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Wenatchee Valley, April of 1851

* Violence and Gore

* Violence Against Children

Isapkit was getting close. Her quarry had eluded her for several hours now, but she was now closing in. She had set out from her village at the darkest hour of nighttime, following the trail of blood until it went dry. After that, she followed the broken branches and muddy imprints the beast had not bothered to cover.

The victim had been a child. A young girl who made the mistake of staying out in the dark was also trusting enough to take the word of a stranger. Her remains had been found while the body was still warm. Whatever had killed her had also drained her of blood. Because Isapkit was the storyteller of her tribe, combined with the fact that she was an excellent hunter, her father nominated her to hunt down the creature and bring it to justice.

Appointing her to the task was wise. She was able to quickly determine from the evidence that she was chasing a Mosquitofolk. The ancestral legends she had memorized spoke of monsters who, like massive mosquitos, must consume fresh blood to survive. Although the Mosquitofolk could disguise themselves as Humans, the Wenatchi Tribe had driven the last of these monsters from their valley generations ago. As Isapkit tracked this beast, she wondered what had changed to cause the Mosquitofolk to return.

Now the sun was rising steadily in the sky. Isapkit had followed the trail dutifully through the night, and the sun gave her confidence. The darkest hours may belong to the monsters, she thought, but daylight was Humanity’s domain. Judging from the spacing of the beast’s footprints, Isapkit could tell the monster was slowing down. Taking a sip from her waterskin and shoving a handful of dried berries in her mouth, she smiled with grim determination: she was only just getting started.

Isapkit first matched the monster’s speed, and then slightly exceeded it. Taking the downhill path, the monster’s tracks went down a ridge and towards the banks of a winding stream. Isapkit had been waiting for her prey to make an error, and this was it. She was going to capitalize on it.

With a bounding leap, Isapkit went up the hill. She lept from a stone onto a tree branch; from a tree branch onto a taller stone; from that stone onto another tree. Within minutes she was at the top of an alder with a commanding view of the stream below.

There he was: skin pale from lack of sunlight, washing his arms and face in the creek, trying to get the blood out of the cracks of his skin. Bracing herself against the branch in front of her, Isapkit notched an arrow in her bow and lined up her shot. With a simple release, the taught string of the bow hurled the arrow so fast that the grooved arrowhead sang through the air. It landed in the Mosquitofolk’s shoulder, sending his own blood through the air like a geyser. He bellowed with pain, and Isapkit dropped down to the ground and began running towards her prey.

She notched another arrow into her bow as she crested the hill and began sliding down to the banks of the river. Her feet, wrapped in strips of leather, were more than armored well enough to slice through the loam and cast aside small stones. She surfed down the soft hill, taking a few steps here and there to avoid brush before resuming her slide.

Before she arrived at the banks of the stream, Isapkit bounded into the tree branches. Getting a higher view, she pulled the arrow back and prepared to fire. But she couldn’t find her quarry. She could see where the Mosquitofolk had been, but he was not there now. She looked for a trail of blood, but could not find one. She cursed under her breath: He must have gone underwater.

Isapkit dropped to the ground. In the moment when she was dropping, she heard a faint splash. While she was recoiling from the landing, she was struck over the top of the head. As she was becoming unconscious, her final thought was “What a clever thing to do.”


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