29 - Last of a Dying Breed

When a professional monster hunter's husband is infected by a werewolf, the pair of them have to fight their former allies in order to survive long enough to find a cure.

Sophie and Laurent Rameau are professional monster hunters, members of the Order of St. Hubertus, currently on the trail of the last known werewolf in the kingdom of Thaler. Or, it was the last known werewolf in the kingdom - they’ve chased it so far north they’ve left Thaler, and are now in the bitter cold forests of Rublis.

They come across a small group of hunters, one of whom is wounded, another dead - it appears they were attacked by the werewolf. The pair is immediately on edge - they warn the hunters that any wounded by the werewolf, but not slain, will turn into a wolf themselves. The wounded hunter will have to be executed.

The hunters, quite reasonably, object, but this is what Sophie and Laurent do, and they’ve dealt with this reaction before on their hunt. They plead with the hunters, especially the wounded one himself - his first victims will be those closest to him, usually his family. They won’t force the issue before he’s turned, but they assure him that it’s inevitable. He eventually accedes, promising he’ll have a friend behead him before the next full moon triggers the change.

That dealt with, the pair continues their hunt, confident now that they’re close.

They track the werewolf to a cave, corner it, and kill it. It’s a fierce fight, though, and in the process, Sophie is scratched. It’s the tiniest little scratch, barely drawing blood, but it’s enough.

They spend a cold night at a campfire, coming to terms with what’s happened. They both know what has to happen, but neither of them wants to do it - Sophie especially, despite her being the one to behead the hunter before, is terrified of dying herself, and she feels even worse because of her hypocrisy.

They still have a little over two weeks until the full moon ushers in her first change. Not enough time to get back home, but there’s a city nearby with an Order of St. Hubertus enclave where they can search the library for anything like a cure.

Neither of them tries to hide Sophie’s condition - they know they have time, and they’re (probably, somewhat) willing to kill her when the time comes, so they just don’t think it’ll be an issue.

It is an issue.

There’s no immediate reaction, but one of the first people they tell runs off to tell the local bishop. While Sophie and Laurent are researching in the library, they are approached by a group of monster hunters who insist they kill Sophie then and there.

They had just found a tiny shred of hope for a cure - a rare plant mentioned almost as an afterthought - so they try to persuade their fellow hunters to give them a chance to search for it. They even offer to leave Sophie behind in chains while Laurent searches, but the bishop insists: it’s unclear if the affliction is contagious even now, so the safest thing is to kill her immediately.

They want to run, but they’re surrounded; their only option is to fight their way out. They do their best to avoid hurting anyone, but outnumbered as they are, they can’t hold back. They manage to escape unharmed, but they’ve killed at least one of their brethren.

They’re short on time, too short to get back home to any of their contacts, so they flee to the castle of Rasmus, a local lord known for being somewhat at odds with the Order (and the Church itself). Rasmus is a legitimately bad dude, but not, like, evil. He’s willing to help them out for some quid pro quo: he’ll give them the name of a local herbalist who should be able to help them find the plant, but in exchange, he wants them to arrest/kidnap her for him, on account of some debts she owes.

They don’t want to be used as thugs, and once he sees their reluctance he’s hesitant to trust them. So he has his guards seize Sophie, and tells Laurent he can have her back once he brings the herbalist. Laurent tries to warn him that the whole reason they’re doing this is because she’s dangerous, but Rasmus seems specifically gleeful about that. Laurent has no choice but to go along with it.

As soon as he’s off, Rasmus reveals to Sophie that there is no cure, the plant doesn’t exist. Neither does the herbalist. In truth, he himself is also a werewolf, as are a few key members of his court. He has no illusions about her joining his court, he’s not going to try to convince her she’s one of them - he just wants revenge on the Order. He’s going to keep her locked up and feed her innocent peasants whenever she turns. Whenever it gets boring, he’ll kill her himself to garner some goodwill with the Order and stay under their noses.

Sophie had already started working on a plan to break out before he’d shared all of this, and this makes it all the more necessary.

Meanwhile, Laurent has no intention of kidnapping anybody, even if that means sacrificing Sophie’s life. He knows it’s not what she would want, and even if she would, he’s a noble knight who takes his vows seriously.

That said, he is torn between immediately attempting to free Sophie, or trying to warn the herbalist that Rasmus has it out for her. He decides that he does still need the herbalist’s help in curing Sophie, so that’s where he’ll go first.

Over the next week, Sophie has strange dreams. Dreams of power, dreams of storms. She wakes up in the mornings covered in sweat, with dents in the iron bars of her cell, and cracks in the stone walls. One of Rasmus’s lycanthropic companions considers with her - this is the first time anybody of the Order has been infected and not immediately been killed. Her nature as a monster hunter is at war with her nature as a monster. This isn’t just idle philosophy - werewolves are foul monsters with damaged souls. If her own soul is too strong to break, it may corrupt her body instead, killing her.

This forces Sophie to admit that she is indeed more afraid of death than of turning. She’s terrified of death. Ironic, for someone of such a dangerous profession, but she always believed in the righteousness of her cause - she didn’t really admit to herself that failure was a possibility.

Now, even if she wanted to die, she has no means of killing herself. Rasmus saw to that.

Laurent, somewhat lost, visits a small farm. He sups with them, asks them questions about the herbalist. They don’t know who or what he’s talking about, and warn him that Rasmus isn’t to be trusted. He knows, but this is about his wife’s survival. He has to try, doesn’t he? The farmer tells the story of his brother and his nephew. The farmer’s nephew got lost in a blizzard, and everybody told the boy’s father that if he went out in search of him, the only thing that would change is that he would die, too. He went anyway, and he did die, and the family struggled for years having lost two of its more able workers.

Laurent refuses to listen to their story, though, and he goes hunting the herbalist anyway. He finds an ambush.

Sophie wakes up the next morning to find Laurent’s corpse in her cell, Rasmus gloating over her. The full moon comes that night, he says, and she hasn’t eaten in weeks. She’ll eat the only thing she has access to - Laurent. Sophie is horrified; she begs for mercy, rages with foul threats, pleads for release.

Rasmus is amused - this is the second time he’s done this, and the last hunter he had was instead begging for death. Sophie tells him she refuses to die until Rasmus and his entire court are dead as well. He shrugs off her empty threat and tells her he’ll see her tonight once the moon is out.

Sophie is left alone with Laurent’s body. She says some funerary rites, and then tries not to look at it. She stares at the wall for hours, until she feels the hair on the back of her neck prick up.

It’s happening.

She changes into a half-wolf, half-human abomination. She tugs at her chains, smashes at the wall, howls fury.

Rasmus, now fully a wolf, leads a dozen other werewolves to watch Sophie, but is freaked out by what he sees.

Sophie tears her chains off the wall. She leaves Laurent’s corpse untouched, but smashes through the bars of her cage to fight Rasmus and the others.

Fight she does. Rasmus runs quickly and gets away, but most of the others aren’t so lucky. Sophie kills most of them, chases the others - and Rasmus - out into the woods.