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The Huntsman's Wolf

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Jacob lived in the woods by himself. He was a recluse in a sense, so he didn't mind spending his days with just the animals around him and the trees. Though, unfortunately, he'd made quite the name for himself as a good huntsman in a nearby village. Because of that, he had many people trying to enter his woods to request his service. Whether it was to kill a bear that was raiding the town at night or simply find the biggest turkey he could for the town feast, Jacob did it all. For some reason, he just couldn't say no.

Recently he'd been given a...strange task. Apparently there’d been something lurking around the outskirts of the town, always running off into his forest when anybody approached it. Some people had described it as a large wolf-like creature with fur as dark as the night sky and amber eyes that practically glowed when you were able to get close enough to see them. Apparently, this creature was spooking the villagers, and he’d been enlisted to capture and kill it as quickly as he possibly could.

A few days later, Jacob was walking through the woods. He had his crossbow clutched in his hands and his owl, Scout, was in the skies, checking Jacob’s traps ahead of him. This was a constant routine of theirs as Scout worked much like hunting falcon. Jacob had trained him from a hatchling, and he was probably the only other living being Jacob got along with well.

Jacob followed the path until he stopped, listening. Along with the regular night sounds of crickets chirping and leaves rustling in the wind, there was a foreign sound that got louder and louder as Jacob approached one of the traps he’d set up. It sounded like a mix between growling and struggling. Jacob grinned to himself as Scout raced back towards him, giving off a screech that confirmed Jacob’s thoughts.

He’d caught the beast.

Jacob raced along the path until he came upon the clearing in the forest where he’d set up his trap and stopped, shocked, to find a thing in the metal jaws of his contraption.

It was a wolf. Or it had features of a wolf. Black fur and amber eyes as the locals described it, but it was more than that. There was pain on its face, and its front legs worked more like arms than legs, scrabbling at the sharp metal that had captured its back hind leg. It was humanesque to a point that made Jacob feel uncomfortable.

Scout, who had landed on a nearby branch, let out a screech that made Jacob jump and made the creature’s head whip around; its eyes landed on Jacob. Its lips pulled back in a long snarl, ears flattening against its head. It tried to scramble away from him, and Jacob couldn’t help a wince as it tore apart its leg all the more.

“Slow down there,” he said, trying to sound soothing but it probably came out gruff. He went to raise his hand in a comforting gesture and that’s when he remembered his crossbow. That’s when he remembered the job he’d set out to do. He sighed. “Look, calm down, alright? Stupid thing; you’re gonna make yourself bleed out.”

Despite his effort to be calming, he was slowly raising the crossbow. The creature’s intelligent eyes were watching his hands. It began to pull at its leg more, trying to get away. Jacob hesitated, and he realized he couldn’t do it. Whatever this thing was, it wasn’t just an animal. It was something different. The townspeople would probably kill him for letting it get away, but he felt no doubt in his mind as he threw away the crossbow and started approaching the beast.

It stopped in its movements, eyeing Jacob wearily. He growled to himself. “Look, this is dumb, but I can’t do this. C’mere, lemme get you outta that thing.”

The creature obviously understood his words and stilled. Jacob approached wearily but as he got to the trap, the creature just watched him as he slowly undid it and released the beast’s leg. He looked at it again. “Look, just come with me and I can heal you up and-.”

The creature ignored him and pushed past him, knocking him to the forest floor. Jacob watched, a little dazed, as it took off into the woods. The only indication that it’d really been there was the branches it’d pushed through shaking and the blood it’d left on its trap.

Jacob sighed to himself and shook his head, getting up and preparing himself to go disable the rest of his traps.

~~~

The next morning, Jacob was woken up to insistent knocking on his door. He quickly got up and inwardly prepared himself for Jenkins, the town’s mayor, or even Eve, the town’s sheriff, coming to ask him why he hadn’t captured the beast yet. He was trying to think of an excuse or even a story as he opened the door.

Then he was brought to a pause. Instead of Jenkins or Eve, a man younger than both of them stood in front of him. He had dark, black hair and dark brown eyes that were flecked with gold in the rising sun. He was leaning heavily against Jacob’s cabin and that’s when Jacob noticed his leg, bloody and torn to shreds.

The man gave him a smirking grin. “Hey there…does your offer still stand?”

Jacob’s eyes widened as he quickly understood. “Y-you were that…beast?”

“Beast is such a harsh word…” the man said. “But, uh, yeah…that’s me. I also go by Ezekiel.”

“But…how?” Jacob asked, still too astonished to actually let the man in to take care of him.

“It’s a really long story, and I’ll probably bleed out before I finish it,” Ezekiel said, and Jacob noticed his breath was getting shallower.

“R-right.” He nodded. He reached out, pulled the man into his house, and glanced around the woods, just to check they were completely alone before he shut the door.

Jacob was wrapping up Ezekiel’s leg when he finally spoke again. “It’s a disease, really. It’s not something anybody actually wants. I’ve been told many names…lycanthropy…man-wolf…the most popular one is werewolf. I don’t really know how it happened. All I do know is I got bit by one of ‘em one night and now I can’t stop turning into them. Villages are terrified of me, people send out search parties to hunt me down, but you’re the only one who’s ever been that close.” He frowned, looking at Jacob. “And then you let me go.”

Jacob shrugged, starting to put away his supplies and thinking of some sort of food he could cook up quick. “You obviously weren’t what people thought you were. You were scared of me even in that…form. You could’ve ripped me to shreds had I gotten close enough, but it didn’t even occur to you.” He met Ezekiel’s eyes. “I couldn’t kill you after that.”

“Oh,” Ezekiel murmured, and he still frowned as if he didn’t understand. He suddenly shook his head and said, “Look, I should be getting out of here. I’ll go somewhere else…maybe deeper into the forest. Thank you for all you’ve done. I would be dead if it weren’t for you.”

“Wait, hold on,” Jacob said, his hand wrapping around Ezekiel’s arm to keep him in place. “You don’t…you don’t have to go. This forest, I’m the only one who lives here. None of the villagers dare to come in here unless they’re lookin’ for me. You could be safe here.”

Ezekiel glanced at Jacob’s hand wrapped around his bicep and then met Jacob’s eyes. He had a tiny smile playing on his lips. “Are you serious? You just met me…and I could be dangerous. I still don’t know the full extent to this.”

Jacob shrugged. “Then I’ll help you figure it out.” He sighed but even he could feel his cheeks getting a little warmer. “You just seem like you need help. So here I am…offering it to you.”

Slowly, Ezekiel nodded. “Yeah…okay. Sure. I’ll stay.”

Jacob grinned. “C’mon, lemme introduce you to the dog. You can talk to him, right?”

Ezekiel frowned. “Oh, I can tell I’m gonna hate you already.”

“What was that a dumb question?”

“I should’ve torn you to shreds when I had the chance.”