“His name’s Hyde. Not that he’ll bother telling you.” Monty’s newest contract explained to her and her partner from across a wooden table. The three of them were sat in the contract’s home, humble in size and scarce on resources. The toe of Monty’s heavy boot creaked into the weathered floorboards and she took a drag from what remained of her cigarette. From here she could see inside an open bedroom door. A small, perfectly made bed was pushed against the wall and stuffed animals littered the floor.
The man across from Vern and Monty still had blood crusted into the strands of his frazzled hair. He was meek, but the jaded look in his eyes told of the horrors he’d faced in the past weeks. He hadn’t even changed out of the battle-stained clothes he’d been presumably wearing for days.
Monty stayed silent as she crushed the butt of her cigarette in her calloused palm. She would leave the talking to Vern.
“Where’d you see him last?” Monty’s eyes shifted over to Vern as he spoke. His hazel eyes were narrowed and his hands were crossed under his clean shaven chin. His slicked back hair kept his vision unobscured.
“That… doesn’t matter. I know where he’s been holing up.”
Vern’s thick brow cocked, creasing the lower half of his forehead.
The battered man leaned in, his head stooped forward as he stared up at Vern to make sure he was listening.
“Just to the east of here… in The Silent Forest…”
Monty’s dark eyes narrowed at the man and she forced back an irritated groan.
“That’s a pretty big place, buddy. You’re gonna have to be more specific.” Vern’s brow fell back down.
The man gave a shaky sigh and hung his head. His dull eyes stared down at the old, cracked wood of the table and his teeth clenched.
“That’s all I have… that’s all I have!” His palms slammed on the table and he bit back his creeping emotions. “Dammit, can you kill him or not?!” His head whipped back up and his reddened eyes shifted back and forth from Vern to Monty. Neither reacted to his outburst.
“Depends.” Vern exchanged looks with Monty before leaning in towards the man again. “Do you have what you promised?”
“Erg…. you’ll get your payment after you kill that bastard!” He slammed his fist against the splintering wood and glared at Vern. He and Monty were silent for a moment. The air in the house was stale and smelled of rot. Monty felt it weighing her down, but she had expected it to. Being this close to the Silent Forest wasn’t without its disadvantages.
“Yeah. Can’t help you.” Vern got up and Monty followed suit. She brushed a strand of her wavy black hair back into line beside her ear and fixed the collar of her heavy trench coat.
“What, wait! Fine, okay! Okay!” They barely got two steps away before the man was in front of them. “I’ll get it, just wait!”
Vern let out an impatient sigh and nodded, giving the man a chance. He quickly stumbled away into a bedroom adjacent to the one Monty had noticed before. While he was gone they got to talking.
“This shit isn’t worth one pint of demon’s blood,” Monty didn’t turn her head up to address Vern, but shifted her stern eyes up at him, “let alone half.”
“No, it’s not, but it’s not like we come across a lycan every day.” He didn’t return her glare. Monty let out a scoff.
“Is that supposed to make me feel better about getting jipped?”
“Look, we’ve never hunted a lycan before and I doubt this will be the last time. We need to learn all we can about this one before we’re contracted to take on a whole pack.”
Monty was about to rebut when she heard the man stumbling back over. Her words hitched in her throat and she released a sharp sigh in their place.
“Here…” The man held out a medical bag half sloshing with deep crimson blood.
Monty snatched it from his hand and pulled at the side of her coat, exposing three deep pockets. There was one stitched behind them that was nearly half the coat’s length. The wooden stock of a shotgun tapered out of the rim and sat at an angle, ready to be pulled out at a moment’s notice. Monty tucked the blood bag into an empty pocket and let the flap of her coat fall back around her body.
The man went on. “A-And if you find my boy… please bring him home.”
Monty stayed silent. They all knew that kid was done for, but Monty could still hear a spark of hope in the man’s voice. She blocked it out. Her mission was to hunt the lycan. She couldn’t allow sentiment to drive her when they faced this great of a threat.
