RP Project Salamander

Ban Bean

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Beatrice sat slumped in the back of the SUV, vaguely watching a movie- Bambi- and watching outside the window, fighting the urge to sleep as her parents listened to the radio in the front seat. Even if she was twelve, it had been her favorite movie when she was younger. They'd been driving for several hours from a short Christmas vacation in Wisconsin, and were returning to Brooklyn. She blinked tiredly, leaning against the window, trying to focus on her movie so she wouldn't fall asleep. Deer. Animals. A gunshot. Her father was talking about an upcoming research project.

Beatrice blinked again. Deer.

"Thomas!"

It was the last thing her mother ever yelled. Beatrice snapped wide awake as the horrible scream mixed with the screeching of tires and the whiplash of the vehicle as her father lost control on a patch of ice. The world spun around her, and for a single moment Beatrice caught sight of the single white-tailed fawn standing in the road. It's wide eyes met hers and then vanished.

And then a tree, and the shattering of glass, before Beatrice's entire world went black.
 
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It was impossible to miss the sound of a car crash in the forest at night.

Lyle’s cabin was close to the road, or at least, this one was. The ground was too hard for him to try to maintain pit traps this time of year; mostly, his diet consisted of travelers looking to avoid Christmas traffic. He liked the snowy winter woods; they were much nicer than the cities he took to during the summers. Better hunting, funnily enough. Nobody intervened with people they assumed were eaten by the forest.

Well, they weren’t wrong. And in this case especially, they weren’t wrong.

It didn’t take him long to find the scene. He came out of the cabin in his bare feet, his black hair a wild halo behind his velveted antlers. Already on the wind he could smell blood. Smoke, too, but not fire. The blood called to him. There wasn’t enough fear, though. Not enough to shift his attention to hunting.

The car was bigger, but as Lyle circled around to avoid the smoke, he could only make out three figures through the windows. Based on the crushed front of the car, the people in the front seats probably weren’t running anywhere.

Which made the figure in the back seat a fun treat for the hunger that tingled Lyle’s bones. Meat was meat, sure, but a chase – that was always better. Moving lightly, almost imperceptibly across the snow, Lyle paused by the window long enough to get a look at the girl inside. Younger than him. A bit smaller, too, but a glance told him that she’d be enough of a snack to tide him over for a little while until something else came along.

Decision made, he pulled the door open. The smell of blood met him, and he swallowed his hunger back enough to try to shake the girl awake. He could hear her breathing. He felt her heart under his palm when he tried to wake her.

“Hey,” he said, in a gentle tone that lied for him, “hey, wake up. I’m going to pull you out, but I need you to lean into me. You’re hurt, and you need help.”
 
"Hey"

"Hey, wake up."


Beatrice stirred, her head in pain. She opened her eyes a bit, confused and blinking, trying to find the source of the voice. "Dad?" She mumbled quietly. After a few moments, and the gentle shaking, the blurriness of the world cleared, revealing a tanned face belonging to a lean teenage boy, with dark hair and large soft protrusions from his skull like tree branches, but velvet. For a second Beatrice wondered if she was imagining it. Dreaming.

And then she remembered the screeching tires. And the deer.

This teenage boy had come to help. Beatrice nodded and winced, weakly reaching to unbuckle her seatbelt. There was blood on the belt, and thick red stickiness on her scalp. She must have hit her head. Without really worrying or hesitating, and still dazed, she vaguely reached for her rescuer, and he carefully slid his arms under her, easing her from the car. He lifted her up, carrying her away while she held on to his neck.

"Where's dad?" She murmured.
 
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There was a lot of blood. Usually was, with head wounds. He couldn’t tell how severe her other injuries were from here. He was careful, for right now. There was no need to scare her just yet. It’d make it harder to move somewhere better for running, should her legs have survived the crash. Based on her weight, they probably had – just enough to get the head start.

He glanced back when she worked up enough strength to talk. He had to swallow again, to get his hunger under control. Then he turned back toward the treeline, away from the smoking car.

“Driver’s seat,” he decided to tell her. “I’ll come back for him. Your mom, too.”

He wasn’t sure if he’d come back. Again, they didn’t seem to have any run left in them, but the girl in his arms wasn’t heavy enough for him to think he’d be satisfied. Really depended on whether somebody else drove by and checked on the crash. There was a good chance of no, but not enough to be a guarantee. If they didn’t, he’d probably come back for seconds and thirds.

