Chapter 37 - Threat In Darkness
The moon sat like a bloated dot in the balmy night sky as the party of seven finally crested the steep hills located to the far west.
This part of the Clan Lands was at least eight miles into the western fields, where only a few log cabins sat and the open sky hung like a diamond studded blanket over the world.
The tall grasses snapped and flipped in the slight breeze and the pine trees that boarded their entire village tinged the air in crisp scent of pine and sap.
Ezekiel glanced up into the sky, calculating the moons position with his internal instincts.
He thought to himself as he walked beside his mostly silent and calm older brother Walter and just in front of Erin and Drin who made much more noise trekking through the supple grass, than Ezekiel and Walter combined.
Dammit, in just a few more hours Dads seriously gonna kick that stranger out into the wilds to fend for himself.
Ezekiel spent his next few minutes thinking of what he could do. But he didn’t have the time. What he could say to his father to make him be lenient to the stranger. But he didn’t have the words.
As much as Ezekiel wanted to turn his thoughts to his current duties, the mortals face and scent rose up to unexpectedly befuddle him... Ezekiel actually remembered the heat of his skin just beneath his lips as he scent tested his blood or his face pressed against Ezekiel’s palm as he fell into peaceful sleep.
Ezekiel was actually trapped in his mind remembering the strangers beguiling green eyes and the fact that he still didn’t know the mortals name... he ruminated on that unfortunate fact that was until his father led them over the last rise and they hit the nose melting stench.
Like a ocean tide of putrid rot, the smell hit every single one of the Guardians, sending almost all of them into watery eyed hacks and coughs of deep disgust.
Erin, who was more delicate then the rest of then retreated from the hill and Ezekiel heard her vomiting a few feet back.
Ezekiels belly rolled and he let Drin go over to her, while he threw an arm over his nose and tried to take slow deep breath through his mouth. It barely helped to stall the stench from attacking his heighted sense, but he wanted to believe that somehow he was keeping the offensive smell at bay.
For the most part it appeared to Ezekiel that Walter was completely unhindered by the scent, and Mantilo almost seemed to ignore it all together. Lander snarled and plugged his nose, while Nate growled, silvery eyes as bright as the moon above peered almost hungrily into the darkness that hid the multitude of bodies that the overbearing smell of rotting blood must have been wafting off of.
For a long second the Wolf alternated between whimpers and growls as he sniffed at the abomination that saturated the entire area.
To Ezekiel it was like Naye was having a private conversation with the beast inside of himself, but as the wind picked up, flinging even more of the smell up on to him, Ezekiel had to move away from that thought and focus on holding is lunch down.
“What in god’s name is that terrible smell Mantilo?” Erin began to bemoan coming back up over the rise, with Drin after emptying her stomach.
Ezekiel didn’t fault her for her reaction in the least, and felt terrible for her when he saw the way her throat worked to hold down more sickness as she moved closer to the other Guardians and thus closer to the scent. “How do we track anything in this!?”
But either because of the smell or all of the talking he had done before Mantilo wasn’t in to mood to chat idly.
Standing to the side on the grassy rise overlooking the carnage he addressed them all quickly and precisely with a plan of attack.
“As you can see...” Mantilo started, his yellow eyes reminiscent of a very angry owl. Ezekiel could see multiple shapes in the grass beyond him. Still, unmoving, shapes with weird sticks attached to every few shadows lying among the other shadows in the wide field beyond.
He didn’t need the dim moon light putrid blood and other fluids in the air to tell him that the shadows were the torn up bodies of the moose’s that they had come to see.
“This is a serious problem. Multiple kills, no real feeding, and as of right now....we have no idea what’s doing this. But because of its choice of prey we can guess too things safely.”
“It’s big.” Walter quipped simply in answer.
“It’s strong.” Ezekiel said next.
Their father nodded. “Exactly. This thing is most likely a bear, but from the way that it is hunting and the veracity of its kills....it may be sick, diseased or just overly territorial. Either way its killing in large quantities and is obviously not going to stop until we find it. ”
Instantly Ezekiel knew form his father’s tone that he didn’t in fact believe that it was a bear at all, but he suggested it, because it was the only animal profile that would logically fit the carnage down below them. His father shrugged as he came to the end of his talk.
“Now, we’ve taken out a few diseased Bob Cats and Mountain Lions before, but nothing much bigger than that. So....first we’ve got to be smart about this and safe. Spread out in among the kills and search for anything that we can use to hunt down this beast.”
Ezekiel didn’t have to look at Erin to know that it was her feminine gag behind her hand that rose into the night. Mantilo took pity on her.