Her and Vern left the shabby old house and looked to the thick trees off in the distance.
“What idiot would live this close to the Silent Forest?” Monty scoffed once they were out of earshot. Her and Vern’s boots scuffed the solid dirt under their feet as they left the shanty town behind them. The atmosphere was dull and they sky was the same stagnant gray as it had always been.
“The same kind of idiot that would kill himself I guess.”
Monty furrowed her brow up at him. “How would you know?”
“His death mark is on his wrist. Noticed it while he was taking.” Vern rolled up the sleeve of his leather coat and traced a vertical line down the soft part of his inner wrist.
Monty let out a sharp sigh. “Great. We’re going by the word of some mental old man. He never even told us where the lycan was.”
“Hyde. His name was Hyde.”
“Does it matter?”
“Well, it sounds more like a Noxious name.”
“So we’re looking for a guy with light hair. That really narrows it down.” Monty stuffed her hands in her pockets and glared ahead. She heard Vern crack a small laugh beside her.
“C’mon, Mont. How many people live in the Silent Forest?” She glanced over to see his stupid brow cocked up at her. She just scoffed and shook her head.
“Just fools and hellbeasts. So he must be a fool.”
Vern and Monty made it across the deserted landscape and were at the edge of the forest within the hour. Monty held up her wrist, checking the small screen she had strapped around it. It displayed a gridded map and the time.
“We have two hours…” She sighed and looked up at Vern. “Maybe we should come back tomorrow. I don’t know why we came all the way out here this late in the day.”
“I’m telling you, he won’t be that hard to find. C’mon, we’ll be fine.” Vern grinned and let the way in.
The weight of the air only got heavier. Monty’s chest felt tight and she couldn’t take a full breath even if she wanted to. As she took steps forward it felt like she was trying to wade through murky water. Even her hair felt like it was melting down her scalp. The dull pallet of gray-washed browns and greens only made the dizzying effect of the forest’s aura worse. Monty scowled as she trudged through the thick air and passed the tree line. She looked all around, but there wasn’t much to see. As the name suggested, there wasn’t so much as a peep in the forest. The leaves and twigs crunching under their boots sounded like an explosion in comparison. The two said nothing, fearing any other noise would draw unwanted attention. The further they waded into the thick trees the more Monty’s back started to ache. The death marks that riddled her back became sore and the fabric of her shirt chafed against them. She noticed Vern rubbing at his chest and stomach. He must have felt it too.
They walked for an hour. They had heard no noise other than their own, not even the orange tree tops rustled. They had gone in a straight line so they would know the way back. Everything looked to similar, it was too easy to get lost. Monty’s eyes had been scanning around the lifeless environment before bumping into Vern who’d stopped in his tracks. She gave him a bit of a scowl, but he tapped at her arm and pointed to something in the distance.
“Have you seen anything other than trees this whole time…?” He kept his voice as a low whisper. Monty shook her head. She tied between turning back and investigating. She checked the screen again and showed Vern the time. Only forty minutes left. “Well… if there’s nothing there we’ll turn back.”
Monty nodded and pulled her sleeve back down before pulling the shotgun out of her coat. She kept the safety on, didn’t want to risk misfiring. It almost looked brand new aside from the scars on the wooden stock. It was unique in having a third barrels; Monty had more firepower in mind when she crafted it. She checked to see that it was loaded before advancing towards the jagged gray lump in the distance. Vern had both of his pistols in hand, but he hand them slack at his sides for now.