For now, he had his appetizer. He just needed to get her a bit farther up, farther in, and then the fun could start.
 
She didn't want to move her head again, it hurt too much, so she avoided nodded. Bea found her voice again. "There...was a deer." But it had disappeared. Bea stiffened. She had caused it. It was her fault. "They have to be okay..." She said quietly, still clinging to his neck. They would be fine. They had to be okay. Everything was in still too much of a haze for her to think otherwise. He'd go back for them.

Beatrice looked at the boy again. He was only a year or two older than her, but he seemed to carry her with little effort. And then her eyes raised a bit.

Deer.

It wasn't tree branches coming out of his head. They were antlers.

It seemed like sick joke, and Beartice didn't even know how it was possible, but didn't ask. And he didn't speak again, carrying her deeper into the forest. Was there a house? Or another car? She didn't know why he was taking her so far away from her parents and the highway. "Where..."

Before she could continue the boy gently set her down on her feet in the snow, and detached her hands from his neck. Her knees were weak and nearly buckled, but after a moment she found her balance, standing up straight. At least her legs weren't broken.
 
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A deer, huh? He was careful not to laugh; concern was the right response. Worry. He looked behind him, checking the road, a road where he liked to startle drivers into swerving hard on a patch of black ice. This time, a real deer had gotten him enough food to last out – probably for the rest of the winter, if he really had to push it.

But the road was out of sight, now. He moved toward the bottom of the ridge, just so that she couldn’t go running if a rescue vehicle did show up – not without him catching her, anyway. When he set her down, it was gentle enough that he could catch her should her knees buckle again.

They didn’t buckle. She could stand, and he smiled at that, finally. If she could stand, she could run.

He took a few steps back, inhaling deeply to actually enjoy the prey scent. The confusion, the blood. And he hoped, as he bared his teeth at her, the fear. He folded his arms, and rocked up onto his toes, his bare toes that curled excitedly into the snow.

“You’re going to run now.” He gave her a long second, long enough for her silly muddled head to catch on to what he’d said, and then added: “And I’m going to chase you. You better be faster than me. I’m really hungry.”
 
The boy stepped away from her, appraising her with what felt like X-Ray vision. Studying her, and if Beatrice hadn't known better she could have sworn she saw his nostrils flare, like catching a scent on the wind. No.

That would be crazy.

And then he bared his teeth.

Bea stumbled back a bit, catching herself on a tree. Her heart froze like the ice around her in the most painful way. She had been confused but now she was scared, staring back at him with wide eyes and raw confusion. Her lip trembled slightly.

Run. And then I'm gonna chase you.

I'M REALLY HUNGRY

And then she ran, scrambling off into the woods, unsure what was moving her- his command or her own self preservation instinct. The landscape flew by her in a flurry of leaves and branches, some of them scratching her. She didn't feel it. She only felt her heart in her head and her breath leaving her lungs. All she knew was he was taller, probably faster and stronger and he hadn't been lying when he said he was gonna to eat her.

Beatrice tripped over a branch skidding painfully into the snow. She hauled herself up, and kept running, a scarlet trail of blood in the pure white snow drift.
 
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There it was.

It tickled his nose, pulled the cold out of his bones, made his mouth water in anticipation. His chest was tight as he waited, watching her face, meeting her eyes as his sclera turned from white to black. And when she ran, it was only his patience – knowing she was never going to get away now – that stopped him from springing on her right then.

No. It was time to hunt. And then it’d be time to eat.

The hunt hummed in his own blood as he took off at a much more easygoing pace than hers, fast enough to start closing the distance without any exertion. He heard her when she fell, but never let up his pace despite the temptation to stay in the miasma she left behind on that spot.

No. No, it was time to hunt, and he’d get his fear when he caught his prey.

His feet barely sank into the snow, despite his odd balance on his toes. He could move silently, if he wanted; maybe a little later, he’d switch to stalking. Maybe she’d even last that long, with all the blood she was losing.

As he ran, he found himself humming, pleasantly. He’d heard some music in Columbus, over the summer; he’d found a CD, and a radio, and a couple of other CDs, too, for good measure. There was a lot of music. One song bled through the haze.

“So, baby, burn the bridge down…”

It was time to hunt. The prey was in sight. It was do or die time for the prey, and no prey before her had ever been able to do more than die. Lyle had no reason to think she’d be any different.
 
Once upon a Time.