“Erin, Drin, stay up here, keep your eyes and ears open.” He hissed out softly at the Guardians. “If you see anything out there, or coming towards the carcasses that doesn’t look right, holler a warning! Be vigilant and swift!”
With a strong head nod, more thankful then professional, Drin and Erin pulled back from the group and stood together on the rise of the hill and watched the surrounding darkness diligently. Drin’s blue eyes glowing like glaciers, and Erin’s eyes catching a simple glow of light like glowing sandy brown.
Realizing that he had promised to stay beside the younger Guardians to put them at ease only a few hours ago, Ezekiel went to join them, but his father caught his eye and that stopped him.
“Ezekiel.” Mantilo began once Ezekiel turned back towards him. “Leave them for now....they will be safe enough up here. I want you out there, tracking with the rest of us. Go.” Mantilo told him softly.
“Are you sure? I told them I’d stay close by...” Ezekiel asked his father, looking at his cousin and her Mate.
They looked like the smell in the air was going to rise up and attack them, but he knew that his father wouldn’t ask unless he was certain of the younger ones safety, so Ezekiel sighed and followed his un-answering father down the side of the hill and into the death that waited below.
The smell only grew stronger as they moved in among the still shapes in the grass. And as Ezekiel moved past the shadows that he was starting to make out he not only sensed the blood coating his shoes as he moved, but he heard the barely audible “Squish ” his boots made as he traveled across the blood drenched graveyard.
The sounds of tiny feet scampering away from their late night feedings fell on his sensitive ears and more than once Ezekiel had to shake his legs free of the multitude of insects that tried to climb up his pants as he moved. Without exchanging words his brothers moved apart to scour the area. Eyes and ears alert, searching the carcass riddled field for tracks that they all knew would be hard to find, but each of them kept that too themselves as they settled in on different corners of the fields and worked.
And it was only after Ezekiel had moved far enough out into the darkness, far enough from him to lose all sight of his brothers, and only for him to see that the moon light from above faded behind the coal colored clouds above.
All light was instantly stolen from all of them and as the minutes passed, the darkness refused to lift.
It was unfortunate, but no natural beast could see in pure darkness, not even the Leopard in Ezekiel could pierce total darkness with its senses. Only the smallest fragments of moonlight would do in any other situation, but with the moon completely swallowed up, Ezekiel gave up on straining his eyes if all he could see up close were a few clear details up close and far away all he could barely make out were the shadows of another bloody shape.
Shit....there goes visual tracking....now I’ve got to use my nose. Why god!
He lamented as he reached down into his core and diverted the energy pouring into his eyes, allowing him to see scare shapes a few feet away, and poured the power into his nose and ears.
The blood and body parts were everywhere. It didn’t take Ezekiel long to understand not only why his father had been alarmed by the carnage, but why his father had been nearly unable to track down whatever beast had slaughtered the mousses. Body parts were everywhere, soaking the ground in blood as it settled beneath the limbs, smearing all of the prints in the earth....and with the hundreds of rats and other scavengers that Ezekiel knew had paid that area a visit....the night promised to have a disappointing end.
There’s nothing here.....
Ezekiel sighed to himself after another thirty minutes had passed. Minutes of fruitless searching accompanied by the unforgiving bites of hundreds of bugs and more than one rat.
Man, Im getting nowhere. I don’t have anything new....and Ive looked over multiple carcasses. So far I’ve only reinforced my idea that NO animals in these parts could have done this.....Not even a sick bear.
Ezekiel thought to himself choosing not to ignore the cool chill on the back of his neck. He let his instincts guide his thinking.
He ran the tips of his hand along the bloody stump of a moose’s head on the ground before him, the sixth of his lovely night. The dead moose’s tongue sat hanging limp from its ridged mouth and its eyes frozen open in terror as Ezekiel examined it. Once more.
In the tearing and wet meat about the stump of its neck, Ezekiel picked out the signs of teeth and claws. Teeth and claws that didn’t match anything he had ever seen, not rats, or foxes, or bears. Marks that he had seen on almost all of the body parts, thin almost blade like clawing and teeth marks like needles or spikes. The imprint on the flesh confused him....because he didn’t in fact recognize it at all.
Not bear teeth or cougar claws.....Something far more savage then a bear caved up these things.
But dad said that the marks look familiar to him....I wonder why?
Ezekiel asked himself as he glanced at the moose head and glanced at the last and final clue that had him completely befuddled.
