• Chapter 1

    The Camp

    Hara returned to camp, stomach full. She went through her cover story once more before she met with the rest of her clan. The Master had forbade the hunting of humans, but the prey had wandered obnoxiously into the clan's territory, and the chance to taste human flesh had been too good to pass up. She had gone to the river after her meal, to wash away the entrails and remove the human's scent from her skin before returning.

    Hara reached the clearing where her clan always met after hunting. Their home, a cave a hundred yards or so from there, wasn't spacious enough for the celebrations of the blood drunk hybrids. As she walked out of the trees, she spotted Glise sitting inches from the bonfire, his slim reptilian tail wrapped loosely around his waist like a belt, staring into the fire, face blank and unreadable.

    The tail was the only sign that Glise wasn't human. He was the only member of their clan that chose to wear clothes, animal pelts he'd slung together as a makeshift loincloth. It wasn't surprising that Glise had returned so quickly, he always killed his prey outright, swift and clean. Hara would never understand how he couldn't love the thrill of playing with animals while hunting. She could never get enough of the scent of fear. The beautiful aroma terror that seeped from the prey's every poor. Hara loved it.

    Glise looked up as Hara entered the firelight. The far-away look slipped quickly from his face.

    “What are you doing back so soon Hara? You're usually one of the last to return,” he asked meekly. In addition to being the most timid of the clan, Glise was also the weakest. He never joined in the celebratory wrestling the clan held at the solstices, or even stood up when some of the clansmen wanted to trade insults.

    “I felt like a quick kill tonight. The winter solstice is only a few weeks away and it's been getting cold,” Hara told him. The real reason was because the human was slower than the deer and bears she usually hunted, and she'd been impatient to gorge herself on his innards.

    The lie seemed enough to please Glise. He turned back to the fire, eyes glazing over as he returned to whatever was going on his head. Hara, along with the rest of the clan, had grown accustomed to the young hybrid's tendency to drift off.

    The human's flesh settling in her stomach, Hara sat down on the ground a few yards from the fire, savoring the lingering taste of fear on her tongue, a jagged smile contorting her jaw. She ran her claws through her short, unevenly cut orange hair.

    Like most of the other females of the clan, she kept her hair cut, so as not to get tangled while hunting. The men on the other hand lacked the same sensibility, choosing instead to keep their hair long and ratty. Again, Glise was the exception. He kept blond his hair cropped even shorter than the women.

    Hara lay back in the grass, content with her full stomach. She lay there, dully staring up at the stars, waiting for the rest of the clan to come back. After a few minutes Ortally and Firilin stumbled clumsily into the clearing. Ortally's forked tongue kept licking at the unscaled side of Firilin's face, excitement reflecting in his pupil-less eyes. Firilin pulled away, but not far, flirtatiously giggling. It was clear to Hara that she was only teasing the young hybrid, and who could blame her? Ortally had an insatiable sexual appetite. While most of the men restrained themselves until spring celebrations when the ritual mating was held, Ortally tried to romance the females of the tribe near-constantly. Teasing him with false hope was one of their ways to get revenge for his pestering.

    “I hope you 2 don't plan on whelping any hatchlings tonight,” Hara interrupted the 2. They jumped when she spoke. They'd been too caught up in each other to notice her lying just feet from them.

    “If you get her pregnant before the spring, the master will force a miscarriage,” Glise added dully, not even looking up from the fire. That was another annoying aspect of Glise. He always spoke so formally. The others spoke loosely and with vigor, but Glise always spoke as if he were in front of the master and his slave-women. “And then you'd both be punished for disobedience.”

    “We weren't gonna do nothin',” Ortally spat at Glise. “We were just having some fun after the hunt.”

    Ortally much resembled a human, he had the body of a man in his twenties, muscular build, but insubstantial genitals, one of the reasons he was always denied. His eyes were a deep blue, no pupils or irises, just a solid blue. Long black hair that reached to his shoulders, with twigs and muck knotted up inside its dark tangles. His only inhuman characteristics, besides his eyes, were his tongue and his scaly forearms.

