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by Alison M. Pearce

“Serena”? Was that the gypsy’s real name or an affectation to match the serene features of her face? Kara wondered.

The flowered wallpaper, peeling in the cobwebbed corners, covered the shabby, somewhat derelict room and gave it a quaint, old-fashioned atmosphere. Occasional tables squatted everywhere about the room, vases of fresh blooms and odd ornaments and statues erected on their polished surfaces, cluttering the room to claustrophobic dimensions.

For a fortune teller, Serena hadn’t had much serendipity in her own life, judging by the battered-looking surroundings. The gypsy sat across from Kara, looking at her with mild interest as she bit into a thickly buttered scone.

Kara gazed back and ran her tongue over her teeth as her stomach growled, wishing she’d eaten before arriving. Kara’s blue eyes took in the heavy shawls and jangling bracelets that Serena wore despite the oppressive heat, and then lingered on the feathered talisman around her neck.

If Kara’s mother had truly thought she’d be cheered by the faux pampered atmosphere, she had been wrong. Kara’s mother had persevered until she’d surrendered and now felt smothered and trapped; another mere decoration in the old fraud’s parlour.

What was it that Kara’s mother expected her to see here? It was heresy for one of their kind to consult a gypsy, even one that seemed like a fraud. Gypsies were the natural predators of Kara’s people. The pack had its own ceremonies for seeing into the future. Then again, Kara’s mother was human, and even though she’d chosen to throw in her lot with the kin of Kara’s father, she may still have felt a need to connect with human spiritualism.

In the past, some gypsies had chosen to help conceal the dwindling pack, recognising their role in the genocide that had been carried out all over the world for centuries. Only small packs of kin had survived the slaughter in Bulgaria, and now they had to move on constantly, becoming a nomadic race with few ties to any town or city as they tried to outrun the increasing number of Hunters.

What had started out as a supposed effort to control the pack’s numbers had become nothing more than a sport to the humans who knew that the packs were still out there. Kara’s Grandfather had explained to her once that their ancestors had brought much of the devastation upon themselves by feeding on humans in anger or revenge, and occasionally to save themselves from starvation. But those practises had long since been outlawed. Now all that the pack wanted was a chance to live in peace.

Serena rose; her tall, thin frame towered over Kara who cowered back into the overstuffed armchair. She was suddenly overcome by the idea that the woman was not a fraud but was powered by some unseen force hiding there behind the dark, hooded eyes.

“You were steered here by someone else, yes?” Serena made it sound more like a statement than a question as she switched on a tape deck, filling the room with a low soothing serenade, “My beliefs do not adhere to your own yet you feel... conflicted.”

Kara nodded. Not that it mattered, as the other woman was concentrating on taking down a velvet covered object from a shelf before returning to her chair and placing the object with great reverence on the round table in front of her.

“Your mother, it is she who has interfered. Now let us see why.”

Serena whipped the velvet off the covered object, revealing a sphere of white crystal. The dingy light filtering through the dirty windows hit the sphere, showering the room in rainbows.

“I see someone’s days are numbered. Someone who has shattered your family,” Serena shivered. “It has something to do with hereditary traits and... Darius.”

Closing her eyes briefly, Kara’s thoughts focused on the shaggy-haired man she had hardly known. She remembered, with a jolt in her stomach, being lifted in strong arms and thrown high in the air, giggling as Darius caught her and held his bearded face close to her cheek.

Kara remembered the terror, the screaming as their door was pounded by human axes and the desperate flight into the dark forest with the women and other children, the last sight of Darius, defiant and proud as he stayed to fight and give his family a chance to escape.

One by one, the other men of the pack had joined them, but Darius had never returned. Another memory flashed across Kara’s mind. A woman’s honeyed voice, heavy shawls and jangling bracelets stepping into the house as her mother had fled through the back door cradling Kara in her trembling arms. And now she knew why this quiet town had seemed so familiar, why her mother was so ill at ease.

The old gypsy’s words trailed off as her hands jumped to the feathered talisman on her chest. Kara now saw the white object hidden within. A tooth. A werewolf’s tooth. Kara’s mother had led her straight to the Hunter who’d taken Darius’ life and Kara suddenly felt more empowered than ever before.

Although it was against the creed of the werewolves to take a life in revenge, Serena the Hunter would be an exception. Known by Kara’s kin simply as the Hunter, the aging gypsy had orchestrated the slaughter of more werewolves than any other human.

Kara was only half human; the Hunter’s charms could not ward her off. Serena recognised the danger she was in as Kara bared her fangs and her body elongated into her wolf form.

“Darius was my father,” Kara growled.

Copyright © 2008 by A.M Pearce

Open Challenge 287...

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