It was a black, milky substance smeared on the snout of the moose. Ezekiel now knew after sniffing the fluid from afar that it wasn’t blood or fecal matter, but besides that the fluid was a complete mystery to him......and so far every single body part around him, and that he had examined that night had had the black fluid smeared across it in some way.
Ezekiel was extremely curious about what it was, but just as he was reaching out his hand to touch the substance and show it to his father, the thought was torn out of his mind by the frantic voice of his brother calling to him.
“Ezekiel!!! EZEKIEL COME LOOK AT THIS STRANGE BLACK STUFF I FOUND....HEY EZEKILE YOU HEAR ME! Get over here!!” Nate nearly howled across the fields, his voice echoing from the small patch of pine forest, half way across the fields of dead carcasses.
Nate was the only one closest to Ezekiels position. He tended to hover near Ezekiel most of the tines.when ever they hunted in a pack.
While Lander was far far to the right of the field. Walter was mostly lost to the shadows and Mantilo was down in the grasses closer to Erin and Drin’s position. So realizing that not only was he the only one that could hear him, but that he was the only one that Nate could readily see in the darkness that persisted Ezekiel decided to join him.
Ezekiel dropped his hand, leaving the black filmy substance on the skin of the dead moose untouched.
He stood knocking off big big that delivered a vicious bite to the back of his leg and ignoring the squish of blood beneath his boot. Skipping across the various dismembered parts he called back across the field in the general direction from which he had heard his brother calling him moments before.
“Nate! Where are you?” He called as he began to near the dark and dingy outline of the pine forests to the far right of the field.
“I’m in the forest, come in here quick....I think I found something.”
And it was only once he got a few feet from the clustered, thin pine trees that he caught sight of his brother.
Leaving the bugs and blood, but not the stench behind him Ezekiel walked into the forest to join his brother. Ducking beneath one errant branch full of dying pine needles, Ezekiel walked across the cracking pine beneath his feet as he marched a few feet into the forest and came up behind Nate whose silvery eyes were trained on a giant, torn up moose chest, laying discarded into the middle of a slight clearing between a few pine trees.
“It was here.” Nate told his brother, the moment Ezekiel got close enough to speak. He stood up, glancing Ezekiels way for only a second before he kicked over the carcass to reveal the moose’s upper chest cavity and everything that was missing from it. The bloody part was missing the mosses head, but most of the ribs and flesh were still there. The moose’s chest cavity appeared torn open instead of sliced, its heart and lungs missing, while the stomach and guts remained pulled out, but not eaten.
The upper spine peeking through its missing fur, all of it tinged with the strange mucus-sy black fluid that seemed to be on all the rest of the mosses bits and unlike the rest of the moose’s bits that Ezekiel had run across that night, it looked to him like that part of the moose had dirt and worms smeared all over it....like something had buried it, dug it up....then gotten interrupted while it was eating its late night treat.
Ezekiel eyed the corpse, he eyed the pine floor as best he could with the darkened forest canopy overhead, but he had a feeling that there were no tracks in the spongey earth either.
“So, it looks like it stopped feeding on this one last...but whatever IT was it looks like we spooked it away from its kill.”
Nate growled, his teeth, and skin rolling with a slight heat, begging to change in the darkness, but the full heat of the Shift remained locked down. “I’ll see if I can catch its scent. Let me get some help. Watch my back.”
“Ok, good idea.”
Ezekiel watched as his brother tilted his head back slowly, a slight brush of heat floating off of his skin as he let the Wolf inside of his closer and closer to the surface. Until the Shifter was more him then he was. And in the moments to follow his brother said nothing in a mortals tongue. He growled and snarled quietly to himself and eyes that glowed as white as the moon held a spirit unlike Nates. The Wolf roamed in his eyes, but for now it wore his siblings flesh. And in this way his brother scented the area with a nose that completely out did all of his brothers noses combined. The Wolf becoming the man in a way that no Leopard Shifter would ever would be allowed. The Leopards they carried were not ever allowed that much control.
The seconds ticked by.
Suddenly two slightly high pitched roars filled the night coming from the direction of the hill. Instantly Ezekiel recognized the calls as calls of warning, not help. Ezekiel looked at Nate a few steps before him. He was almost in a trance, his two toned eyes locked on a fixed point as he inhaled deeply over the decimated moose body, sniffing at the gnawed legs and guts trying to pick up a scent. IT was instantly clear from the Wolfs dedication to its task that it didn’t recognize the call that had just been given.
