23 The Hunt*
The next day, a search was ordered. Every able bodied man was to venture into the woods and comb it for the hide out of this new beast. Phillip and Rassa joined the hunt, but could do nothing to guide the others in any particular direction, such as away from recent gravesites.
While Rassa had worked to ensure the sites were disguised as his father had showed him earlier on, there was little he could do it the grave was too shallow, and opportunistic carnivores had dug up a free meal.
Luckily, nothing was found that day of the three kilometres of forest they had combed through. Phillip warned Rassa to be very careful when he venture out to hunt. While Phillip wanted to prevent Rassa from going out entirely, the last thing he wanted the hunters to find was a fresh grave site once his son became too hungry and once again had to take a life to satisfy his hunger.
Rassa was incredibly cautious that night. Instead of running along the ground where the hunters patrolled, Rassa took to the trees, jumping from one branch to another with grace and little more sound than that of his bare feet hitting the bark. Bare feet because his boots would make far too much noise, and they wore down too quickly with his speed anyway. Rassa went deeper into the woods this time, at least an hour's walk from the village. There he hunted a boar and took the equivalent of a large cup of blood before he reluctantly licked the wound. Rassa watched as the wound closed over at a speed visible to the naked eye. Rassa then retreated to the branches of a nearby tree, and waited to watch as the boar fought off the effects of Rassa's venom then eventually left.
Rassa felt much better seeing the results of this hunt. Licking a creature had seemed gross at first, but knowing his saliva had healing properties was good. Was it just to heal bites from his fangs or could he heal other wounds too? He stayed a little longer to enjoy the moonlight before carefully making his way back.
It was in this way that Rassa spent the next three days. Hunting further and further from the Village as the Hunters hunted him. During the days he would accompany his father through the woods, until it became clear that more men were needed for the upcoming harvests. Phillip stayed with the Hunt, and Rassa went back to the Orchards.
"Is it true what they're saying?" asked Jane as he accompanied her like he usually did.
"About what?" asked Rassa.
"That this...creature the men are hunting," Jane paused, unsure of how her next statement would be perceived, "It drinks blood?"
Rassa paused in the middle of picking an orange, turning to look at Jane from beneath his hood. Jane took his silence as confirmation, and it pained Rassa to see the fear in her eyes.
"What if...what if it can drink any kind of blood?" asked Jane, "I mean, I know it's only taken deer so far, but...there's a possibility. Right?"
Rassa looked away, eventually replying in a serious tone, one Jane rarely heard him use, "Don't worry. If it's only been here a few days like evidence suggests, then it doesn't seem to have left the forest, so if you stay out I'm sure you'll be fine".
"And if it's been here for longer?" Jane asked hesitantly.
"Isn't that better?" asked Rassa, "If its been here for longer it clearly proves it has no interest in us as we haven't found anyone dead with two pucture marks on their neck have we?"
His tone was harsher than he meant it to be, and he saw Jane look at him with surprise. Rassa sighed, picking up his full basket and heading for the edge of the Orchard.
"Sorry, I didn't mean that," Rassa stated as he left.
Jane watched him leave. She had never seen Rassa so...solemn. It was a vast difference from what he'd been a few days ago when he'd laughed and smiled at her like normal. Abandoning her basket, Jane jogged after Rassa, then threw her arms around him from behind, hugging him tight. Rassa froze in surprise.
"It's okay," Jane said, "Whatever is bothering you. I know it'll be okay. Besides, you know you can talk to me right? I'll always be there for you. You're my best friend".
Rassa couldn't help the tears that were welling in his eyes. He remembered the fear he'd seen in her eyes. Remembered the sound of her rapidly beating heart as her mind constructed the picture of a monster. She wouldn't be there for him through everything. He knew that.
"Sure," he replied, making sure his tone was even, "Always".
After a moment, Jane let him go, then watched as he disappeared back between the trees. There was something wrong. Very wrong. And even if she tried, Jane somehow knew he would never tell her.
This was why, when they got off work that evening, Jane took Rassa's hand and dragged him deeper into the Orchard. When there was no one around, Jane paused, looked back at Rassa then moved forward and pecked him on the lips. When she drew back she was blushing, and Rassa simply stood, frozen in surprise.
"I really do promise. I'll always be there for you," Jane said simply, then she turned back towards the village and walked off. After a moment, Rassa raised his fingers to his lips touching them lightly.
He couldn't deny that his first kiss felt nice. He could see why the older boys said it was pleasurable and talked about it so much. That and...other things. But there was an added affect of pleasure for Rassa, one that he was positive the other boys couldn't feel.
Being close enough to feel the pulse of blood through her lips was truly intoxicating.