1

In the forest, Raziel was preoccupied, his thoughts incessantly looping back to the awkward encounter with Matron Selene.

He cringed inwardly with each replay, agonizing over whether he'd tarnished his image in her eyes.

What if she doesn't treat him the same anymore? He felt ashamed that he couldn't control his unruly thing better.

His mind was so absorbed with the details of what happened, he didn't notice the passage of time nor the distance he'd strayed from home.

As the sky began to darken, a sense of urgency snapped him back to reality.

He glanced at the hefty bags of logs he'd gathered, realizing he'd spent far too long in the forest and collected more than what was required. With a sense of haste, he hoisted the bags and began his trek back.

However, as he neared his home, an ominous scent of blood tainted the air, making him wrinkle his nose.

The distant glow of flames and the sinister sound of growls and sneers filled his ears, sending a shiver down his spine. A dreadful premonition gripped him, urging him to rush towards his village.

But before he could step into the clearing, a soft hand clamped over his mouth, dragging him aside with a firm pull. Startled, he tried to struggle, but the grip was insistent, pulling him further into the shadows.

In the hushed secrecy of the forest, a gentle voice with a blend of urgency and sorrow whispered beside his ears, "Shh, don't panic. It's me. I have been searching for you."

Raziel, recognizing the voice, turned to face Matron Selene, his heart pounding with a mix of relief and dread.

Her expression, etched with grief and worry, made his blood run cold, "W-What's going on, Matron Selene? Why did you stop me from getting back?" he asked, his voice trembling with apprehension.

Selene's eyes flickered with hesitation, her lips pressed into a thin line.

She then grasped Raziel's wrist, leading him to a large tree. With a gesture, she directed his gaze towards the village, her face contorted in pain.

Peering cautiously, Raziel's breath hitched at the nightmarish sight.

Towering werewolves with bloodied fur prowled his village, their dark yellow eyes glowing ominously. The ground was a macabre image of blood and burned bodies, painting a tale of unspeakable horror.

Each lifeless body strewn across the ground was a crushing blow to Raziel's soul, but none more so than the sight of an old figure.

The elder's familiar garb was unmistakable, even as his head was cruelly severed, nowhere in sight. A wave of nausea and grief washed over Raziel as he murmured, "Grandpa..."

His gaze frantically swept across the scene, littered with the corpses of his people and finally settled on his own home.

The door was ajar, ominously silent. A surge of dread propelled him forward, but Selene's firm grip on his arm held him back.

Panic surged through him as he thought of his mother, "Mother...I have to save her," he whispered frantically, his body tensing to dash toward the chaos.

"Raziel, wait! You can't just rush in there. It's too dangerous," Selene whispered urgently, her eyes mirroring the fear and despair that gripped his heart.

"But my mother... she's still in there. I have to do something!" Raziel protested, his voice strained with desperation while trying to suppress his own voice.

Selene's grip on Raziel's wrist tightened, her voice a whisper of despair, "I am sorry... She..." Her gaze, laden with unspoken grief, turned towards Raziel's house.

Following her eyes, Raziel's heart dropped into an abyss of despair as he saw a werewolf emerging from his home. The realization of his mother's fate struck him like a thunderbolt.

Tears streamed down Raziel's cheeks as he stood frozen, his heart shattering into countless pieces, "No...no...she can't be...she can't..." he repeated in a broken whisper, his eyes reflecting a storm of emotions — grief, disbelief, and rising fury.

Seeing the bloodthirsty werewolves reveling in their savage deed, a fierce blaze of hatred ignited within him.

His fists clenched tightly, trembling with the overwhelming desire for vengeance, "I will kill them all," he vowed, his voice laced with a deadly resolve.

"Raziel, stop!" Selene's urgent whisper cut through his vengeful thoughts.

Her grip on his wrist was firm, her eyes brimming with sorrow and fear. "Please let me go, Matron. I can't just sit back while they butcher our... our..." Raziel's voice cracked, overcome with grief and rage.

