Bathed in Blood
I remember that night well. Sometimes I wonder if, when I’m old and forgetful, I still will be able to recall it when all other memories have gone away.
It was dark, the moon was out, but it couldn’t be seen. The trees overhead grew together too closely to allow its light to reach us. I was young, perhaps five or so, just beginning to be called a child rather than a babe. My brother was no leader then, just the second generation of thieves, like I was destined to be. My father was the leader and I was beside him, learning the trade that I would one day call my own. We waited in darkness for our prey, like a spider that lies in wait for an insect to enter its nest. So we waited for some travelers to enter this nest of thieves.
My night vision was excellent and I saw them before most. Full caravans, rich pickings, perhaps even the doll I had wanted of late. Merchants, my family’s favorite people, and to make things better for us, they traveled with very few guards.
“Little hawk,” my father murmured in my ear. “How many guards do you see?”
I counted, my numbers were imperfect still, but my idea of “how many” was good as always. “A half of a score perhaps, for a full caravan train, I wonder why?”
“No one ever believes they will be robbed, I don’t understand why they never see the error of their ways. Still, it is best for us.” he let out a sound like a howling wolf and all hell broke loose.
To the merchants, it must have looked as though the very trees had begun to move as my family sprung from their leaves and the moss underfoot. Dressed all in black like demons of the night, they descended upon the caravans while I watched from my seat in the hole of a tree.
I had to admit that it was terrible seeing my family like this. My parents with their blades bathed in blood, my cousins calmly shooting down person after person, and the rest of my family fighting with them. And yet there was a beauty to the tang of metal in the air and the clang and clash of swords and the dark glitter of the moonlight on blood. If I didn’t think of what it truly was, I was untouched by it. But I had to wonder, why was I here? Why was I not with my family?
And so I had left my hiding place, against my parents’ orders, and I changed the course of my life. In the dark and the panic, with people dying all around me, I walked to the caravans to begin plundering.
But they were not empty as I’d assumed they would be. A pair of boys lay on the floor crying, they were perhaps a year older than me, one with hair black as night and eyes shadowy and green as the trees outside. The other was fair, with blue eyes and hair like gold. I must have been a strange sight, a five-year-old with a knife in my hand and blood splashed across my boots. The dark boy looked at me and ran into the night, the other just stared, tears in his light eyes and his whole body shaking.
My parents found me some time later as they were raiding the wagons. I was asleep with the remaining boy, our arms around each other like siblings. The boy who ran had not been seen and the fair boy was the last survivor. My father allowed him to live because of his youth and he became closer to me than my own brother.
His name was Jonathan, but I called him Jack. He was my brother in every way that my true brother was not, and he was my friend as well. We knew everything about each other; no subject was taboo for us. Even so, neither of us spoke of that night, though I heard him crying often in the beginning. But he was young and memories of any kind will fade soon enough.
Descent to Hell
My story did not truly begin until I was seventeen. My parents had died, in raids and in sickness, as had most of the elder members of our band and my brother had taken my father’s place. I had grown into a beauty and a fighter, and my family used that to their advantage. They made me into a weapon, just like they did with everything. Jack had become as unprincipled as the rest of us, and handsome as well with his cornflower blue eyes and hair of gold.
It was that year that I reached my full potential in my family’s eyes, the most I could be, the most use I could be to them. Looking back, perhaps I should have seen it coming. There were so many clues, but the truth was, that I just didn’t believe it. It was all the stuff of legends to me, my life was hard enough without believing in myths and nightmares. Of course, believing might have made it easier for me to become a nightmare when the time did finally come.
My brother was the one who wanted me to do it. I hate him for that so much, but I still understand why he did it. He needed to do what was best for the family, not necessarily what was best for me. Perhaps if I hadn’t been so perfect for the role, he wouldn’t have made me do it. But I was perfect; smart, fast, young, and strong. I had no choice; I was doomed from the beginning.
I never really was all that religious. If I believed in a god, I’d be damned for all eternity just for being a thief and a murderer, not to mention becoming a demon. My brother never really told me what he was doing to me. One of the elders among our family said a spell over me and then I was left out in the forest at the top of a hill, in the middle of a stone pentagram covered in carvings that appeared old beyond measure and nearly worn invisible.
I didn’t know what was supposed to be happening; I did as my brother said like a well trained horse. That night was terrifying though, even for someone as tough and battle hardened as I was. The darkness I was used to, I welcomed it even as something comforting and familiar, but the solitude was something new. Always before I could have heard the tiny sounds of my family or feel their very presence in the caress of the air. That night, there was no comfort, no reassuring sounds, and no knowledge of what was going to happen to me. I just waited, sat in the dark in the heart of the pentagram like I’d been told until the moon was directly above me, glaring at me and reflecting off of a sparkling piece of snowy white stone under me.
I stood then. I’m not sure why, but it seemed as thought whatever was happening around me was far too important to watch while sitting cross-legged on the ground. There had been no wind before, not even the tiniest of the wind’s breaths to stir the silence, but now gales tore at my hair and made my dress snap like a banner in a storm. It remained eerily silent though. I would have welcomed the sounds of the wind gusting through the trees at that point, but everything was quiet. My dress was snapping, I could see and feel it in the tautness and the jerking, but it made no sound.
There was a soft thudding sound then, soft as a whisper, from all around me. They came towards me from all sides. The forest hid them until they had reached the corners of the pentagram.
That’s when I screamed.
The wolves were huge, hairy and muscled. Completely silent as they stood staring at me scream. I fell silent as I stared back at the largest of them; it stood calmly at the top point of the pentagram. Our eyes locked and held and in the wolf’s calm eyes there was an odd depth, a human depth.
The moon shone down upon the glittering white stone beneath me and I looked down at it as the light struck my eyes. The stone was carved into the worn figure of a wolf paw print and the reflected radiance of the moon seemed to lend my skin an answering glow. I watched the hair rise on my gleaming white arm as the moon froze directly over me, catching me between it and the stone wolf print.
My skin began to burn and crawl painfully and my bones ached like I had the influenza. I watched my fingers shorten, become little black stubs covered in long, pitch black hair. The hair grew up my arm and obscured the pale skin before splitting off at my shoulders to reach the rest of my body. My knees gave out and I collapsed on the ground. The last thing I saw was the wolves converging on me before disappearing into a glittering haze of moonlight.