I've been given gracious permission to reprint the winning entry on my site. I must admit that I didn't expect the winning entry to be quite so long, but this one came in just under my 2000 word limit. This doesn't mean anything where future contests are concerned - look at the visual descriptions here. That's what makes it a perfect choice for me! So, without further ado, here is "The Hunt". Links to the writer can be found at the end of the story.

(And here's the picture for it)

The Hunt

Standing still, shaggy head tilted upwards, he sniffed, testing the winds. The light blue orb of the Eastern Moon blanketed the surrounding ground in hazy light, creating blue tips along Shirkarr's black fur. Turning slightly, his amber eyes gazed at the Western Moon's dull orange glow. Shirkarr's tongue lolled out of his mouth. Hunting would be good this night.

"We travel west," Shirkarr said. He loped off, heading to the Western Forest, his pack following silently. At the edge of the Western Forest, Shirkarr paused, allowing the two youngest members time to catch up. The young ones would hinder the pack, Shirkarr was certain . . . but they needed to learn the Way of the Hunt. He paced, eyeing the brothers Ka'rael and Ka'relu, their sides still heaving from their exertion.

"Ka father's weak ones," Jarel quietly said to Shirkarr. Ignoring the bright gleam coming from Shirkarr's exposed teeth, Jarel continued. "They are slow and tire swiftly. They still retain a cubs' clumsiness . . . ." He stopped, hearing Shirkarr's low, menacing growl of warning. He prayed he had not pushed his friend, the pack Alpha, too far.

Shirkarr glanced at Ka'rael and Ka'relu, and then turned back, gazing intently into his friends' dark eyes. "They are young, coming from a line who are slow to change, to mature. You are aware their mothers' change was slow in coming, as was Ka's. The Law shows, offspring would also be slow to change." Shirkarr paused, gazing upwards at the orange orb high above, before continuing. "They are young, true enough, but they must learn the Way of the Hunt. I do not expect them to do anything but hinder the rest - but still, they must be taught. The stars and moons have not been so well aligned for a Hunt, since the time when Ka led the Pack. " Pausing to test the winds once again, Shirkarr's nostrils flared and saliva filled his mouth. A slight shudder passed through him as the Scent he sought, filled him. "They must learn the Hunt, and I must teach them. It is what Ka did for me, when I was a cub. It is what Ka would expect from me."

Rising to his full height, Shirkarr motioned for silence. Easily standing a full head taller then any other, he was an imposing sight. When all eyes were upon him, he slowly and deliberately lifted his head, nose pointed towards the Western Moon and inhaled deeply, exhaling in short, quick bursts. Turning slightly, he pointed towards the center of the Western Forest, then motioned towards Jarel. Jarel confirmed with a barely perceptible nod and moved off, three members following closely behind him. Shirkarr continued his silent assignments, hesitating when Dronn motioned to Ka'rael and Ka'relu to follow him. He shook his shaggy head.

Dronn's light amber eyes widened, clearly surprised. Uneasily, he headed off deep into the Western Forest, certain this was the first time the Alpha of the pack had ever gone on a Hunt with another by his side, in his lifetime. Didn't the Law state the Alpha always Hunted alone?

Shirkarr motioned to Ka's sons. He watched as they shuffle-walked to his side, their half formed paws scattering leaves and breaking twigs with each step. Ka'rael's change was a bit more advanced then Ka'relu's was. His snout, although too flat, had elongated into a partial wolf nose and his ears were pointed, lying correctly atop his head. Most of his body still resembled the human side of him, albeit a hairy human. Ka'relu's ears lay flat on his head, hindering his sense of sound, Shirkarr was sure, and his snout was flatter then Ka'rael's. He had one paw totally transformed; the other arm and both legs were still human in appearance.

"For this part of the Hunt, you must transform back to your Other. I will remain as I am while I track the Prey," he said, "and you follow - as quietly as you can - behind me. Stay hidden amongst the trees."

Ka's sons nodded in unison at their Alpha, and began the transformation process. When they no longer held any resemblance to the Pack, Shirkarr nodded his shaggy head, and slowly loped off without a backward glance. The Law stated each Pack member must obey the Alpha - unless they wished to challenge his word, or, die. Shirkarr had never been challenged.

* * * *
Shirkarr sniffed deeply. As the Scent filled his senses, he began to drool. He was close. He sensed Ka'rael and Ka'relu standing behind him, deep within the wooded area and was pleased; they had maneuvered into place, quietly, as they had been instructed to do.

His ears twitched, listening for the slightest sounds of movement. Sniffing deeply, he exhaled with a shuddering 'woof;' the scent was closer. Eyes narrowing, Shirkarr pierced the darkness as he searched for the slightest movement of his prey.

Shirkarr saw a flash of white -- Ka'rael or Ka'relu coughed, it didn't matter which, simply one of them alerted Shirkarr's prey - the white object took cover behind a tree - Shirkarr lunged forward, determined his Hunt would be successful. All these things happened in a blink of an eye, more time then it took for Shirkarr's brain to process it and leap forward.