“Nate....” Ezekiel started to call him, but it was at that exact moment that Ezekiel sensed something beyond the trees. In the silence of the dark woods, without the tinkle and snap of dead pine beneath their feet and only the sniffing of his brother to distract him.....Ezekiel heard something out there breathing.
“Hey....Nate....” Ezekiel began speaking a little louder, but he was soon disturbed once more.
“No! No!” Mantilo suddenly shouted or roared in the fields on the other side of the tress. ” Everyone Listen to me! Don’t touch the bodies!” Ezekiel’s eyes shot to his outlined figure, nearly indiscernible out beyond the trees in the darkness.
“Don’t touch the bodies!” Mantilo shouted again.
He was staggering backward from the carcass that he had been examining. Ezekiel didn’t know why and he couldn’t see his father’s face clearly but his dads voice was filled with such a heavy edge of horror and disbelief that Ezekiel was instantly alarmed. He turned back, intended to rush over and shake his brother to get him to snap back to attention, but the moment Ezekiel turned his gaze back on his brother he froze in horror.
There was a shadow, hunched over in the shadows, standing like breathing darkness behind his brother, claws, long thick black claws on the tips of long gangly fingers that could have been mans or beasts held at a fatal downwards angle to his neck.
“Nate move!” Ezekiel screamed.
He rushed to protect him. Adrenaline spiked and he slammed his body over the Wolf. He tackled his brother from the left knocking him sideways and off balance. Nate shouted as he was rudely ripped out of his Wolf Sense and slammed into a tree, cracking his skull on the trunk as he stumbled across thick roots.
Ezekiel then dodged back from three flurries, that snapped that him from the dimness.
Claws that went for him zealously now that Nate was out of harm. Nate tried to get back to him side, but slipped and fell to the ground and clutched at his head in pain.
When the smell of his blood hit Ezekiel’s sense, Ezekiel could only hope that he hadn’t hurt his brother terribly, since Ezekiel knew that his dangerous blood often made him unaware of his own strength. But all he could do now was mentally apologize and continue to doge attacks that seemed to come from a hundred different directions all at once.
After a good twenty seconds of just trying to survive and protect his brother, Ezekiel finally got good footing, pinpointed the threat in the shadows and tried to charge the beast and cut it with his claws or teeth but suddenly something from a completely different side struck him in the chest hard, Ezekiel was thrown back to the side, where his upper arm slammed into the tree a few steps behind him.
A sharp jarring spike of painful agony rolled down his left arm as Ezekiel slammed into the unforgiving bark.
He wanted to ignore it, he tried to jump back, or even count how many adversaries there were, but the agony that hit him, went straight to his senses. He slipped to his knees for a few seconds and it was possible that that saved his life. Bark splintered as the beast slammed it u long claws into the spot where he had been standing nearly decapitating him.
Fuck! What the fuck is this thing?
Ezekiel hissed in his mind, letting his claws grow, his teeth Shift. He growled in aggression at the attacker or was it more then one?.
The darkness was too heavy. The moon light hidden behind clouds in the night kept him dangerously blind. Ezekiel struggled to discern the shape in the night, he had to rely on his ears to track the tall shadow, even as the pain in his shoulder grew at his every move. But the shadow didn’t move in on him, instead, it suddenly pulled back, and just like that the shadow was gone, racing off into the darkness.
Confused Ezekiel didn’t understand what had driven the aggressive creature off, until a giant Leopard tore into the forest beside him, accompanied by Lander who hissed at Nate, who was holding a bloody hand to his temple.
The Leopard, sporting a pair of dark eyes, whose scent and demeanor soon named his as Walters Leopard growled, stalked over, sniffed Nate’s head, licked Nates cheek, then chuffed and moved off into the forest at a gallop leaving them all behind.
“Walter wait. Shit! What the hell you guys! What happened?” Lander hissed
Nate climbed to his feet, blood on his chin and neck from the gash he must have sustained after Ezekiel shoved him. Ezekiel wanted to apologize, but Lander was suddenly in his face. “Dad told us to do this the smart way and you to go off alone and take on this thing by yourselves!? You’d both be in serious trouble right now if I hadn’t caught a whiff of your thoughts and known you needed help! What was that thing!?”
“I don’t know what it was....but something came after us.....Ezekiel nearly had to break my neck to get me away from it!” Nate dropped his hands, grimaced in displeasure at his own bloody fingers, then rose his hand to his mouth and licked it. His normal smirk replaced with a frown as he wiped more blood off is cheek, licked it off his palm, and then spit it into the darkness.
“Jezz I cant believe I was so stupid! I’m sorry about pushing you Nate.” Ezekiel said to him hoping that the cut could heal soon.
