Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Unmasked: Part 1: The Gift

Rodrick looked down at the letter again and then back up at the trembling messenger. He was a rather scrawny boy, the messenger, his chin bare with the smoothness of youth. The upper half of his face was concealed by a metal filigree mask, painted red and adorned with tiny amber gemstones. All of the Kin wore these strangely feminine masks, a curious habit Rodrick had yet to figure out.

"I'm sorry, your Council has done what now?" he said, squinting at the boy.

" lord," he said, swallowing nervously, "A gift has been left in your forest. If you can catch her, you can keep her. An offering to ease the tensions between our peoples."

Rodrick cocked an eyebrow. "So you abandoned a woman in my forest...alone."

The boy looked a bit sad. "I am but a messenger, my lord." He looked down. "But if you would like my advice, I suggest you hurry. She is not particularly well-equipped."

Rodrick crumpled the paper in his fist. "Please get off my lands before I eat you."

The Pyro Kin fled the outpost without another word, tripping over his own feet as he stumbled out the door.

Jurgen pushed off the wall behind him with a snort. He was a tall wolf, just a hair taller than Rodrick himself. His hair was gathered into a series of small tight braids that fell down the left side of his head like a black curtain. Coupled with the short goatee and the claw scars running down his right cheek, it made for a fearsome visage, aided ably by his height and bulk.

"Do they expect us to eat her or fuck her?" he said with another snort.

Rodrick rolled his eyes. Somewhat undignified for an alpha, but he was never much for formality, particularly with his seconds. "I imagine the latter would be more beneficial to their supposed cause."

"I can't imagine either would be palatable given the waifish creatures they tend to favor."

"Knowing the Kin Elders, they wouldn't give us anyone they actually value," he sighed, sitting back in his chair. "We will collect the woman and see what she knows. If I like her, I will keep her for myself. If not, you and Reiner may have your choice. Or, we can offer her up to the unmated warriors and see who will take on a woman of the enemy."

Jurgen frowned. "Does that mean you are accepting their peace?"

"That depends on what the woman says, but so far, I would wager against it. The female is either a spy or a sacrifice. If the former, they do not truly desire peace. If the latter, they do not deserve peace."

Jurgen let out a sigh of his own. "Well, then let us go catch a Kin."

* * *

Conna felt as if her heart were beating out of her chest. Day was quickly fading into night and the ropes binding her hands were tied a bit more expertly than she expected. She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. They had said they would wait until nightfall to sic the wolves on her. Surely that was enough time to make some progress. She settled there in the grass, trying to piece together the pattern of the rope. A minute or two of struggling later, the coarse binding fell away from her hands into a pile in her lap. Scooping it up, she stuffed it into the one satchel they had allowed her.

Standing up, she brushed the dirt and leaves from her skirt and tucked the sides edges of it into her belt at each hip. She wasn't much of a runner, but at least she wouldn't be tripping over her skirts this way. She couldn't hope to outrun a wolf. She couldn't outrun most Kin, but every little bit helped. Perhaps she could hide in a tree? No, they would scent her.

Damn it.

"You are to be a gift. A peace offering," they had told her as they bound her hands. 

"So what is the point of abandoning me in the forest, then? Seems a poor way to present a gift," she'd managed to bite out, a knife held delicately to her throat to quell any struggle.

"They enjoy the hunt." 

Conna's head shot up as a howl ripped through the air some distance away. Well, so much for waiting. She ran. The howl wasn't close, but as fast as the beasts were, it wouldn't take long. So she ran, knowing her efforts were futile. Futile, but not entirely poor, she noted, as she instinctively leapt over the rocks and tree roots that sprung up in her path.

She screamed as a large body slammed into her from behind. Thick arms wrapped around her, pinning her arms to her body, and jerked midair so she landed on the relative softness of male muscle. Conna screamed again, kicking wildly. The wolf flung his legs around hers, stilling them with his greater strength and height. Panicking, she grabbed his forearm and bit down as hard as she could.

"Fucking hell!" yelled a masculine voice from just behind her ear. Thick fingers threaded into her hair at the back of her head and yanked, but she stubbornly held on despite the pain. He cursed again, freeing his hand from her hair to press his fingertips into the hinges of her jaw and pry it open. The arm moved down quickly out of the reach of her teeth.

"Ill-equipped, my ass," he grumbled, rolling them both over to pin her beneath his weight. Sitting up, he captured her hands behind her wrists in his hand and began wrapping a chain about them. Panting from her struggles, Conna managed to calm down just enough to pay attention to his binding pattern.

"You know, little Kin, the more you struggle, the tastier you look" a different voice quipped.

Her scream lasted about three seconds before the world went black.