As she cast the bloody heart from her hand, flecks of blood spray dotted the white fur on her coat. The shadows cast by the crescent moon's glow only made it harder for human eyes to make out the scene, but Claire's vision was perfect.
Her family and friends made a circle around her and watched as she worked on the victim in front of her. He lay on the leaf covered ground, soaked in his own blood, chest cut wide open but his lungs continued to move up and down.
The enchanted body was still alive.
She filled the hole where his heart had been with an orb made of ruby, crimson as the blood around it. The ruby glowed brightly, even when the victim's blood covered every inch, as she began to chant and sew up her victim. He was another new Cipher for her tribe.
There was applause of howls all around her as each of the half-changed members of her family and friends filled the air with their song. When she was done, they stopped and watched the Cipher, with all of his old memories still retained, awaken from the enchanted sleep.
Magaera, her closest friend, approached him cautiously and turned to her friend. "This is the first male you've done, Claire." Then she turned to the boy and said, "You were specially chosen for your skills as a hunter and bowman. We've been analyzing you for quite some time."
Claire, her hands still bloody, put a hand on his shoulder and said, "You were chosen to receive the opportunity to join our ranks."
The victim didn't speak; he only stared up at them from his position on the ground. His face had a hint of befuddlement and sorrow. Magaera immediately tried to liven up the mood, "When we get back to camp, you can meet the others. You'll have friends and they can explain all the benefits to you."
"Your name is Zion," Claire stated. She signaled over two strong looking, half transformed wolves and they lifted him easily to his feet. She led the new Cipher, Zion, with Magaera trailing nearby. The rest of the pack followed several paces behind her in respect.
It was her fourth Cipher, but only the first male.
"When we reach the camp, before you meet the others, you must first meet Alpha and Omega. I will present you to them and they will tell me whether or not you are worthy of the honor."
Zion felt like a captive. He recalled his past well. What he did yesterday and what happened before he was caught. He looked around at the forest. It grew dense and foggy, as if they were nearing the mountains' misty haze that formed from the climate.
The mountains he knew were well away from his village. The forest they were in had always stood between them. Rarely did travelers not prepared for wilderness ever set foot in the Woods, yet he had, unprepared and tired and running.
He had won yet another game of poker, dice, maybe it was one of the tribal games of his village, and suddenly the room had turned on him. They called him names and told him he must have some sort of trick or magic to do so well every time.
That's when he ran. Took his satchel and winnings and ran. Straight into the _ Woods where wolves howled and humans were said to shape shift into terrible beasts. But he wasn't thinking, because survival from humans, from the village, seemed more important at the time.
When he felt he was safe and the yelling of townsfolk had died down and ceased, he stopped for breath, panting endlessly, he noticed the fog had rolled in and remembered how late it was that the darkness was coming in as well.
And he heard that sound and seen things that terrified him at first. A gruesome creature like a limber wolf with a stubby snout, a tail, ears, black and white fur covering it from head to toe. The eyes were amber, and it stood on two legs, but could just as easily run on all fours.
In terror, he ran again, but he was still out of breath and in his drained state, he didn't get far. He went for his satchel to grab a knife or arrow, but the wolf swung a clawed hand and snarled. When he thought he would be torn to pieces, instead he blacked out entirely.
Zion knew they were close when he saw tiny dots of light, the sign of many campfires. When they reached the camp, he felt many eyes staring at him. Most were mid transformation and he found himself staring back at those with fur or snouts or oddly colored eyes.
The few humans he did see ignored him. Claire's family and friends dispersed into the crowds of people and she led Zion toward the center of the camp where a circle of stones made a ring around a fur blanket upon which two wolves sat.
They both looked fairly wolf-like sitting down, but when they stood up, Zion noticed more of the differences between them and wolves. Their snouts were broad and the length of wolf snouts in proportion to their faces but their form and stature was very different.
They stood on their hind legs and were at least nine or ten feet tall when doing so. Zion felt his heart pound when their eyes turned to him, before remembering that his heart was lying somewhere on the ground, probably being eaten by wild animals.
Their eyes were not the docile brown or blue of the regular forest wolves, but rather differing colors. The Alpha had fire-y orange eyes and the Omega had gold.
The ruby in his chest pounded until it hurt. The two wolves watched him writhe, and then looked back to Claire. She adjusted her necklace of gemstones and put a hand on Zion's back. "That's the life link kicking in. It'll go away in a second."
Zion recovered quickly and bowed his head uncertainly. The Alpha nodded and gave a long, low howl to show his approval. Claire bowed her head and took Zion by the arm, leading him away.