    “I got a boar for myself tonight,” Firilin said, moving away from Ortally to join Hara on the ground; with the interruption, the fun of leading Ortally on had passed. “Full of juicy muscle. Tasted great until I got to the stink-tube. Nearly broke my neck trying to get away from the smell.”

    Firilin was a small thing, barely 5-feet, but was one of the most vicious of the clan, she made it a point to attack the most powerful animal she could find each night, and tear it limb from limb before eating it. She'd been told dozens of times by the master to simply feed like the rest of the clan, that if humans were to stumble upon the bodies it could jeopardize the other hybrids, but she never changed her habits. She kept her dark brown hair short but for a single lock, which she allowed to grow down the length of her back. The left side of her face was covered in dark green scales, much resembling Hara's, and her right leg had leathery green skin and excreted a deep blue slime in place of sweat.

    “I got a pretty boring catch tonight,” Hara lied. “Doe, or a young buck. It was slow as all hell, but at least the muscle was tender.”

    “Wondered why you was back so soon. You're usually one of the last, just before Vindal,” Firilin mused. “If it hadn't been for Ortally dragging me back I'd have taken a while getting back m'self.”

    “So how'd you decorate your kill tonight?” Hara questioned.

    “Didn't have much time, what with Ortally trolling the woods ready to hump the first thing with scales and a pulse.”

    “I weren't doing anything like that!” Ortally shouted.

    “That's right,” Hara said. “Pulse don't mean a thing to him.”

    “Piss off!” Ortally yelled, frustrated.

    “Struck out again, eh Ort?” Came a voice from the trees. Strash entered th clearing, dried blood on his chin and collarbone. Strash was the tallest of the hybrids, standing only a head shorter than the master. He had long, brown hair, which was constantly crusted with either the blood of his kills or mud. He had a slim, muscular build, with deep blue scales on his lower legs and matching misshapen blue lumps in place of ears. “That's what, 15 rejections in the last 2 weeks?”

    “******** you too!” raged Ortally. He stormed off towards the cave, most likely to sulk while the others congregated around the fire.

    “Sorry! No thanks!” Strash called out as Ortally walked away. “I guess that makes an even 16!”

    Letting Ortally tend to his wounded ego, Hara, Firilin, and Strash spoke about the night's kills. Strash too believed Hara's lie about a slow deer and didn't inquire any further into her early return.

    “Shame though, I know how much you love a good chase,” Strash commented. Strash and Hara had grown up together, working, as all hybrid children did before adolescence, in the Master's domain. They had grown less familiar after maturing and joining the clan's adults, but still remained friendly.

    “What'd you get tonight?” Firilin asked Strash.

    “Trapped a snake, kept the teeth for later when I got a couple of rabbits. You shoulda heard the things squeak when I stabbed out their eyes,” He answered. Strash often set up traps for smaller prey, then played with his catch. It was this sadistic nature that had made him a favorite of the clan's females. In the clan, your importance was measured by your strength and ferocity. The more you reveled in bloodshed, the more attractive you were considered by the opposite sex. Hara herself was viewed as quite the catch, and one of the more competed after mates for the Spring equinox.

    The trio continued to chatter about the night's hunts, making jabs at Ortally whenever he called out a comment from the edge of the clearing. They didn't truly despise the hybrid, but his perverse sexual appetite was too uncouth to earn outright friendship. Were he to rein himself in he would have been more popular within the clan. He was not on the same level of viciousness or strength as Hara or Firilin, but he was at least powerful enough to garner positive attention, were he to exercise some restraint.

    After another half-hour, most of the clan had arrived by the fire. By Hara's count, the only one left was Vindal, the eldest of their generation. He was always the last to return. He enjoyed playing with his prey, letting the get a little away from him, let it think it had escape, then sneak forward and pounce at it again, letting it escape. This could go on hours before he lost interest and ended the game.