With one powerful leap, Shirkarr was next to the large tree where he had first spotted the white object; his nostrils flared, the scent of his Prey strong. His ears twitched, turning slowly, ready to hone in at the tiniest sound. His tongue lolled out, tasting the air - the Scent - as his nostrils flared and twitched. He turned to the right. His Prey had headed towards the clearing where the Pack had stopped for their instructions. Shirkarr gave chase, the Scent consuming him now, not caring if Ka'rael and Ka'relu were following anymore. He must reach his Prey before it reached the clearing, if he was to have a successful Hunt.

His easy, ground-covering lope kept him parallel to the clearing; he was vaguely aware of Ka'rael and Ka'relu clumsily following behind. He heard a soft hissing sound to his left, as he turned right, heading deeper into the woods. He was certain the sound was an illusionary-sensory tactic, geared to throw him off the true path. Saliva filled his mouth as he loped steadily; this was the correct direction.

Shirkarr stopped. The Prey was close, not moving. All his senses honed in on the Scent - he must reach his Prey before it turned to the clearing. A low, twittering-hissing sound came from behind a large tree, on his left. Without visibly moving his shaggy head, Shirkarr looked where the sound had come from.

He saw Her. Sitting on a lower branch, lounging against the trunk was the She-pyre. Her skin was a clear, alabaster white, as purebreds were known for, her black hair long and silky. Her canines sharply pointed, gleamed from the light cast by the stars and moons. Shirkarr looked deep into her eyes - dark amber, with the telltale red specks giving credence to her purebred ancestry, as well as age and readiness for Mating. Shirkarr transformed to his human shape. She was ready, and seemed willing to entertain his courtship, shown by her not fleeing immediately to the clearing.

"She-pyre," Shirkarr said, "what do They call you?" Shirkarr gazed steadily into her eyes, as he waited for her response. "I am known as Shirkarr, Alpha to the Pack, Keeper of the Law."

The She-pyre smiled, her voice wafting out in soft whispers as she replied, "I am known as Ba'el, Daughter of the great Chieftain Bartholomew." Ba'el appareted, now standing next to Shirkarr. "Shirkarr, Alpha of the Pack, you track well," she said, turning her head to look up into his eyes, "I had thought to throw you off course with my illusionary-sensory calls."

"I have had experience with such before," Shirkarr replied, grinning. "My Mother's Mother, was a She-pyre from the Orange Moon Clan." He stared down into Ba'el's eyes as he spoke, "I have waited for your Clan to come back, to take my Mate."

"Only one with exceptional tracking skills," Ba'el said, "would I consider for my Mate. Werewolves of the Blue Moon are known to be the best providers - but are also known to be the most savage."

Ba'el hesitated, then stood on her tip-toes - if Shirkarr was not telling the truth, when she initiated the Mating Ritual by drinking his blood, should he not truly desire the Mating, he could transform back into his Were-self, and rip her head from her shoulders. She gazed up into his amber eyes a moment longer, then leaned forward to bite his neck. Shirkarr sensed her wary uncertainty and offered his neck as he placed his hands around her waist, lifting her, helping her reach his exposed neck. Should she not desire him as her Mate, should she try to drain his Life-Blood instead of Join with it, he could transform immediately to his Were-self, and destroy her. It was time for one another to test the honesty and sincerity of the other.

Ba'el drank the required amount of Shirkarr's blood, to show her intent of Mating. She pulled back, droplets of his blood glistening on her dark red lips. Shirkarr grinned a toothy smile, and then felt her body stiffen in his hands. His hackles rose as she hissed a low warning sound. He began to transform, ready to protect his intended Mate, as she hoarsely whispered, "Is this a trick? Do you plan to attack me even as your Life Blood transforms me?"

Ka'rael and Ka'relu stopped near the tree where their Alpha and his intended Mate, had begun the Mating Ritual. Shirkarr barked out a low, rumbling laugh as he answered, "These cubs? You fear attack from these cubs?" He turned back, gazing into Ba'el's eyes as he continued, "They will not harm you. I allowed them to follow me, to learn the way of the Hunt. Now, they know how they must find their own Mate, when their time is right." Ba'el tore her eyes from Shirkarr's steady gaze, to glance at the two brothers.

Shirkarr continued, "They know you are my Chosen One, as my pack will soo be aware. The Law states, they must pledge to you, as they do me, for today - you are my equal, my Mate. All know, when a She-pyre accepts the courting of a Werewolf, drinks of his Life Blood, that she gives up that part of herself that was able to transform into the creature of her ancestry. The Law states she must be honored, for all she has given."

Shirkarr gazed deeply into his Mate's eyes, waiting for her to accept what he said. Ba'el shivered slightly, feeling her vampryss essence leaving her body as the Were-blood wove its way inside her, joining within her, transforming her to her new state. As she felt the Life-Blood flowing through her, she nodded slightly - Shirkarr transformed quickly, raising his shaggy head to the Orange orb, and howled a deep call of thanks. Turning, he once again howled his song of thanks to the Blue orb. In the distance, howls could be heard from his pack, as they finished the first part of the Mating Ritual. It had been a good night, for the Hunt.

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