When they got closer it was clear that their mystery figure was just a big rock. Monty let out a disappointed huff and stopped when they were just a few feet from it. She shook her head and went to put her gun away when Vern grabbed her wrist. He shook his head and held a finger to his lips as his eyes darted around. He was listening. Monty’s brow furrowed and she froze, listening too. A low growling was coming from nearby. It was rhythmic, like snoring. The shotgun was back in both of Monty’s hands. Her heart started pumping and her eyes narrowed at the rock. She twitched her head over to one side and lead Vern slowly around the craggy gray boulder. It scratched and pulled at the length of her coat as she got closer to the outer wall of it. Peering around the edge, she discovered the mouth of a cave. The growling was clear now. She held her breath and dared to take another step forward so she could see inside. There, at the back of the shallow tunnel, was a hill of mangled, white fur. The growls were in rhythm with its breathing. Even laying down this beast was taller than Monty. The cave floor was riddled with blood-stained bones and tattered clothes. By Monty’s feet was the head of a small stuffed teddy bear, the fabric and stuffing dyed red. She took a cautious step back and gave Vern a knowing look. He nodded in response and he started back to go to the other side.
While he was gone Monty began to formulate a plan. She checked the contents of her other pockets and couldn’t help but grin when she found a shock trap in one of them. She pulled out the small, metal contraption about the size of a saucer. The center had a blue circle and small, conductive prongs. She flipped it over and turned a knob on the underside, upping the voltage to max. This sort of thing was only supposed to be used on lesser demons, but she hoped it would be enough to at least slow this monster down. She set it down for a moment and clicked her gun open, taking out her normal round and replacing them with stronger ones. They gave much more of a kick, but Monty was much more concerned about her and Vern’s lives than she was her shoulder. She clicked the safety off and turned her head to the other side of the cave opening. The light in the sky was starting to fade and the orange of the trees almost seemed to set ablaze in the golden hour. Monty took the deepest breath she could under the strains of the forest air and readied herself.
Vern showed up on the other side, both of his pistols held up and ready. The thick barrels of each one held four muzzles. Monty held up the shock trap so he could see and received a grin. Vern pulled one out of his own pocket and cranked the voltage, waving it above his head so she could see. The orange light gleamed off of the metal and Monty couldn’t help but grin back. They would have to work fast, time was against them. Both silently snuck in front of the cave and placed the traps just a few feet from one another. They backed up, eyes trained on the beast and guns held up in front of them. Once they reached ten steps back they both stopped in unison. Monty’s eyes shifted over at Vern, meeting his hazel gaze. He gave a small nod before staring forward again.
Monty rested the stock against her shoulder and pointed the barrel at the beast, which was no more than thirty feet away. She took a breath, but only for a moment, before squeezing the trigger. The explosive gunshot seemed to shake the whole forest and the beast jolted awake, claws scraping the bedrock and yellow eyes alert. The buck shot drilled into the lycan’s skin and stained his off-white pelt. The only thing louder than the gunshot was the ear-splitting roar that broke the lycan’s fangs open. Monty winced, but kept her sights on the beast. He whipped his giant head in her and Vern’s direction, snarling and staring into their souls with his bright eyes. Viscous drool poured from between his fangs and he bolted at them. The buckshot hardly affected his breakneck speed. Monty stood her ground as the beast, twice the size of any bear, barreled at her. She shot again, hitting his shoulder, but he didn’t so much as scoff. She heard shots from Vern, but even though they hit nothing slowed him down. Until he reached the mouth of the cave. The shock traps glowed blue and activated when he stepped between them, sending bolts of static electricity to shock and contain him. Another roar split the forest and Vern and Monty moved in while the lycan had dropped to his knees.
They underestimated the lycan’s strength. He had been more surprised by the traps than stunned, and with enough effort managed to mangle one with a swipe of his claws. It was destroyed and deactivated, and soon after the other device was in the same shape. Monty found herself way too close now, she was within his reach. He gave her no time to react, sending her scraping across the forest floor with the swipe of his giant paw. Monty stayed down for a moment before letting out a short-breathed huff and getting back on her feet. The front of her body was scraped up and bloody, but she had to ignore it. Once her eyes were back in focus she saw Vern facing down the beast alone. He fired shot after shot, but it seemed no matter how many holes they riddled him with he just wouldn’t stop. This wasn’t like demon hunting, this was something else entirely and they were hardly prepared for it.
