Arnulf lay under a table in the Dining Hall, poking at a cockroach. The little bug skittered around, but couldn’t escape the sharpness and quickness of Arnulf’s pointer finger. After several minutes of this, Arnulf scooped up the roach and ate it whole, not even bothering to swallow.
At the peak of puberty, Arnulf was always hungry. During the night’s Hunt, he’d eaten an entire fawn, three rabbits and even a lean, tough squirrel. But it wasn’t enough. It was lucky for Arnulf that he was one of the quickest and most bloodthirsty Knights at the Loup, otherwise he’d always have a rumbling stomach. And Gethin had banned him from going into the kitchen unless it was mealtime, because he cleaned out the stress.
Arnulf also had the largest Kill Count, at eight, same as Darcy. He’d once eaten one of his victims, and that had for once filled him up. But barely.
The clatter of footsteps echoed around the Hall, and a gruff voice called out “I know you’re here. Come out and get to your lesson.”
It could only be Raul, who was so stupid he didn’t get to teach a class like the other four adults. Instead his job was to round up stragglers and get them to class, as well as patrol the Loup for the skippers.
Arnulf hated getting bossed around by Raul and the others, as he could only be three years younger than them at the most. Well, possibly four. He took his time crawling out from under the table and slouched out of the Hall, ducking as he passed Raul, who swung a fist at him. Arnulf threw a fist back, and Raul jumped on him, jabbing him with his small hands. Arnulf snapped out his leg and it caught Raul in the stomach. Raul doubled over, and Arnulf dashed out.
Classes were generally held from seven o’clock at night to eleven, which would keep the kids in bed until noon or later the next day. However, after a Hunt, they wouldn’t even start until midnight.
Once out of the Hall, Arnulf began to sprint down the corridors to the dungeons where his first class of the evening was held. He had Darcy first, teaching them simple arithmetic, and being punctual was first priority. Last time he’d been late, he’d almost lost an eye.
Arnulf skidded to a stop outside Darcy’s room and was the last to enter, but not late. He slid into a seat at the back next to Blake and Doyle, his two friends. Darcy was scribbling problems on the board and everyone was getting out parchment and ink and quills and copying them down. It was a test day.
There were fifty problems in all. Arnulf had always been good at math, and he quickly filled out ten, then five more. But they got harder as they progressed, and he had to stop and ponder one, chewing on the end of his quill, squinting his eyes shut.
And then someone’s shaggy hair brushed Arnulf’s face.
Arnulf’s eyes flew open; while he’d been thinking, Blake had leaned over to peer at the answers on his sheet. Without thinking, Arnulf tackled Blake, his best friend since toddlerhood, and pushed him to the ground, knocking over several desks and chairs. Shouts began to ring in Arnulf’s ears, and he smashed a fist into Blake’s nose. Blood was all over everyone’s clothes.
“Enough!” Darcy had somehow inserted herself between the two grappling teens and plucked Arnulf off Blake like he was five pounds. He found himself thrown out the door, next to Blake. “You argue out here on your own. And any blood on the floor, you’re cleaning it.” And the door slammed closed.
Blake dove for Arnulf, smashing the back of his head against the wall. Arnulf stifled a moan and shoved Blake off his, then slammed his foot into Blake’s throat. Blake coughed violently and sprayed Arnulf with blood. He staggered up, snarling.
Before Blake could make a move, Arnulf hurled his shoulder into Blake’s chest and slid him down to the floor, until Blake was pinned. He took a fist and punched Blake’s face one, two, three times. Arnulf then spit in his eyes, stood up, brushed himself off, and returned to class to finish his test. Blake never came back, but when class was over, he wasn’t in the hall.
And thus classes continued, from Gethin’s fighting techniques to Tynan’s physical education to Zevi’s healing yourself after an attack, a skill needed badly. Arnulf then stumbled up to his dormitory, his head throbbing.
Batches of new kids came in groups of ten to fifteen each, and each batch had a couple years in between. Darcy’s group had been the experimental one, and only had five. There had been one more, a fair haired girl named Scarlett, but she had been killed by Darcy early on. Only Arnulf’s group remembered Scarlett.
Arnulf’s batch only had nine, as three of the original Knights in his lot had been killed at one point or another. The older you were, the less people your group tended to have.
The two genders of batches shared dormitories with each other, and Arnulf knew he’d have to face Blake. Small conflicts like Arnulf’s always ended when there was an obvious victor and loser. But it was common for them to last a few days longer, with the two Knights getting revenge until they tired of it and one of them found a new enemy to deal with. Friends like Arnulf and Blake fought only a little less often than enemies, and after a week or so they would forget it all and cheer on other fights.
Arnulf fell into bed fully dressed and stared up at the ceiling. He badly wanted to sleep, but knew that if he did it would only be welcoming an attack from Blake. He bit his tongue, dug his nails into his palm, poured ice water on his stomach, but after just an hour he was fast asleep.
“Uhn…” The moan escaped Arnulf’s lips as something hard and heavy pushed him roughly to the ground. He felt his nose break and his fingers get crushed and the breath knocked out of him as he was covered in kicks from Blake. Arnulf struggled to wake and tried to fend off the blows, but Blake had the advantage. When Arnulf finally leaned over and threw up from the pain on the floor beside him (and hopefully Blake’s feet), the punches stopped. But not the pain.
Arnulf had mastered long ago how to prevent from crying, and not a tear dropped now. But his lips quivered and his body was racked with trembles. He rarely got this bad a beating. He was Arnulf. He’d killed eight people. He was tied with fucking Darcy for the highest Kill Count. There weren’t many people who dared to hurt him this much. Where was his power going?