CHAPTER 1 — Death does not forgive

When the quick footsteps were heard through the village, everyone panicked. The hunting season had already started; the time when many wild animals were killed only for sport and protection. It was not strange for the villagers to fear such animals. Not only were they carnivores, but they carried many different diseases that could not be allowed to spread through the thin forest. In that regard, perhaps the humans were simply doing the right thing.

Women were left behind inside their homes, protecting the young and old. Men, instead, left carrying heavy rifles and camouflage clothing. Out, in the streets, enormous dogs were walking around, as if they owned the place.

Matt was relatively young, but he was mature enough to understand this strange ritual. He looked out the window, and he could see his father; a muscular and hairy man in his late fifties, clearly experienced, but stern. His piercing glare was often terrifying, and Matt had to live with the fear that his father might, someday, snap and attack him. But despite that fear, he couldn't help but admire the old guy as he stood outside their home, gun raised, keeping a close watch and making sure no wild animal would even dare approach.

One unlucky gray dog decided to investigate. Matt looked at it closely; it was huge, bigger than any dog he had seen in the village. Its fur was messy and dirty, and it had a hungry look in its face, that much he could understand.

His father didn't hesitate. He shot the creature right between the eyes, blood staining its entire head and a bit of the ground. The dog collapsed, unmoving, its eyes wide open. It would be forever unable to understand how human technology worked, and how efficient and dangerous guns were for their kind.

"Matthew, come back here!"

He could hear his mother approaching him from behind, and blocking his eyes with both hands. After all, she couldn't allow him to witness such cruelty, even if it was for the good of their village.

"But I want to see dad hunting those dogs!" Matt complained, resisting in his mother's grip. Since she wasn't grabbing him with much force, it was easy for him to escape, but he was grabbed by the arm before he could move a step.

"No," she commanded sternly. "It's past your bedtime. Let's go."

Matt obediently followed. He took a quick glance behind; the sound of thunder made him jump. No, that wasn't thunder—it was a gunshot. Did his dad just kill another dog? He couldn't see, and before long he was out of the room, dragged by his mother.

"Why are they doing this?" the boy asked in pure innocence. The mother decided not to reply to his question.

"Go to sleep, you have to wake up early tomorrow. And no more questions," she added before the boy could interrupt. "It will be a long day."

Even though the little boy was unable to understand this, his father was certainly aware of what was happening. Whenever he raised his gun, he repeated to himself that this was for the well-being of his family and friends. These dogs could not be allowed to live.

"Dogs," he snorted. Yes, of course they weren't dogs. Which kind of dog would leave isolated, so far away from the humans that gave them food and protection?

These creatures were wolves.

"Everything good?" He barely noticed the old man approaching behind him. He almost pointed at him instinctively, but the sound of his voice prevented that from happening.

"Excellent, Wyatt," he said clearly satisfied. "Very few approached this house; probably they already know what awaits them."

"Jacob, please don't get too excited," the older man warned. "We don't want to bring their species to extinction." His tone of voice was irritating; Jacob already knew this. But these animals had to be killed, and he shouldn't be feeling guilty about enjoying this hunt.

"Yeah, yeah," Jacob replied. But it sounded like he didn't even care. "Regardless, I don't want that disgusting disease anywhere near me. If they could just stay in their forest, they wouldn't have to go through this." He chuckled, his mouth twisted in a strange smile. "It is their fault for messing with us."

"They have no choice," Wyatt reasoned. "They are animals. They don't have our ability to reason, and they seem desperate as well."

Jacob spun around when he heard a twig cracking. He raised his gun, noticing a wolf jumping right at him, paws outstretched, jaw wide open showing large yellow fangs. He pulled the trigger, aiming for its heart. The wolf fell down at his feet, convulsing uncontrollably, before it fell still.

As Jacob rejoiced, proud of his kill, Wyatt simply shook his head.

"I'll never get used to this."

"Hey, if you want to save wolves so bad, why not keep one as a pet?" Jacob laughed mockingly, kicking the corpse of the wolf.

Its expression was terrifying. Wyatt could almost feel like its blood-red eyes were staring at him, blaming him for not stopping the other man. The jaws were still open, as if they were eager to consume him. And, he was probably imagining things, but he felt like the wolf did not attack out of self-defense, nor because it was hungry. It attacked to kill, to get revenge on its fallen comrades. But he knew that was ridiculous; wolves did not have human's ability to reason.