This time Nate did smile. “It’s okay. “He shrugged. “For all we know you just saved my life.”
His jovial mood made Ezekiel feel a little better.
“Still....” He reaffirmed. ” I wasn’t trying to hurt you, I was just reacting when I pushed you down. That thing got the drop in us. Somehow it snuck in and was getting ready to stab you..,” Ezekiel panted as the pain grew more pronounced in his arm and back radiating over his collarbone. He leaned back on the tree as he shifted his focus back to Lander. “You should have seen it! This thing came out of nowhere, Lander. No scent or anything! It was just on top of us before we could really do anything but try to get away from it.”
“No scent? Damn.....I hope you’re wrong about that.” Lander grumbled.
“Well anyway this thing, how many of them did you see?” Lander hissed at them both as he shook his head.
“It was only one.” Nate told him, his two toned eyed no longer glowing as the Shifter inside pulled back to lend him its healing.
Dropping his hand from the gash in his temple that wasn’t healing, but had stopped bleeding Nate bit his lip and frowned in indecision. “It was just ONE....right Ezekiel?”
Was it only one?
Ezekiel asked himself, but since he wasn’t sure that there had been more attacking him or even WHAT had attacked him, he nodded his silent agreement to Nate’s numerical assessment of the intruder.
“All right. Ezekiel? Your looking pale better give me that.” Lander hissed, and before Ezekiel had the good sense to dodge him, Lander had jerked his arm away from him and started examining it.
“Ah...Fuck, not so fast!!! My shoulders dislocated! “Ezekiel hissed at him.
Unable to pull back as his brother squeezed his shoulder and elbow, then unceremoniously dropped it to Ezekiel’s side, the youngest brother felt his core twist with intense suffering.
“I’m. Going. To .fucking. Kill. You. One. Day!” Ezekiel ground out on a snarl as the agony shot right down to his toes and up to his head. His fangs snapped as he snarled at his brother.
“OH Stop being a little bitch! Your fine...its just out of socket, not broken right!?” Lander hissed, turning on him and looking away.
“Looks like your on the sidelines for now. Dads gonna have to set that for you though, so we’ll see you later lil bro. Try to catch up. ”
Grabbing Nate by the arm and hauling him off deeper into the forest behind Walter leaving Ezekiel with his pain, a few seconds before his father appeared, along with Drin and Erin.
Ezekiel snarled resentfully at Landers back as it melted into the shape of a beast and diapered into the night chasing the fleeing attacker. Along with Nate.
But Ezekiel soon had something else to occupy his hatred as his father snatched up his arm, just as un-gently as his green eyed son and turned it one way and another searching for something.
And before Ezekiel could even take in one breathe to scream a profanity, his father gripped his wrist and elbow, and wrenched his arm, sharply up and into his shoulder. The joint snapped back into the socket.
“Come one, let’s go.” Mantilo breathed, barely giving Ezekiel time to recover his breath. Or curse him and Lander to hell.
“You got off easily. It’s good that that thing didn’t cut you at least. Cuts.....are really bad, if this beast is what I think it is.”
Mantilo growled looking far too troubled for Ezekiels liking. He glanced at the darkness growled and looked at Erin, Drin and Ezekiel.
“What I think it is?” Ezekiel echoed his father. He glanced at him, as he massaged the tender joint that he could feel settling back into place. “What do YOU think it is...?” he asked him.
But his father was past the point of hearing.
“Ezekiel, what are you waiting for! The joint will heal soon enough. Let’s go.” His father hissed at his niece and her mate next. “Go back! It’s too dangerous. For now Erin, return to the Clan Head Estate with Drin. Tell Glen that we will be back soon.”
Then without another word, or asking if anyone had any objections or even caring to see if Ezekiel would follow him, Mantilo sprinted after the other Guardians on the chase.
“What the heck is going on Ezekiel?” Drin questioned him in the still seconds that reined after Mantilo ran off.
“What they hell was that thing we glimpsed moving in the trees, it looked so wrong and misshaped.” Drin shook his head as the words escaped him after that.
Ezekiel hissed, much as his father had. Remembering the strength of the blow that had landed on him in the darkness, or the nearly sickle like claws that had hung over his brothers unsuspecting head. His inner beast felt frustrated and angry, but also cautious.
“I don’t know what this thing is, and Dad seems to be a little bit frazzled about it.......but I do know one thing. We need to kill it, before it kills something bigger than a moose.” And that was the only answer that Ezekiel could leave Drin with as he pushed off the tree and raced to his sibling’s side