- May 29, 2022
The Wolf Pack (Chapter 3)
THE HOOD, NINE YEARS AGO, MAYBE MORE
I was taught how to fight. Everyone is taught, some by people, others by nature, and a lucky few by themselves. I was taught by a monster with others at my side. I call my mentor a monster not as an insult, but as a necessary truth. The fact of the matter is, if he wasn’t a monster, he could never have helped me, and none of us would be where we are now.
It’s a little too much to say that the boy who wanted to take the name of the Hood would be taught by a man who goes by the name, the Assassin, but if we called each other by our first names things would get confusing. It’s easier to just accept the truth of the matter: my predecessor was an immortal taught by time, and I was taught by someone with all the time in the world.
He taught me and other boys who would become my brothers how to survive when we were barely ten. It was decided then that to survive we would need to learn how to use our powers and know how to kill, or else we would die. It was decided that the frozen wilderness, on a world I did not know, was the best place to teach us.
The frozen wilds would teach us about how cold the world could be, how cruel and unforgiving specifically. If we could survive here, our naked shells would harden and become unbreakable.
Pretty extreme for a bunch of ten-year-olds, but we were being hunted so… it was honestly an improvement.
For me specifically, the boy who would become the new Hood, there was a problem. My two brothers had powers. Wolf could transform into a lizardman with paralyzing poison. The name was supposed to be ironic, and Arrow maintains to this day that its still funny. Arrow had—and still has telekinesis—which is powerful even if he doesn’t know how to use it.
I had no powers, as I still don’t now.
The problem is pretty obvious.
The Assassin would watch from the shadows as we were drilled, having us fight each other through his own special regimen. It would be two on one, and every dozen seconds we would switch who was the one and who was the two.
As a child, you can imagine that I struggled against my brothers.
“Aaah!” I would scream. I remember what it was like when it was my turn to be the one. I remember when Arrow would hold out his hand and he would use his telekinesis. It was always simple at first, just a powerful blast, a pulse. His eyes and his hands would light up purple, and I would be on my ass.
I remember little old me, before the scars, before I had any empathy at all, tumbling through the snow. I remember digging my hands into it with anger that the second it was my turn I was on the ground.
In hindsight, Arrow was the nicest of us, he’s an asshole now, but back then he was the one most like a kid. Moment to moment he could forget his own guilt. In these moments he would hop over and laugh at me.
He thought I was a jerk, and he was right but I didn’t care.
I looked up at a face that looked so much like mine, laughing at me. I remember the skin that we all shared, the dark curly hair that turned wavy when brushed. The overbite we all had as kids before braces. It was like I was being laughed at by myself.
I had shaved my hair off so I wouldn’t look like him but it never worked. It drove me to rage.
From the specific moment that I’m remembering, I ran at Arrow while he was laughing with fists of fury. I tackled him, I pummeled his face. As I was doing it, I already had an excuse.
It was still my turn, it was still my dozen seconds, and until he said otherwise, I had no reason to think it was inappropriate to wipe that smile off of Arrow’s face.
Back then Arrow wasn’t as great at fighting hand-to-hand. He can hold his own against me now, but back then he was still learning how to use his powers first. He swung for my head, but I dodged real easy.
Then I grabbed his arm and went to crush his nose. I almost broke it; I did make it bleed.
Arrow to his credit, didn’t cry about it, he understood what we were doing. He fought back or at least he tried to. He tried to be a man about and I applaud him for that now.
Wolf acted like he was the older brother and put an end to it. Right before the whistle came and my dozen seconds were done, Wolf grew that long lizard tail of his and whacked me off of Arrow.
I was back to my feet in a second, but this time I looked into Wolf’s face and I had to pause. Wolf was more like me, I stared at him from across a couple yards between us. He had Arrow’s face, but his hair wasn’t brushed. His hand was planted in the dirt, fingers partially changed into his lizard claws, a lizard tail slowly regressing as he shifted back into a boy. It was the image of a predator staring at me that made me pause, it was his snake eyes turning back to his normal brown.
His eyes were empty and black like mine, there was nothing in them but a flicker.
I was ready to face Wolf, it was his turn to face Arrow and me, but someone else spoke up.
With a gust of wind I felt a presence behind me, even before the shadow cast over me. Wolf’s stone face breaks and he stands to his feet at attention. He wasn’t taught to do thatl it was just natural for him. Arrow got to his knees; he was still so casual back then. He thought I was in trouble.
Our mentor, the monster, our father, for all intents and purposes… he rested a hand on my shoulder.
“Let’s have a chat,” he said. He turned me around, and I looked up at him. I wondered if I would look like him when I grew up, my biological father was much darker than me, but the Assassin was the same color. It still seems logical to look to his face for insight.
There was also the way he dressed. He dressed like his namesake, an Assassin with this black cloak that loomed over his shoulders, and the whole world sometimes. It went over his face, a hood that reached over the brim of his nose and covered his eyes in darkness.
I could still see his eyes, we always could, even when we were in darkness. They weren’t normal. They were red, reflective, and sometimes a pattern would shift and move around the pupil when they were in use, this white image atop of red. Sometimes they wouldn’t shift because he wouldn’t want anyone to know when he was using them.
But even in darkness, I could see his eyes.
