Chapter 6 - The Shadow Beyond
Notail moved silently along mantracks he did not know. These mantracks were wider than the mantracks Notail hunted and they were lined with snow-heavy trees. Still they stank of man. Still he was invisible to man, a half glimpsed shadow to them, a rustle, a flicker of red, a shape darting between shadows.
He was hungry and so he hunted. He scavenged. Forgive me father, he said to himself, but I’m too hungry to care anymore. And too alone. He found some old meat and a hard piece of stale manfood that crumbled into dust as he ate it. Neither the meat nor the manfood satisfied him. Every bite he took reminded him that every bite was his alone. There was no one else now to share it with.
He found an open manden and tried to get inside but a cat hissed at him. Man shouted to the cat and Notail ran. He was in no mood to fight a cat.
He moved down shadowtracks sniffing the air for food but each of the places where man cast away his food was empty. These mantracks were too clean and quiet. Once he saw a rat but it vanished before he even made a move. A shadow. Alone. The same as him.
When the mantracks gave way to open land he followed a line of entwined mantrees made of glinting shinestone, a high silver edge he knew could not be bitten through or leapt. They ran west in a straight line for many paw falls. Always west. Towards the Manless Land.
The scent of man did not fade but now he could smell trees and squirrels and birds too.
As he paused to listen for where a squirrel was scurrying he heard something growling and, turning towards the shining mantrees, he saw the shadow.
He knew what it was. The scent was strong. But all he could see of it was a mass of blackness and unblinking red eyes.
It was a black dog.
The Black Dog watched him from beyond a high edge of mantrees. Notail backed away.
“Stay…fox,” said the Black Dog, his voice as heavy as a man’s. The air was thick with the scent of man.
The Black Dog was a true shadow, not the shadow Notail tried to be. Dark beyond dark.
The Black Dog moved closer to the shining mantrees that separated them. Still he was cloaked by the night.
“What do you want?” Notail asked, still backing away.
The Black Dog breathed heavily and then the words came.
“What…man…want,” the Black Dog said. “All…fox…end.”
“End me?” said Notail. “Why would you end me? I never hurt the cubs of man, I only hunt truefood.”
Notail could see saliva dripping from the dog’s black mouth. As the dog opened its mouth Notail saw huge teeth. Sharp and stained with blood.
“I...know...you...fox...no...tail” The Black Dog came closer. Its nose rippled.
“I...know...your...scent.” Then it seemed to stop, and smile.
Notail stopped backing away. He wanted to leap the high edge and tear the huge dog apart. He did not care if the Black Dog took his life. That did not matter.
“My den,” said Notail.
The Black Dog grinned and licked his teeth.
“Your…den,” it said. “Your…mate…your…cubs. Go…fox. I…hunt…you.”
Notail growled. The high edge was too high. He growled once more and then turning he was gone. He ran to the west. Always west.