There was a little girl named

Little Red Riding Hood.


Everyone knew the story. A little girl meets a wolf in the woods who tries to help her on her way to visit family. Marigold Waters had been a fan of Brothers Grimm, and Beatrice had grown up on fairytale bedtime stories until she had started making them come to life. But this wasn't imagination. Or hallucination. This was very real, and this wolf was very intent on sending her back to her family.

Beatrice had trusted him. Down to the damn letter of the story.


"What a deep voice you have!"

“Hey, wake up. I’m going to pull you out, but I need you to lean into me. You’re hurt, and you need help.”

"The better to greet you with"

Beatrice kept running, spriting, faster and further than her legs ever carried her, stumbling over the uneven ground and weaving herself through the pine trees. She didn't mind the tree's though- they kept her from slipping on the snow. Her progress was slow and fumblesome. Pathetic. Still she kept moving. He couldn't be far behind. He was probably watching her- giving chase.

"Goodness, what big eyes you have!"
Even now she could feel his gaze on her, watching her, just as he did when he was examining her like a piece of meet.

"The better to see you with"

Beatrice didn't know why it felt like betrayal. She didn't know the teenager but-

"And what big hands you have!"

He had pulled her from the wreckage so carefully. She has trusted him on instinct and now...it was live or die. before he caught her. Before those hands strangled her. Stabbed her.

"The better to embrace you with"

Beatrice cried out in pain as another branch whipped by, catching on her cheek. She clapped a hand to her mouth, tears in her eyes, trying to stay hidden as she pushed deeper into the forest. The trees grew thick around her, surrounding her- each one concealing a potential killer. She felt like a helpless rabbit. One too soon be in the jaws of a wolf.

"What a big mouth you have!"

His mouth curled into the veneer of a cruel, fanged smile.

"The better to eat you with!"
 
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Watching her run would’ve been sad, if he could’ve been sad as he ran after her. Her feet caught up on the ice, her toes on roots hidden in snow. Her center of balance was where every human’s was – in the worst possible spot for a bipedal animal trying to fumble through the dark.

Lyle’s wasn’t. His toes barely sank into the snow; he knew on instinct every place to lean, to shift his step, to move his weight so that the ice didn’t pull his weight out from under him. He was a natural in the dark like this, and the sound of his own hunting heart made him feel even lighter. After she’d tripped, he changed tactics – no more chase. He instead kept pace, hidden by the night, waiting for her own exhaustion to catch up with her.

And when the branch hit her, how could he resist? He laughed, softly. The sound echoed among the trees as he crept between them. His eyes shone in the dark, glimpses of blue in the long shadows before he disappeared again. His ever presence. He was part of this forest, part of every forest. Cities weren’t his home, as he’d had to learn. Cities had their own predators. Predators better suited to the bright lights and loud noise.

Here in the forest, it was quiet. The only sounds made were sounds he made. Sounds he allowed.

Here in the forest, it was dark. The only light was the moon, and the brightness behind his eyes. But he didn’t need eyes that cut through the dark to watch her. Ears picked up every stumble, and despite all the old blood from her head wound he caught the sharp scent of a new cut. Her muffled cry was so cute.

He laughed again, more freely now. This was easy. This was fun. He loved the chase, the clumsiness and the stumbling. And the scent of fear was unlike anything else in the world.

He wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world.
 

Beatrice wanted to curl up and hide but she forced herself to keep running, her terror sharpening her senses and cutting through the daze and confusion of her concussion. With every footfall her knees grew weaker. Bea caught herself on a tree as she stumbled.

The cold wind cut through her damp clothes, freezing her. Beatrice didn’t know how much longer she’d survive out here between the chill and the chase.

Then the boy laughed.

The sound came from all direction and no direction at once, echoing around their through the tree’s. It stifled the hope and air that remained in her lungs. On instinct she searched for the sound, turning her head wildly to see where he was coming from.

Beatrice’s foot hit a slick patch of ice when she wasn’t looking, sending her stomach first into the wet cold snow with a heavy thud.

 
She went down hard on the ice. His smile split completely into a full grin, his jaw wound up tight in anticipation. As long as she hadn’t broken anything, he could take a couple bites and then set her loose again. A hand, maybe. Mm, yeah. A hand sounded really good. He hoped they weren’t too soft – though he knew he couldn’t be picky.