Monty jumped back into action, getting closer so she could shoot him again, this time she pointed to his face. The buck shots shred a part of his muzzle and got his attention. He lunged at Monty, leaving Vern to catch his break from trying to dodge all of the lycan’s heavy blows. She evaded another swipe, but needed to reload. Instead, he grasped the long gun in one hand as swung the stock at the lycan, landing a few cuts across his knuckles. It was enough to keep his attention long enough for Vern to disappear from her sight. When he reappeared he was grasping the lycan’s mane in one hand and pulling a knife from his pocket in the other. Yes, the teleporter worked. Monty watched at the lycan backed off of her and snarled, trying to shake Vern off. Before it could he managed to plunge a knife hilt-deep behind one of its pointed ears. The roar of pain gave Monty enough time to ditch her used bucks and load in new ones. The lycan was shaking wildly, trying with all of its might to throw Vern.
“Hyde!” The name tore through Monty’s throat and she received a deadly stare from the beast. Unfortunately for him, he also found himself staring down the barrel of Monty’s weapon of choice. Her trigger finger was quick and she managed to shoot all three rounds into Hyde’s face. That would slow the bastard down. An almost unnatural snarl came from him and his head snapped back, taking the rest of his body with him. Vern managed to kick off of him before the lycan fell to the ground, writhing in pain. His claws scarred the packed dirt underneath him and Vern quickly got back on his feet. He ran to rejoin Monty, but was still in Hyde’s reach.
“Look out!” Monty warned, but Hyde’s thrashing legs tripped Vern and left him vulnerable on the ground. Monty had no time to waste. She clicked her gun open and dumped the spent bucks, reloading as fast as her shaking hands would allow. Once she had the shots clicked in she could see Hyde looming over Vern. One of his eyes was shot out and his face was pelted with buck shots, but he just kept going. Monty rushed at him as he landed a fatal swipe across Vern’s chest. His rough claws shred his skin, causing Vern to belt out in pain. He shot his final few rounds at Hyde’s face, buying Monty time as she got right up where Vern had been on his mane. Before he could shake her off, she unloaded the gun into his skull, goring it with holes and shredding his brain. Monty was thrown from the spasm Hyde’s body made in response. He started scrambling to his feet, but kept falling, leaving blood prints all over the forest floor. Monty reloaded, now standing between Vern and the manic beast.
The lycan was rolling and stumbling like a rag doll. Messy swipes and splatters of blood were soaked up by the dirt and Hyde finally collapsed just outside of the cave he’d been hiding in. The sporadic tremble of his mane and ribs told Monty that he was still breathing. She looked back at Vern. His injury looked painful, but nothing was punctured.
“Go, I’m fine, I’ll be fine…” He reassured her. “Kill that thing…”
Monty let out a sigh and looked over at the lycan. She took bold steps, her shoulders pulled back and her head held high. Hyde’s head was limp on the ground and his fur started to shed in clumps. Monty’s eyes narrowed at him and she watched as his lycan form began to shrink into nothing but an injured, naked man. His eyes were glassy and his long white hair was untamed, matted with blood and dirt. He didn’t look at her, but when she raised her gun at him he started to speak.
“_____….” It was a language she didn’t recognize, which was uncommon. This place allowed all languages to be heard as one’s own, with the exception of Demonic. Monty would certainly recognize Demonic, and this wasn’t it.
“You don’t get last words.” She fired at his temple and he let out a sickening gasp before uttering the last of his words.
After that his eyes dulled and stared into nothing. His limbs twitched and Monty groaned, detesting the sight of rigor mortis. It made her stomach churn and she looked away. She started back towards Vern, who was standing now. He was hunched over and holding an arm across his wounds, but the look in his eye told her he would be fine. The golden hour was slipping away. The shadows cast by the trees stretched and threatened to engulf the whole forest.
