prey runs from predator, of snuffling children licking their wounds in the shadows. The symphony of bones snapping, teeth breaking skin, and the last thumps of desperate hearts echo throughout the slime-infested halls.
Home sweet home.
Darkness rolled in overhead as burly clouds thrust themselves over the sun. A cold wind snuck through the air, sliding under doors and tickling the bare feet of trembling children. A dampness grew in the air, promising a cold, battering rain. And twilight was coming. It meant only one thing: a Hunt.
The residents of the Loup Academy could only do a Hunt during thunderstorms, so that the violent booming of the battle in the sky could mask the snarls and cries of the prey on the ground. The nearly impenetrable undergrowth of the Proie Forest, known to the students as the Proie, simply couldn’t muffle the screams without the backdrop of a vicious storm. At least, according to the Master’s orders.
No one knew the Master’s name, but the older students all called him JP, for reasons unknown. He was the owner of the Loup, the lord of everything, and no one could ever remember being told to call him only “the Master”. They just knew, the way blood was good and fighting even better but cooked meat most certainly was not.
The fifty residents of the Loup, ranging from whimpering young children to cool and commanding young adults, stripped off all their clothes and stepped onto the sweeping grounds surrounding the castle. There were other, younger students kept in the old crumbling huts down the lane, but they weren’t ready for a true Hunt yet. They just had to make do with already dead food.
A solid dark haired boy known as Thanos raised his head and sniffed the air. A shiver ran down his spine and he sighed with an odd mixture of pleasure and distaste. No one at the Loup truly knew their age, just a general range of a few years. According to a few older kids, he was ten. Thanos secretly believed he was eight or nine, and just large for his age, but it was an unspoken agreement in the Loup that you used whatever advantage you could get, if possible. And having double digits to one’s name didn’t hurt. So Thanos kept his mouth clamped shut.
Thanos had always known, just like everybody else at the Loup, that being vicious and bloodthirsty was good. Be cautious or gentle, and he would never be what he was meant to be: the best second generation werewolf ever. The Master had tried to come up with a better name than second generation werewolf, but that was what everyone at the Loup called themselves. The latest name the Master was trying to spread was just “The Knights”, which referenced both their fighting nature and their love of darkness for hunting.
Thanos also knew that a part of him wasn’t meant to spend his time fighting and lashing out, but being quiet and avoiding hurting others, maybe even protecting them. He never mentioned this of course, because the Master had ears in all sorts of places, possibly even in people Thanos trusted like Leavitt and Mauro. So Thanos had his doubts wedged deep in his brain, and he left them tucked away in case he should ever need them.
All around Thanos, people began morphing. Backs ripped up and forced kids down on all fours, hair erupted all over, and noses elongated to become snouts. Thanos felt dirty claws thrust from his fingertips, and power coursing through his veins.
At age of five or so, when kids moved from the little huts to the castle the Loup occupied, they began schooling. And with that the tiniest bit of history concerning their ancestors. At first, everyone was horrified to find that the old werewolves could only transform once a month, and only at night. Morphing whenever one wanted to was one of the best parts of being a Knight. A kid would punch another, and he’d just crack out a hairy paw and knock the kid to the floor.
Panting filled the air as the Loup students mentally prepared for a hunt. They began whooping and howling, getting their adrenaline surging.
At an unspoken signal, the Knights pounced into the Proie. Thanos was off and running, already tasting the dust of faster wolves.
Thanos loved the feeling of wind whipping viciously over his body, of speeding over the land before he even laid eyes on it. He closed his eyes and followed his nose, narrowly dodging trees. Up ahead was a rabbit, but that was too small, and wouldn’t come close to filling his stomach. Thanos wanted a deer today.
A cry sliced through the air like a knife, and Thanos jumped. He wished he could catch food that quickly, but his nose wouldn’t get so good until puberty at least.
Soon the screams grew more in numbers, and the metallic scent of blood clouded the air, burning Thanos’ nose. He sped along, trying to break away from the group so he’d get a chance at catching something. The younger one was, the less chance they had of eating during a Hunt. It was every man for himself, and the older ones would use all their skill to get the best prey. And one never wanted to fight someone bigger than themselves for food; more than one Knight death had occurred during a Hunt. The screams and bloody smell made many a brain explode in flames of fury.
Something was up ahead, but it wasn’t deer. A large bird, maybe? There were plenty that nested in the Proie. Thanos searched for it, but it flew away before he got close enough even see it. He’d better find something to eat that was limited to the ground.
Up ahead ran a Knight, known for being extremely vicious even though he couldn’t be much older than Thanos. Dwayne had won fights over fifteen-year-olds, which earned him respect and awe from the younger kids but burning hatred from the older ones. Everyone wanted a chance to give Dwayne a good smack upside the head eventually.
wayne was amazingly fast for his size too, but he lost energy quickly. Knowing that, Thanos raced silently behind him and steadily catching up, until he was dizzy with the smell of deer ahead. That was what Dwayne was heading for, but he’d be too tired to give a good fight for it. Thanos’ head pounded from the chase, and he felt his mouth water.
Thanos knew Dwayne could hear him, but he didn’t care about secrecy anymore. He waited one, two, three seconds, getting the timing just right, then jumped right over Dwayne, using his enhanced muscles to clear the werewolf’s head easily. Dwayne snarled, but Thanos sped on, outrunning him almost easily, and laughing deliriously at Dwayne’s labored breathing. Branches whipped Thanos’ face, but he ignored them easily.
After a minute Thanos slowed a little, breathing hard, and adjusted his course to match the deer’s. It was no more than a hundred meters ahead, and Thanos swallowed a sigh of relief. The last two Hunts he’d eaten nothing at all.
Slowing to a trot, Thanos caught sight of the deer, no, a stag, with large antlers and a beautifully spotted back. It twitched its head in Thanos’ direction, but didn’t detect any danger yet. Thanos stood perfectly still, gulping for air, waiting for the perfect moment…
With a roar, a brown blur darted around Thanos’ right shoulder and dove for the stag. It was Dwayne, who’d somehow caught up with Thanos. The stag flew off, faster than Thanos could run when he was so tired. Dwayne turned on Thanos and began circling him in the standard form to begin a fight.
“I’ll get you for this,” he growled, padding forward.
“What?” said Thanos calmly, though he was quaking inside. The biggest rule to avoiding a fight was acting cool and confident. But Thanos was one of the only people in the Loup who wanted to avoid fights anyway. Most went searching for them. Like Dwayne, clearly.
“It was mine,” Dwayne hissed, and he jumped onto Thanos’ back before the boy could react.
Thanos wanted to scream like the prey that the Proie was famous for. Dwayne’s claws ripped into his back, and drew blood. Thanos bucked and grappled at the werewolf, but it was no use. Dwayne soon had him pinned to the damp ground, and he had murder in his eyes. Everyone knew everyone else’s “Kill Count” at the Loup. Dwayne had silenced six, a large number as there were only about sixty werewolves total including the young ones residing at the Loup. Thanos had killed only one, but most kids had silenced two or three by the time they reached an age in double digits.
“Mine!” rumbled Dwayne again. And he drew his claws swiftly over Thanos’ throat. Thanos’ gasp turned to a gurgle, and he couldn’t even move a paw to his neck to feel the blood flowing warm over his chest. With a roar that shook the forest around them, Dwayne sprinted off, back to the Loup. And Thanos was left bloodstained on the floor of the Proie, never to be seen again.