“Hatred is a fire only man feels, he does not hate the beast that comes in the night. They don’t hate death. They hate each other.”
― Meagan Spooner, Hunted
Rolf trotted along the path that followed the escarpment above the field just inside the treeline. He kept a wary eye on the throngs of people below him. They were not his prey today. Still, they were never to be trusted except for his Alpha, they made better meals than packmates. He stopped and looked around, looking for odd contrasts that didn’t belong in the forest, his home. His labored breath held for a moment as he scented the air. He sensed the interloper and the aromatic esters of gun oil and nervous sweat. He trotted on, following the scent as it grew stronger, pungent, swirling in his nostrils, and fueling his fury.
Rolf’s brothers and sisters scented this insurgent essence and howled their acknowledgment. Rolf halted on his haunches and replied, his hot breath a vaporous funnel of haunting sound. He sensed the sea of people below growing nervous and fidgeting. Let them be fearful. Rolf hurried now as the adrenaline of the hunt pressed him and caused him to salivate from his gaping maw. Fangs the size of a man’s little finger glistened in the rays of light penetrating the forest canopy. Rolf’s burning chest yearned for the taste of blood. He ran in a dodging pattern toward his prey.
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The priest now queried the Duchess Elect. Would she accept the role of Duchess of Wallachia? She did. Would she rule with justice by the laws of the people? Yes. Would she live to see her people live free and well and would she regain the lands of Wallachia for her people? Yes. The priest’s voice resounded through the speakers and echoed across the silent sea of people standing reverent and proud. This was their moment of glory.
Marius listened to his surroundings while monitoring the action at the pavilion. Rolf howled again in response to his pack hunting someone or something in the forest. Marius could tell they were closing in on a knoll at the back of the parade field. The perfect high ground for a sniper. Marius laughed to himself. It’s too late for our enemy. The wolves have unnerved them and will tear them apart before they can fire a shot.
The hunter slowed his pace and looked back at the Lady Drăgana through the gaps in the trees. She was seated on the Dacian Throne. The priest handed her the sword and dagger of Wallachia. It was done.
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Alexandra lowered the sword and dagger to her lap and placed her hands over the blades, their jeweled and golden wire hilts glittered in the filtered sun overhead. The girl who dances with knives would surely dance well with these, she thought.
Anxious sweat that cooled on her skin regained the warmth of fulfillment, of recognition of her terrible task, of realization this moment was her fate. All that had passed before in her life brought her here to do this one thing. She would regain the lost land of Wallachia with blood, vengeance, and the hatred necessary to spill the lives and souls of her Army of believers into the soil of time.
The wolves howled again and Alexandra felt herself grow moist with a sensual tingle as the sound punctuated her thoughts. The Society of Wolves emerged from the darkness of defeat to hunt again. She knew she was the ultimate Huntress in these lands, so let the hunt begin.
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The Count and Viscount of Răzvan kneeled at the Duchess’ feet and pledged their swords and lives to her. The Duchess accepted and vowed to hold their lives and service dear to her heart. Cezar looked up into her eyes and saw her courage. His harsh query into her eyes was met with unblinking awareness. An awful burden lifted from the viscount as he rose to his feet with his father and saluted the Duchess of Wallachia. Next, in a continuous procession came the royalty of the land she now ruled, each pledged their lives and loyalty, their soldiers and wealth to defend and honor her reign.
At long last, it was her time to address the people who cheered her without pause. Scanning the crowd of uplifted faces, Alexandra saw their unwitting devotion to the idea of being their own masters again.
The Duchess stood in a wide stance like a fighter and struck her sword and dagger together over her head with such force that an arc of sparks flew above her and rained down in a thousand points of light. The crowd went insane with celebration. Alexandra saw in her new subjects a fulfillment of destiny that she was some kind of symbol of their future. No matter what they thought or interpreted, the warrior duchess was their’s and many would lay down their life for her if necessary. A champion’s smile crossed her face.
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A lone figure lay across the tall grass on the high ground at the back of the parade ground. The sniper’s rifle scope drifted across Alexandra’s chest some 500 meters away. He admired her body, which was tall and slender yet presented an athletic, feminine aesthetic. He did not hate her. What kind of man could hate such strength and beauty? He thought of what pleasure it would be to mount her, to pull her head back with her long black hair and strike her hard, pulling her back into his groin. He felt the drug of violent lust surge through him. Not now, duty called as did the damned wolves. He was paid well to kill her, and he had to do it now before it was too late to escape. Muscles tensed. The sniper shifted his weight to become one with the ground. He braced himself and held his breath. The gods damn those lupine devils, he whispered to himself as he took up the slack on the trigger to the breakpoint, locked his body, and prepared for the recoil.