But, if they had… what would it say?

"Don't look so gloomy." A harsh pat on the shoulder forced him out of his trance. Jacob was already out of bullets, but it seemed like the village was quieter now. "Next time I will get you a pet."

Wyatt replied with a smile, almost hidden beneath his white beard. He knew Jacob meant that in a mean-spirited way, but he wasn't impolite enough to reply with the same venom. If only he would listen more to his advice and, at least, consider it.

"Better go back home," Wyatt advised. "Your wife will be missing you, won't she?"

"Probably," Jacob replied uninterested and seemingly disappointed as well. The killing was over after all, and for him that meant the fun was over as well. It was scary, how eager this man was about murdering animals.

Jacob started walking, rifle on his shoulder, with Wyatt following closely behind. He wasn't carrying any weapons; he did have his own to hunt, but he realized they wouldn't be needed.

"Why do you say that? We would get rid of these mutts faster."

"I know," the old guy nodded. "But this time they were fewer than usual, and it seems more people managed to get rifles this year." Wyatt sighed, defeated. "And… my eyesight is starting to fail me. I wouldn't be able to shot anything in this condition."

"Huh. And here I was thinking it was because you had become softer these days. Ever since your cat died, you've become a lazy pile of bones."

Sometimes, Wyatt wished Jacob didn't have such a sharp tongue. They weren't that far apart in terms of age, and it wouldn't be much longer before Jacob would start becoming weaker due to his age. Not to mention he wasn't exactly having a healthy lifestyle either.

"Death will come to you soon."

"I think it's coming to you sooner. You're much older than me, Wyatt." Jacob laughed loudly, but Wyatt just stopped and stared at him, as if he had seen a ghost.

"I didn't say anything."

He felt a shiver down his spine. That voice; it was deep, icy and emotionless. It certainly didn't belong to him. And it had come from behind him.

Wyatt slowly turned around…

But there was nothing there.

Jacob had turned around as well, but he gave out an exasperated sigh when he was unable to see anything either.

"Stop freaking out so much. I'll go ahead, see you tomorrow, old man."

Wyatt just stood there. The voice he heard, he felt something was wrong about it. Just by hearing it, he felt fear. An absolute fear he had never felt before. It felt like someone was pointing a gun to his head and at any moment they could pull the trigger, but they were waiting and seeing how much he would endure with that uncertainty.

No, no, for now he had to return home. It was getting late, and no one was outside at this hour.

But the stench didn't allow him to move. This was the strong smell of death; the smell of dozens of decaying bodies left out there to rot. The sickness these wolves had contributed to them decaying faster, it seemed.

He was getting irritated with himself. Why didn't his body want to move? Only a few seconds passed, but to him it felt like he was wasting valuable hours. He would be at home by now, drinking a hot coffee and letting go of his worries.

He walked, finally. He walked faster. He trotted. He ran. Wyatt had almost forgotten how to run. The last time he had done it was when he was much younger, and since then he never needed to. His legs were getting weaker anyway, and it hurt to move them. But something told him he had to run.

But despite that, a loose root made him lose his footing, falling face-first into the floor.

His entire body hurt. Some of his fragile bones were probably broken because of that. His arms were bleeding after coming in contact with sharp rocks. He tried to call out for help, but the words were caught in his throat as soon as he saw… that.

He couldn't even describe it. It was a demon; a creature from another world, which had come only to attack him and take him to Hell. Completely black with blood-red eyes, muzzle retreated in a snarl, the small pupils of its eyes told Wyatt this creature was furious. A scarlet liquid was dripping from its shiny black chest, but the demon didn't seem to care as he approached the human with steady steps.

This demon… he recognized it.

He had to raise his head to look at its face.

The unmistakable hatred in its expression, and the dark hole from where the blood was coming from; the sight made him want to scream. This felt surreal, and he had to wonder if he wasn't dreaming.

Wasn't this… the wolf that Jacob killed?

He didn't even have time to understand what happened, as the wolf lunged at the back of his neck and snapped it with its strong jaws. Wyatt's head fell limp over his shoulders.

"Death does not forgive any souls."