This is what I've been working on. This and editing. Frankly, Hollow is looking really good. I didn't blatantly skip scenes until 2/3 through the thing. That's my excuse. Ahem. I hope you like it.
The full moon spread a swathe of pale light beneath my black, buckled boots as I raced down the alley, faster than an ordinary man while wolves chased my heels.
Ten feet behind me, snapping and snarling, the pack of fresh made werewolves chased me. I was almost there. I felt the tug and heard the rip as sharp teeth caught the hem of my long coat. I gritted my teeth as I moved faster, focused on each inhale and exhale, my breath clouding the air as I moved my body in perfect rhythm that would keep me alive for another twenty feet. The alley ended in a wide lot surrounded by the backs of buildings where no one would see the shadows that waited.
Once the wolves were out of the alley, dozens of boys all dressed in black greeted me with whoops and the ringing of bells while their whips cracked through the air. The Butchers boys wore black masks like mine, but I could clearly make out a few individuals. Mal, tendrils of red hair escaping from his hood as he danced awkwardly, cracking his whip, Toby, plump tripping over his own feet to get back from the snarling lunge of a wolf, and Andy, long limbed and gawky, but still managing to send a wolf yelping from the bite of his whip.
The Butcher’s boys surrounded the wolves, bells ringing, jarring sound that made the wolves whine and cringe as the whips sang around them. I noticed a shadow hanging back, bell in his fist, but slouched so not even his chin was visible beneath his hood and mask. I knew that slouch, the stubborn petulance of Sebastian Tancetta, someone who had lost his place among the Butcher’s boys.
I focused on the wolves. I didn’t need to do anything other than stand with my arms folded while the boys herded them to the center of the clearing. A seal on the pavement would hold the wolf, separate the wolf from human so that it could recognize what it was and choose to be a monster or a man. Only men would leave alive.
Soon enough, the first wolf passed through the ring and stopped, as if in shock while he examined his paws, the brutal instincts changing to understanding. He looked around, concerned at those around and their whips before he shook himself and stood, a bare naked man. A butcher’s boy threw a cloak over him. He gripped it with trembling fingers, a large man who’d been a terrifying wolf who edged back while another wolf got forced into the circle. This one also chose rational thought over instincts.
The next one barely glanced at its fur covered body before it pulled its ears flat against its head with its sharp teeth exposed and lunged for the nearest boy. I threw the knife before it moved, the silver entering its body at the joint beneath its shoulder, piercing the heart.
I’d been throwing knives since I was two. The screams of the wolf were drowned in the sound of bells, bells, bells only growing louder as the distant churches began to ring the hour. The twelfth hour of the twelfth night, the end of darkness for another year.
I retrieved my knife once the wolf had gone still, staying in wolf shape, long tongue lolling on the pavement. I gritted my teeth as I put a hand against its shoulder and withdrew my silver knife, wiping it before I rose, glancing from the boys who carried the body away.
The rest of the ceremony passed like so many others I’d attended. Out of my seventeen years, I’d spent half of them cleansing the night of darkness, a butcher’s boy until I became a Butcher, and then the Butcher, responsible for all the boys who risked their necks for the light.
I shook my head slightly as I saw Sebastian in my peripheral vision, waiting for his chance to do something reckless and stupid. Only a few more wolves were held at the end of lashing whips, waiting their turn to go through the seal.
Surprisingly, Sebastian stayed on the edges with his bells, ringing, ringing, ringing. I would have a headache for a week after 12th night. So would he.
After the last of the wolves disappeared and the boys began to disperse, I cornered Tancetta.
“What are you doing here?”
He glared up at me, his eyes shadowed, but his mouth taut. He only came up to my chin even though we were the same age.
“I have a right to be here.”
“We’ve been over this. You’re not a butcher.”
“Because you’ve decided. Who died and made you king?”
I gritted my teeth for a moment. I did not need additional stress on this night. I forced myself to take even breaths and not react. “Three years you’ve tested, three years you’ve failed,” I said in a flat voice.
“This year is different,” he said, eyes gleaming at me. “I just need one more chance.”
“My job is to protect the butchers and innocent civilians. I can’t allow you to be a risk to my butchers. You should look into becoming a Baker.”
He punched me. I saw his fist coming and let it, clenching my jaw on the impact. Pain. He hit surprisingly hard considering his pathetic history. I didn’t expect to taste my own blood. He’d given me a nosebleed.
I grabbed his shirt, dragging him away from the seal, away from the other bakers, into the shadows and down an alley. I threw him down once we’d gotten far enough from the other boys that they wouldn’t see him fall. This was not for public consumption.
“If you try that again, I will not restrain myself. Go home. I don’t care what you do, but you’ll never be a Butcher.”
“I didn’t ask you to hold back,” he yelled at my back as I stalked away from him. I hadn’t been angry for a long time. Anger didn’t help. Focus helped. Discipline and knowledge helped. Emotion always clouded the issues.
I’d walked eight blocks before I could unclench my fists. He’d asked who had died and made me king. Armand hadn’t technically died, but he was dead to me.
“Where are you going so fast, Orion Daughtry?” a sultry slinky voice came out of the shadows followed by the form and figure of Olivia, a butcher of no small renown. I’d known her for as long as I could remember. Our mothers were friends. As in, they enjoyed hunting Vampires together. Women were better vampire hunters for several reasons.
“I’ve lost track of your brother. He was supposed to be with Mal.”