As he trotted into the clearing, he measured her up with his eyes. Yeah, he’d have to ration a little bit if he wanted this to last. She wasn’t as big or sturdy as a grown-up. If he wanted to chase her more, he’d need to be careful. A few fingers, maybe. Yeah! That’d work. Maybe taking some of the cooling blood from her scalp, too, or a bit of meat out of her shoulder. Just enough to get her adrenaline going so she’d run again.

She couldn’t get away before he planted a foot in her back, pinning her down so he could take a good look at the snack at the end of her wrist. Her arms weren’t under her body, so he bent over and pinned her wrist to the ice. He took a few seconds to test her fingers, their thickness, check the length between her knuckles. They were red, and chapped, but that was to be expected. The fingers themselves were a little longer, though. He licked his lips with the tip of his tongue. They’d have a wonderful crunch to them, even with the bits of nail polish at the tips.

Satisfied, he took his foot off her back, then leveraged his toes under her torso and turned her over to expose her stomach. The air was thick with her fear, and once she was turned over, he put his foot on her chest to keep her still as he dropped to one knee and grabbed her other wrist. He glanced up at her face, looking for that fear, maybe even for something as exciting as anger or resentment. A little fight was always more fun.

Instead, when he looked at her face, he realized for the first time how soft the edges were. How big her eyes seemed, how weirdly clear it was that she hadn’t fully grown into herself yet. Even her fear was softer than it should’ve been, weaker than it should’ve been, and suddenly he heard the voice of another girl from months ago.

He’s just a kid, Wolf.

He frowned down at the girl’s face. The frown didn’t feel right, but suddenly nothing felt right. He blinked a few times, trying to find the happy high he’d just been feeling. Maybe he hadn’t made her run enough? He could let her go and take a finger or something next time he caught her. But she was shaking so much. Was it the fear? Head injury? Had he tired her out already? Or was she just cold? It could’ve been any of those things. Or none of them.

All he knew was that, even if it was fear, it wasn’t satisfying anymore. With that realization, he sighed, and then let go of her wrist. He shifted his upright leg off her chest, leaving him on both knees at her side. Something behind his blue eyes softened, just a little bit.

“Listen, I’m – sorry about that. You look cold. Let’s get somewhere warmer, yeah? I can carry you if you need. That was a big tumble.”

And as sudden as the shift was, there was nothing in his face that’d indicate anything other than sincerity. He didn’t know what he was going to do with the kid. All he knew was that, for now, at least, he really should get her out of the cold while he made up his mind.
 
Beatrice cried out as his foot pressed hard against her spine, forcing her back down into the snow. Wthout preamble he grabbed her hand pulling it behind her back where she couldn't see, examining her fingers. Her breathing quickened, nearing hyperventilation.

The boy used his foot to roll her over onto the supine position. It was enough to spike her adrenaline and get her fighting again, squirming and kicking underneath the teenager as he kept a foot painfully on her sternum. "No! No!" Her eyes widened in fear as he grabbed her other hand, unable to swing at him while he had her in his grip. Even for as rail thin as he was, he was immensely strong.

The Beatrice met his eyes.

She wasn't sure why, or what, or how, but he let go of her wrists and knelt beside her, letting her breathe fully once again. Bea sat up, still quite scared, searching for anyone else that might help her. But...something in his tone calmed her. Like the way a guard dog made one feel safer. Beatrice couldn't place it, but he had suddenly changed his mind and she couldn't find a reason to suspect he was lying either.

The shock of the chase was wearing off and her injuries were starting to hurt again- especially her head. Beatrice nodded, shivering and tired. Even if he wanted to hurt her, she had no more fight left- or strength to run if he wanted another chase.

"Okay..."
 
He smiled at her. She was scared – the right amount of scared. She should be scared, he was dangerous. But he wasn’t going to hurt her anymore, and since she didn’t flinch away when he reached out to carefully pick her back up, he knew she understood that. She was tired, he knew. He knew that she’d need to rest.

But he also knew he still had to eat. The last time he waited out the hunt without eating was… bad. It was a bad time. And while the girl’s parents weren’t going anywhere, they were still food. They’d work until he could check his pits and nets.

He backtracked a ways, circling past the van to spare her the view if she didn’t fall asleep. While he was still on his toes, her weight added to his made him sink a couple inches in the snow with each step. Still, it didn’t bother him. It was colder against his skin, but couldn’t reach underneath with the cold that already lived there. He walked quietly, unless she tried to talk, until the cabin came into view.
 
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