Selene looked into his tearful eyes, her own filled with pain, "But you are still alive. You won't be able to change what happened even if you go out there. We never saw them coming, and I was too late. But now I can at least protect you," she implored, her voice a mix of desperation and determination.

The situation escalated as the leader among them, a tall, armored one, bellowed, "Hey! Let's go and search out there in the trees. Let's see if some of these trash bloodsuckers are hiding in there. I still have yet to find the one I came here for," The command sent a few werewolves following him and lumbering toward their hiding spot.

Selene's eyes, wide with urgency, bore into Raziel's as she grasped his wrists firmly, "We both can never make it out. They will sniff us out before we even get across the river because they are faster and stronger. But you can make it out alone as long as I distract them. By then, I will use my blood to disrupt your scent as well, so they won't be able to track you and will leave you alone. Till then, you have to hide. Don't run because they will hear you. Remember what I taught you...control your heart, and you control your aura," she explained, her voice resonating with a mix of determination and sorrow.

Raziel's heart throbbed painfully at her words. His grip on her arms tightened as tears streamed down his face, "No...no, you can't leave me, nor will I leave you alone to face those monsters. You promised me...You promised," he pleaded, his voice breaking under the weight of his emotions.

Selene's expression softened, a gentle yet sad smile touching her lips.

She reached up to caress his tear-stained face, "I know, and that's why I am sorry I have to break my promise. But it will be worth it as long as I know you are alive out there. So you have to promise me that you will stay alive for us and carry our wishes and memories with you," she implored, her eyes glistening with unshed tears.

"No...I can't...Don't go, please..." Raziel sobbed, his body shaking with grief and desperation.

Selene's lips pressed together, her resolve steeling as the sounds of the approaching werewolves grew closer.

She glanced briefly at the encroaching danger, then turned back to Raziel as she gently wiped his tears with her thumbs, her expression resolute yet filled with a deep sadness, "They are getting close, Raziel. If both of us die here, then all our people would have died for nothing. So you have to hide until they leave. Can you do that for me? That is the only wish I want you to fulfill. I won't ever ask for anything else," she pleaded, her voice breaking with emotion.

Raziel's heart was torn asunder, caught between his desire to stay and protect Matron Selene and the unbearable thought of leaving her to face them alone.

But the earnest plea in her eyes and the impending danger forced him to make the most difficult decision of his life. With a heavy heart, he nodded, his body trembling, carrying with him the burden of her final wish.

"I-I....I promise," Raziel choked out, his voice barely a whisper, his heart heavy with a burden he never thought he'd have to bear.

With one last look, filled with a mix of warmth and pain, Selene pushed Raziel away, urging him to hide.

Raziel, his heart pounding with fear and desperation, watched from behind the tree, concealed by the thick bushes.

His hand instinctively reached out, yearning to intervene and support her, but he forced it down, recalling her fervent plea for him to escape.

Selene stood defiantly before the snarling werewolves, her presence commanding despite the overwhelming odds, "Looking for me, you pack of ragged runts, especially you...Chief Torak?" she coldly and confidently taunted, her voice echoing through the clearing.

The werewolves, incensed by her challenge, bared their fangs menacingly.

Chief Torak, a hulking brute with a cruel grin, sneered, "How did we miss this big fry? I have been looking everywhere for you...Lady Selene. You are quite far from home, and you still haven't learned your lesson after getting half-crippled and having your town purged, did you? Or maybe you were trying to protect yourself by hiding among these weaklings? Must have been quite humiliating for you."

Raziel furrowed his brows and wondered what this monster was talking about. Does he know who she really is?

Selene's ruby-red eyes hardened as she said, "They might have inferior bloodlines, but not even ten of you can ever match up to the strength of their hearts."