“Fuck… what time is it? We have to get out of here.” Vern panted out. Monty looked down to check but she couldn’t read the screen. Her vision doubled, and then tripled, and before she knew it she had fallen to the ground. She grimaced and squeezed her eyes shut as the world around her started to spin. A headache crept up the back of her skull and she heard footsteps stumbling towards her.
“Mont? Mont! What’s wrong?!” It was Vern’s voice, but she couldn’t see him. She couldn’t see anything but a blur. Her head started pounding and the pain started to course through her whole body. She could hear Vern’s voice again, but it was nothing but sound grating on her eardrums and making her migraine worse. Her hands were trembling and she could taste the blood oozing from her swollen gums. She could feel the skin of her fingers and toes start to tear and she couldn’t tell if she was shouting or not. A burning pain simmered on her skin and soon enough her mind was overtaken by rage. Soon the pain became too much. She didn’t know if she had blacked out, but she must have.
Monty awoke under a quilt lying in a soft bed. She rubbed her eyes and blinked for a moment, allowing them to focus. She didn’t recognize this room. The bed she lay in was large and sat on a carved wood frame in the center of the wall. There were books hastily stacked all along the walls and beside the left side of the bed. On the left wall was a fireplace, which was just about the only wall space that didn’t have piles of loose books covering it. The ceiling was exposed, weathered rafters made of the same wood as the floor. There was a cleared off night stand on the right of the desk with nothing but a small locked case on it.
When Monty sat up she noticed she had no pain and the scrapes she had gotten in the fight looked like they had never happened. She was in someone else’s clothes, a loose fitting tank top and sweatpants that went down to her calloused heels. On her exposed arms were a few needle pricks. She didn’t have time to question them. When she got up she found her shotgun lying on the floor. She picked it up and cracked it open. All of the bullets inside were new. Odd, she could have sworn she’d shot at least one of them before she passed out. She pressed the stock to her shoulder as she stood and was surprised to feel no bruising. How long had she been out? It’s not like scrapes and bruises healed overnight.
She crept toward the door and pulled the handle, letting it slowly creep open on its own. Her shoulder hugged the wall and her eyes followed the slow swing of the wood. This next room was the same size as the bedroom and no less cramped with stuff. There were two tables knocked together in the far corner that wrapped around the wall, both of which were littered with dried plants and glass bottles. A stone mortar and pestle were sitting in the only cleared off spot. Above the tables were racks secured to the wall holding palm-sized tinted bottles. From the exposed rafters hung bundles of herbs, none of which Monty could identify. Not exactly her area of expertise. Not surprisingly, there were more books stacked beside the tables and a wooden stool in the corner that looked like it hadn’t been used in decades for anything other than more book storage.
The door handle bumped the wall, now fully open, and Monty saw no one in here. She took cautious steps to avoid getting splinters from the bone-dry wooden floors. There was a door on either side of her. The left had a coat hanging beside it and a pair of worn boots on the old doormat. She could feel a draft coming from the crack between it and the floor. Her way out. She couldn’t leave yet though, she had no idea where Vern was. The door to her right had a small, barred window on it. The glass was so foggy that it was impossible to see through, she Monty had no other choice but to open the door. The rusted hinges creaked and she immediately took hold of the handle to stop it from moving. From what she could see there was a stair step in front of her. She clicked the safety on her gun and held it upright. Her palm scratched against the ridged wood as she pushed the door open just a little more, allowing her just enough space to squeeze through.