    This night however, it seemed he had lost interest very quickly. The last of the other Hybrids had only been back for about 20 minutes before Vindal descended into the clearing. The hybrids had been carousing as they usually did, playing games of strength, sharing tales of the night's kills, strange sights, but that all came to a quick end as Vindal arrived. He was usually one of the most jovial of the when he returned from the hunt, so his appearance would have normally only helped to bolster the festivities, but just then, with his abnormally early arrival, and with the foreboding aura that resonated from him at that instant, he was enough to quell the entire clan.

    He appeared, as he often did, by dropping from the sky, leathery wings wrapping around his shoulders like a cloak. Out of all of their generation, he was the one who most closely resembled the Master. He has dark green, almost black, marks on his face, decorating his features like tribal paint. His hairs was a matted, ratty black, hanging in thick strands across his face,down to his shoulders. His hands were morphed, deformed claws, his torso coated in black scales, smooth like a snake's, and his legs striped with forest green scales that advanced in a twisting pattern, as if ropes were twined around his legs.

    He raised his head and turned from side to side, giving a nasty look to each of the hybrids around him, each of them stunned by the atmosphere of anger that emanated from him.

    “Why the sudden stop to things?” He asked, his tone jovial yet laced with anger, and a strange glee. “Don't stop the party on my account!”

    No one moved, they knew he was setting them up for something bad. He was just as vicious as his brethren, but not just towards the animals of the forest. He was the Master's favorite, and as such he treated all those with less gracious standing like his personal playthings when in a mood. Hara's gut squirmed and twisted as he turned it to look at her. Perhaps it was only her imagination, but his eyes seemed to rest on her just a moment longer than the others.

    “Now come on! Let's get things goin' again! Anyone got some interesting tales to share with the clan?” No one moved. “Nobody? Well then, let me pass on a tale of quite the sight.”

    He turned towards the fire, where Glise, roused from his reverie, had wisely moved away. Vindal stepped up to the flame and beckoned the others.

    “Come now, gather 'round! I've got something to tell and I want ya all to hear it.” The others reluctantly edged closer to the fire. Hara was getting more and more nervous. Something had angered Vindal, and she was certain of what it was. He had found the human's body. “Now that's better. Well, let's get the story started. Ya' see, I was just romping through the forest, chasing my meal, giving it some leeway before roping it in. Enjoying the kill, ya' know. But then what should I come by, but the strangest site I've ever known. Ripped up, gutted, and left bloody by a tree was the body of a human!”

    Gasps came from the others. A human, in their territory, was something that happened so rarely, none of them could remember the last time they'd heard of one. They also knew that, in the condition Vindal claimed to have found it, it was clear the human had been attacked by one of them. Eyes turned towards their owners' neighbors, questioning whether of not the one next to them might have been the one to do it.

    “'Now where'd that a come from?' I asked myself. 'Seems mighty strange to be seeing something like that around here. I wonder how it happened. Maybe a boar, or some other big animal could have gotten a hold of 'em?' But no, I went and checked, and wouldn't ya know it? The fellow's skin had marks on it, and damned if I didn't recognize the marks as ones like ours?”

    Vindal raised up his hand, clinking his claws together. Again, his audience's eyes shot from side to side, this time searching out the hybrids who had claws.

    “'Now this is quite the problem, isn't it?' I asked myself. 'We can't have one of our own breaking the Master's rules, that just won't sit well with him. I best find out who's been doing this. But how?' and just as I was asking myself that, I spotted something in the body's ribs. And wouldn't you know it, it was a hair.”

    Vindal raised his hand, and pinched between the claws that were his thumb and index finger, was a single, thin hair, cropped short. Even in the shifting firelight, the color was still easy to make out. Pinched in between Vindal's claws was a bright orange hair, and there was only one hybrid in the clan with hair that color.

    Hara shifted, holding her head down, but held her self up, back straight, as an act of defiance.

    “Well Hara,” Vindal said, dropping all pretense. “You know what this means. You're going to have to report to the Master.”

    A deep shudder went through Hara's entire body, as Vindal spoke. The winged hybrid reached out grasped one of her arms, and ordered her to follow him, as they moved towards the cave where their clan called home, and into the entrance at the back, which descended into the earth. Into the darkness.

    Into their Master's domain.