Torak's face darkened as he let out low, chilling growls, "Look at you...running your mouth. We will finish what the Frosthowl Clan couldn't and make you regret killing some of my men yesterday. That is the reason I personally came out here today...to relish the feeling of tearing you apart and let others know it was me who did it."

Selene's response was a cold, mocking smile as her fangs began to extend, "Not before I sever every vein in your body," she retorted, her eyes flashing with a deadly intent.

Torak growled loudly, "Tear her apart, men!" In an instant, the pack lunged towards her.

But Selene, with a dancer's grace and a warrior's agility, moved swiftly.

Her fangs and nails extended into lethal weapons. With a rapid, precise slash, she cut through the neck of one werewolf, sending him tumbling to the ground in a pool of his own blood.

Another one was about to pounce on her right after, but she managed to twist her hip in time and dealt a sharp kick to the werewolf's solar plexus.

"Haarghhh!" The werewolf's eyes bulged until they almost popped out of their sockets, and his back bent until his spine tore out of his back from the sheer impact of her feet.

Raziel's eyes lit up with hope and awe as he saw Matron Selene kill two of those powerful monsters with such graceful ease.

He had never seen her in action like this and couldn't relate the person he was seeing with the gentle and kind matron he knew.

But he was relieved to see she had such a frightening side to her.

"Yaargh, you dare kill more of my men!" Tarok leader, stepping forward with fury.

He swung a massive fist, striking Selene hard in the stomach, who couldn't block in time as she was busy fending off the other werewolves who were trying to pounce on her.

The force of the blow was immense, sending her hurtling backward to crash against a tree with a sickening thud.

Raziel's heart suddenly sank as he watched in abject horror, the werewolves descending upon Selene with a savagery that defied reason.

However, despite the grievous injury she had sustained, she was still striving to rise, the blood streaming down her lips painting a gruesome picture.

His heart screamed to rush to her aid, but he then saw her looking in his direction and wistfully smiling with her eyes, reassuring him while pleading him to stay hidden.

He could only watch while his hands clenched so hard they became white.

But in a flash of brutality that Raziel could scarcely comprehend, one of the werewolves, with a viciousness that knew no bounds, clamped its jaws around her shoulder from behind.

With a sickening tear, her right arm was ripped from her body. Another one of them, equally merciless, plunged his claws deep into her stomach, wrenching her entrails out in a macabre display of gore.

Without even sparing a single second, Tarok, embodying a cruelty beyond measure, clamped his massive jaws around her head, sinking his long, sharp teeth into her skull before tearing it away from her body with a grisly growl of contempt.

Selene's headless form, a grotesque monument to the savagery she had just endured, stood momentarily in an eerie image of death before collapsing lifelessly to the ground, her blood spewing forth from her severed neck in a horrific geyser.

The werewolves, their bloodlust temporarily sated, casually discussed disposing of her remains as if she were mere refuse.

Tarok sneered as he placed his feet on her corpse, "I hate those arrogant Frosthowl bastards, but I got to thank them for weakening her. Otherwise, I would have had to stress my muscles for no reason. Gather her limbs and body, and let's feed it to our pets back home. That's the least this bloodsucking bitch deserves," grumbled the leader in a tone that was as callous as it was cruel.

As the werewolves departed, hauling Selene's mutilated remains with them, Raziel remained hidden, paralyzed by a mix of grief, shock, and rage.

His body trembled uncontrollably, blood seeping from his clenched teeth, the taste of iron mingling with his tears.

The cruel and brutal sight he saw of Matron Selene getting torn apart in front of him shook his soul to the core and threatened to consume him whole.

His fingers dug into the earth, clawing at the ground as if trying to anchor himself in the face of this unbearable reality.

He couldn't breathe, his vision was blurred, and his senses seemed to have frozen.

His entire body became petrified from the shock as he knelt there, his expression frozen, praying for all this to be a nightmare.

But the victorious howls of the departing werewolves told him otherwise.