I nodded my head, I didn’t care for his opinion at the time, I didn’t care about anything or anyone. Everyone in my life had died, but they didn’t matter to me. Like I said, I had no empathy, and I wouldn’t even have the sliver I have now without the Assassin.
He led me away from Arrow and Wolf but I was no favorite, I was simply the more difficult of his three pupils. I had no powers, but I needed training all the same. I didn’t understand why he took us under his wing, but I was going to use him to get the power and strength that I desired.
He had me follow him through the snow. I trekked through the snow in nothing but shorts and underpants, admittedly wishing that he would take me under his cloak for warmth. My shell had hardened enough that I could fight that urge, even as snow fell on my head from the tree peaks above us.
I followed him to a clearing, trying to figure him out, trying to decide how I would eventually surpass him.
At the clearing, I must admit I didn’t understand what the lesson was that he was going to teach me. All I saw was a small valley, barely large enough that the deer in the middle of it couldn’t see us from the trees.
I saw the deer pushing its head around the snow, looking for food. I assumed the Assassin had taken me here to kill it, to practice my aim, so I offered my hand and asked for my gun. I had been training with guns, and with a weak Glock I could hit that dumb deer. I would shoot the ground behind it, scare it into heading within the handgun’s range, and then I would shoot it in the head and heart in succession.
I held my hand for my gun, and only the Assassin’s eyes moved. They traced from the deer to my hand, and looked back.
“I don’t want you to kill it,” he told me, and I couldn’t understand the reason for sparing the deer. Did he want to eat it instead? No. “But I do want you to watch it die.”
I was so sure he was going to kill it then and there, but then I saw the wolves. Even back then I couldn’t not respect wolves. Yes, the tiger and the lion are stronger, but the wolf does not perform in the circus. The wolf is an apex predator, not simply because it is bigger or stronger, but because it is smarter.
I watched four blurs move across the snow, two clearly much faster than the other two, and of the two fast ones, one was clearly the alpha by its size.
I’ve seen wolves hunt before, I practiced stealth by sneaking on animals and watching them. They always entertained me better than people, so I knew this was no normal hunt. Wolves, they surround the deer and nip at it, wear it down and take it to the ground. Now these wolves, not only were they fewer, but they were hunting with an alpha, and the alpha didn’t need to nip.
Yeah, yeah, I know alpha wolves aren’t a thing in nature, but I didn’t know that then, so it didn’t tip me off.
All I knew is that the deer never stood a chance, the two faster wolves chased it down and jumped on it. I watched the largest grey wolf leap onto its back like a lion, and sink its teeth into the deer’s neck. The alpha acted because it realized that the rest of the back couldn’t pull its weight, not letting them weigh him down.
The other wolf risked its teeth by chomping on the deer’s leg. It pulled back so the deer would trip and fall as the alpha sought to tear out its neck and throat. The other two, the slow ones caught up as the two front wolves killed the deer. This was when I realized that the back two weren’t wolves at all.
A dingo and a coyote, I thought I was being punked. Seeing them beside the wolves not only stunned me, but it allowed me to see how small the other wolf was. It was not the alpha female, not its mate, it wasn’t even a beta, it was an omega wolf, the lowest inside a wolf pack, barely bigger than the dingo or the coyote.
I couldn’t believe what I was watching as this strange pack of four dug into the deer. An alpha wolf, an omega, a dingo, and a coyote. None of them were confused as to what they were. The coyote ate the small parts away from the alpha, scowling at him but not seeking to directly challenge his better. He did not like the alpha, he did not care for him, he did not like that he had to be beside an alpha wolf to survive, and the alpha did not care.
The dingo, completely out of its element, ate and tried to act as a dog, tried to play with the others, the alpha and the coyote humoring him, but the omega snapping and driving him away. It was clear to me that there were bonds in that group, and rivalries.
I almost accused the Assassin of creating this fallacy, this implausible group of animals. It wasn’t out of his power to mind control animals, he controlled people just fine. He must have gotten them all together, or maybe he was using some kind of illusion.
I didn’t get the chance to see or try to understand the pack for long, because there was a roar and a bigger predator that snuck up on them, and sought to steal what was theirs.
A bear, a big fucking grizzly came. He got on his hind legs to roar down on the pack that he too must find so strange. He roared and the alpha roared back. The omega went to bite at the bear but the bear swiped at it, getting its eye. That scared the others, the coyote nipping at the omega to fall back, to live and fight another day.
The coyote knew, and the omega probably did too. Their small four mutt pack couldn’t take down the apex predator of that forest. They had to turn back, run away, and let the grizzly bear have their meal. That bear must have been starving to have picked such a fight.
I watched this with the Assassin, and as soon as the strange wolf pack began to run away, he turned to me with advice he knew I didn’t want to hear. His red eyes told me I had to listen anyway.
“I know you laugh at the idea of friends, of family, it’s all a foreign concept to your sociopathy.It will get you and your prized arrogance killed, but you are one of mine and I will not allow that.”
I didn’t take his words as strongly as he would have liked. This was a consistent problem with me for him. This monster tried to teach me about loyalty, teamwork, and doing what is necessary.
I disagreed on all three.
After this point, I think he felt he needed to resort to extreme measures. He took my head in his hands and made me look into his eyes. They were red, and then they turned white. His eyes encompassed everything. Everything turned white, and something changed in me. He changed something that was fundamentally wrong.