She rolled her eyes when she caught up with me, putting her hand on my arm in an entirely unnecessary touch. It took me a moment to realize that she was flirting. I smiled at her and covered her hand with mine, but my lips felt stiff.
“No one can stand being with that vole for more than twenty minutes. If his father hadn’t died saving my father’s life…”
“But he did,” I said.
She pulled her hand away, narrowing her exceptionally symmetrical dark eyes at me. “Your nose is swollen. Who punched you in the face?” She grinned like that was an unexpected gift.
“Oh, come on, Orion. One of your butcher boys actually stood up to you? Who is he? He deserves a medal of honor.”
“He’s going to get himself killed,” I said with a slight smile. “I’m sure you think that’s charming as well. His name is Sebastian Tancetta. You should meet him soon or you’ll be too late.”
She flipped her long waves of lustrous black curls back, an elaborate motion that distracted too many butchers before she paused. “Tancetta? I know that name.” Her voice lost the soft lilt and reverted back to the plain and simple black and white butcher that Sebastian would never be. He lacked decision, hardness that Olivia had in spades.
“His father was a Butcher of little note.”
“No. Violetta Tancetta. She must be his sister. She’s the daughter of a Butcher?” she asked, skeptically. “She’s so soft and delicate, like pastries and teddy bears. I didn’t know she had a brother.” She looked thoughtful for a moment.
“Sebastian’s father may be a Butcher, but he is not, now will he ever be.”
She raised an eyebrow, but left it at that. We both walked briskly, her pace becoming pragmatic as she switched from her flirtatious female persona to the hunting companion I’d known for so long. I’d never imagined what Sebastian’s family was like, whether or not he had a sister, but it made me wonder about her. I rarely encountered females at all as a butcher who spent his non hunting time at an all-boys school. A soft and delicate one would be a complete mystery. Alien, foreign, as unlike myself as night from day.
“What’s that?” she hissed before darting ahead.
I followed a step behind when she paused over the fallen body of a man I knew, a man whose throat had been cut open from one side of his neck to the other, a wide smile unlike the dour expression Armand’s second habitually wore. The pack leader’s second was dead.
I bent to sniff the wound. I smelled silver. What butcher would track stable werewolves who weren’t a threat to society on 12th night?
I frowned up at her. “What did Lance tell you?”
Her wide eyes only lasted for a moment before she frowned and turned away, jogging into the darkness on silent feet. I followed, once again a step behind her, every one of my senses stretched full out. We should be safe. It was all over, but it wasn’t. Not if Armand and Lance were fighting. I wasn’t sure which would win. This wouldn’t be a practical emotionless encounter, but a fight to the death.
We both knew to head towards the river. The werewolves who weren’t a threat would stay indoor on this night, ignoring the howls and whines of the cubs who had to die. Armand had always come here after 12th night, after he’d executed those who chose violence when he’d been the Butcher.
I heard a whine carried to us on the wind. We both sprinted towards it, making too much sound on the pavement of the wide docks.
I saw it first, the limp, bedraggled body to the side of the docks, clothes badly ripped and torn, a man, at least for the moment surrounded by the smell of fresh blood, human blood.
“Is it Lance?” she asked as I dropped down into the muddy weeds and slime to the body.
I picked him up grunting slightly, unable to see his features in the darkness. When I laid him down on the pavement, it was hard to see through the blood on his face.
“That’s not Lance,” she said, her voice tight, arms wrapped around herself.
I focused on the body, analyzing the cuts, the bruising. “No. But Lance fought him. What was he thinking?”
“Lance fought him? You mean all that blood, that’s Lance’s blood,” she asked, her voice rising to hysterical levels.
I swallowed down my own fear and panic as my hands shook. I forced myself to touch the body, to probe it for the trace of silver balls embedded in his flesh. I pushed my fingers into his side, pulling out a ball of silver the size of my thumbnail. I let it clink onto the pavement.
“That’s his bullet,” I said trying to stay calm, to not take my knife and draw it through the werewolf’s throat as he lay there defenseless.
“Kill him,” she hissed, her hand on my shoulder feeling like a claw.
I tightened my jaw. “He isn’t a fresh made wolf. That would be an execution.”
“He killed Lance! You think that after ten years as a werewolf, he even remembers you? He’s a monster. Kill him.”
“We don’t know that,” I said, feeling like the world was spinning around me. Her hate, her anger flowed through me with a suddenly clear connection that made me sick. I jerked away from her and pulled cords from my pocket to tie him.
I barely moved fast enough, blocking her knife on my forearm before she could slash it through the throat like Lance had done to Armand’s second. My arms trembled while my own blood flowed to the ground as I held her back. She was only half a head shorter than I was, and had the proportions of an athlete as well as superhuman strength of a Butcher.
“If you love me, you’ll avenge my brother.”
I tightened my jaw as I struggled before I relaxed suddenly and using her weight and force, slammed my forehead against her temple. She crumpled to the ground.
I stood there, trembling while I fought off my own rage at the Butcher who’d chosen to become a wolf, someone who had abandoned his family, his heritage, me.
With the greatest effort, fighting every one of my own instincts, I knelt down and bound the werewolf, to bring him to trial while my betrothed from birth lay unconscious, streaked with my blood.
Armand was the one who had died and made me king, or The Butcher. Curse him if I wouldn’t be the Butcher he should have been, the brother he should have been as well.