They reached a tent near the edge of the camp ground. A low branch from a huge tree held up the tarp of the tent while the ends were staked down. Another branch outside the tent was laden with gold and silver chains with different symbols, both hard forged and rough edged.
Inside, the ground was covered in blankets and cloth. The tent was huge, able to accommodate all four of them. A plain box sat in one corner. Next to the box, seated on plush green cushions, were three girls.
Each introduced themselves casually, "Azura, I'm the eldest and I've been here longest out of all of us. I'm twenty, actually, and I was chosen for my dancing and singing skills."
"Cali," said the second, "I'm seventeen and I'm really good at making wine. And baskets."
The third one gave him a demure smile and said, "Skye, I'm a butcher's daughter. Fifteen years old, and been here the least amount of time. But I've already picked somebody Azura!"
She turned her attention to the young woman with black hair and an ovular face. Her pale skin was a sharp contrast to her hair. Azura looked very well dressed wearing a silken dark blue dress with a floral pattern of pink magnolias up one side of the dress.
Skye herself looked the complete opposite of elegant, dressed in raggedy white clothes that were dusty and worn. Her hair was choppy and brown and cut just shy of her ears and her eyes were fierce and stormy green.
Cali looked very plain in her clothes, wearing a brown skirt and dark green blouse and vest. Her hair was brown, her eyes were brown, and her skin looked like smooth chocolate. Zion thought she would blend in very well with the woods if she had wanted to.
Whatever had happened to bring them there, Zion didn't care. He was sharing a tent with three women and that was all he could think about for the next couple of nights.
But after a few nights passed, he began to realize that they had no interest in him at all, but were each rather attracted to a particular wolf.
Azura gushed often about a wolf named Gerran. He had seen Gerran pointed out to him once or twice in the few days since he'd gotten there. According to Azura, he was strong, fiercely protective, and the sweetest wolf she had ever met.
Zion thought he looked like the dumbest wolf he had ever met, until Gerran had spoken to her in the tent. His voice was gruff and fierce, and at first glance of Zion, he had given a warning snarl.
His fur was sleek and brown when he was wolf and he never entered the tent human as if he wanted only to show off his strong wolf side when appearing to them. Zion also began to understand the transformation cycle more with each day.
According to them, any time that a moon was present, they could change at will, even during the day. New moons meant no change and full moons were complete change.
Cali suspected that she was the eye of a black furred wolf by the name of Dazrak, who callously glared at Zion once when Cali was close and talking to him.
Skye, however, seemed to get looks from a great number of wolves, particularly while she was eating. She was a human who ate with the appetite of a wolf, or so the rumor said. When Zion was sent out hunting, she always told him, "Leave a piece for me," and she'd eat the raw meat and blood.
The only wolf they all feared was Sazamel. According to Azura, they were created to become potential mates to wolves in the tribe. Each one was trained more in their skills as well as the cultures and traditions of the wolves.
The tradition of Ciphers stemmed from a long time ago when wolves began learning magic and mage wolves appeared. It became an easier way of incorporating humans from outside society into the wolves' own society because they were so distant from each other.
The gems implanted as hearts bound each Cipher to a mage wolf and could also keep them from the prone harms of themselves. For example, if a human were suddenly thrown into the culture, they would immediately feel fear.
The gemstones counteract the fear that they would feel and they instead feel a strange interest or love for the wolves. It gives them a chance to integrate with their culture.
And after Claire felt the time was right, she would prepare a ceremony for the next full moon, which brought another fear. When the full moon rose, so did the aggression of the pack. The Ciphers were protected from the wolves by the mages powers alone and without that, the Ciphers would be torn apart.
During the ceremony, whoever decided that they wanted a particular Cipher to mate with or to enslave if they so choose could fight it out, either until one gives up, or fight to the death. If no one participates, the Cipher becomes unprotected and the wolves usually tear them apart. This is only the case for the Cipher that has been in the pack the longest.
Sazamel had a habit of taking female Ciphers from others who've wanted them to mate with. Normally, if they wanted one as a mate, they would turn them first. Sazamel is a different story.
Each Cipher he's taken for his own had been enslaved and raped, but when they bore him children, the child would tear her apart and the child would usually die shortly after, leaving him no children.
After his first incident with the death of both child and mate, he despised humans, calling them weak and began ritually fighting for more Ciphers if only to watch them get torn apart.
I'm curious as to what people think of this idea. Please let me know.