The door was left open as she descended the cold, concrete stairs. Safety was clicked off and she brought the stock of her gun back to her shoulder. There was shuffling coming from down here and a light clicked on. All Monty could see so far was a part of the concrete floor. A shadow of a figure cast in her line of sight and she froze. It wasn’t Vern, the silhouette was too thin. Another silent step forward and she was stood where the ceiling of this basement began. Any further and she would be in view, especially with that light on. She brought her gun into her lap and crouched, peering just under the ceiling line to see what she was in for. The exposed light bulb in the ceiling splashed the gray walls yellow. To the left was another door which was being pulled shut. Whoever was down here was now out of sight. Monty dared to take another step down to see further in front of her. In the far wall was an indentation where a small bed had been squeezed perfectly into. It was layered with blankets that covered another figure. Beside the bed was Vern’s tattered shirt and folded up coat with his pistols and other belongings. Monty contained a gasp. She listened for the other person behind the wall and heard footsteps. It wasn’t clear whether they were coming back yet or not, but she was ready to take that chance. Gun in one hand, she silently stepped down the stairs. The cold of the concrete bit at her feet as she walked to the bed.
“Vern…” Monty whispered and grabbed his shoulder. She didn’t expect him to jerk away. His face tensed in pain and he awoke with a groan. Her brow furrowed in confusion; she didn’t remember his shoulder being injured. “Vern, where are we?”
“Fuck…” He turned over, still half asleep, but only for a moment. When his eyes shifted up to her they widened and his breath hitched in his throat. His whole body responded to his fear and pushed towards the wall. The layers of blankets slid off of the bandages all over his torso. The blood on them looked recent. “Back up!”
“What? Vern, wh-”
Monty raised her brow in surprise and took a few steps back. “What the hell is going on? Who-”
The door behind Monty swung open and she whipped around, gun poised to shoot, finger rested on the trigger guard. She was staring down a man. He instantly had his hands up and took a step back into the room he’d come out of. His fingers were lined with different rings.
“No no no no, don’t shoot!” His brown eyes here widened and fixed on the barrels of the shotgun. Long, smooth hair cascaded over his shoulder when he hunched his head forward, pleading for mercy. The strands falling in his face were the same warm brown as his well kempt beard.
“What did you do to him?!” Monty wasn’t messing around. If he admitted to bringing Vern harm she wouldn’t think twice about blowing his head off.
“W-What?” The rings on his fingers clicked as his hands trembled. He picked his head up and looked at her.
“Monty, you did this!” Vern shouted from right behind her. Her eyes shifted back to him, but her barrel still pointed at the accused man. “After you killed Hyde you… you shifted.”
“Shifted?” She glared at Vern. He’d better not be messing with her.
“Ch-changed. You were a lycan. Hyde cursed you…”
Monty’s eyes narrowed and she lowered her gun, hearing a sigh of relief come from the man. She turned to Vern.
“What do you mean cursed?”
“Lars had to explain it to me…” Monty followed Vern’s eyes as he looked over at the man in the doorway. He had shut the door to the other room which, judging by the tile floor and sink, was a bathroom. She looked at Vern again as he continued. “Humans who kill lycans can be cursed… they recite the curse right before death and whoever kills them is… stuck with it. You shifted right then, right when you were coming back for me… and you attacked me.”
The shotgun clattered to the floor when Monty lost her grip on it. She walked right up to the bed, glaring in disbelief. “You’re lying! Wh-What really happened?”
“The… first shift is the worst…,” Lars shook his head walked a little closer to them, but kept his distance, “And human bodies aren’t meant to shift… it could have killed you if Vern hadn’t brought you here to be treated. But… from now on your shifts can be triggered by anger… they’re hard to control.”
“I didn’t ask you!” She whipped around towards Lars.
“Mont, it’s true, you have to believe me and you have to calm down.” Vern sounded nervous, not an emotion he usually expressed.
Monty shook her head, backing away from the two of them. She felt the rage again, it squirmed and festered in the back of her head. The yellow light started to hurt her eyes, so she squeezed them shut. The feeling was familiar, the pain creeping up her skull, pulsing of her skin. She backed off until her arms hit the cold wall. Deep breaths hissed between her clamped teeth and her gums started to get sore. She thought about what Vern said, forcing herself to believe it. She heard Lars run off and her head started pounding in her ears. She could hear her pulse and feel the splitting of her skin. When she opened her eyes again she was lying in bed, covered by a quilt. There were more track marks on her arm.