Chapter 39 - Horse Killer
Mantilo caught sight of the house in the distance sometime later.
After jogging in the night beside his sons, chasing shadows and in hailing the putrid scent of dead moose flesh for hours he was glad to be within steps of his bed. His legs and arms burned from the multitude of bite he had sustained, now that he had visited the mosses graveyard three times in the last few hours and in the back of his head he still felt the rage burning. A rage that had come over him and refused to die, when he realized that his sons were under attack, that two of them were hurt.
He controlled it, but the drying blood on Nate’s face, and the obvious way that his youngest son was favoring his uninjured shoulder ate at Mantilo.
He should have sensed the unique threat sooner. Put the pieces together faster. And even now, when he didn’t completely believe what his gut was telling him about the moose killer, he believed that he should have done more to protect his family.
The fringes of exhaustion crept in as his eyes took in the mansions warm lights and the scent of sweet water and pine lacing the winds, cleared out his assaulted throat and nose, of the putrid smells of decay and death. But even more then the bug bites and fatigue of nearly three sleepless days, Mantilo felt the weight of his own worry weighing him down.
He didn’t want to think that he was somehow right. That his suspicions were somehow founded. There was only one thing that he knew about that smeared black fluid on its kills. One thing that he prayed he was wrong about, since he hadn’t ran into one of the beasts from his memory, in nearly sixty five long years.
Mantilo wanted to shake the thoughts away so he focused on the movement of his feet across the land and the rush of cool air in and out of his lungs. And he focused on his boys they rushed home beneath the moon light that ducked in and out of the clouds over head. He could sense the fatigue on his sons as well as the blue eyes of his youngest son. Every so often he caught Ezekiel watching him, or catching his breath to say something, but then he would subside and fall back into a silent thoughtful march beside his siblings.
Only to find Glen on the porch. A small porcelain cup in her hands as she stared out in to moonlight fields from the top step. And suddenly something more important than the tension bunched under his shoulders, the bed that was calling his name and the beast attacking their local livestock dawned on him.
His Mate looked like she wanted to talk.
Instantly he guessed what was coming next. He just knew, in his gut, that she wanted to talk to him about their current problem. The glaring pink elephant in the room that was shacking in their bed on the second floor of their home. A problem that he was soon going to erase in the morning.
Ezekiel and Glen, both wanting to talk to him. Both wanting to fight with him over a stranger. Mantilo understood that they were the same. In the way that their hearts ruled their minds.
But Glen totally blindsided him with the first thing she said.
“There’s been another attack.” Glen called out to them as they shuffled closer to the front door and the light.
“What...” Mantilo hissed coming further into the light and seeing the soft glow of apprehension in his Mates green eyes. “What’s wrong Glen?”
Glen shook her head. “Well.....it was a distress call so I think something bad may have happened to them.”
Before he could open his mouth to ask her anything else, the front door swung open behind her and out came Erin and Drin.
Their young faces also filled with apprehension brightened as they noticed him and their cousins standing outside.
“Mantilo....” Drin rumbled slightly. His blue eyes going right to Mantilo’s form standing in the night. “We just got the message, we were waiting on you to return.”
“The distress call came from the Martians Clan out on the farm.”
Drin continued to report, holding his Mates lager hand as they stood in the warm light pouring out of the open doorway
“It looks like they found some dead...” Glen began to explain, in a worried tone that made him think the worst.
“Someone’s been killed! Was it one of the Martian’s?” Mantilo demanded walking closer to the pouch and cutting her off as the idea that one of the Shifters under his care had been harmed.
“No! No one’s been killed Uncle.” Erin quickly interrupted in a soft voice. “They simply are requesting that you come out. From the message it seems something was killed on the farm...but it wasn’t any of the Shifters that lived there.”
Mantilo nodded. Catching himself as the worry subsided. “We’ll all go and investigate. Join us. We’re going to go and pay the Famers a visit.”
Without a word, Drin pulled on Erin hand and her tall legs carried her down the steps as though she were floating. Drin followed close on her tail, hovering as all first time fathers somehow managed to do as she walked out to stand close to Nate and Ezekiel.
“Wait....” Glen called to him as he tried to marshal the Guardians beneath him to move out. “Mantilo we’ve got to talk.” Glen began in a tone that brooked no argument.
Mantilo stopped and sighed. He had known it was coming.
“I am needed elsewhere.....” He told her stiffly. Ignoring the soft glare that she sent at him, her big green eyes sparking with a stubborn tilt of her head. “I don’t have time to talk about this right now..”
She laughed as though he had said something comical. “Well, when do you want to talk about it exactly?”
“Well talk about it....when it’s appropriate Glen.” Mantilo began, getting slightly piqued as Glen continued to talk at him.
“OH!” Glen scoffed, folding her slim arms. A gesture that spelled doom, even though she was so small that it did nothing to make her more intimidating. “You mean when there’s no more time to argue the point and your practically dragging IT out the front door!? No....were going to talk about this right now.”
“What IT are they referring to?” Drin questioned them both from the sidelines, cutting into a battlefield that Mantilo knew he wanted no parts of.
“It’s nothing Drin! Let’s go Guardians, move out!” Mantilo tried to hiss at him and his sons, hoping to duck out of the argument gracefully, but Glen gasped in anger cutting him off.
“No, it’s not nothing! It’s a human Being Mantilo! A mortal life that were just holding in our hands like it’s some kind of toy!” Glen ranted at him in her soft strong voice that carried on the suddenly still air. “We can’t keep skipping about the issue, especially since you are being so gosh darn pig headed about him!”
Mantilo wanted to hiss at her in outrage. The last thing he wanted was for news to get around. The Clans men would defiantly be a little disturbed when the news about the moose got around and one the Clan found out about the mortal sneaking in....the questions would only keep coming.
But already the damage had been done.
“What are you talking about?” Drin suddenly butted in, to the detriment of Mantilo’s fraying nerves “What mortal? Where?”
“Wait....There’s a mortal here!?” Erin asked them all, with an edge of excitement to her voice that only seemed to aggravate Mantilo more. “Let me see! Oh Please aunt Glen! I’ve never meet one before!!”
“No!” Mantilo snarled striding up to his wife.
But Glen was neither intimidated by his size nor the glow in his gaze. He secretly prayed to god that no other man on earth figured out how to dismiss him like she could.....her complete lack of fear when it came to him was something that often warmed his heart, because he remembered how hard he had had to work once upon a time to get her to trust him so completely, but at that moment it was nearly enough to make him want to kiss her into submission ...or silence.
“Yes there is a mortal here Erin! And You should definitely meet him! Why not? This is an exciting time for all of us! Isn’t it just wonderful?” Glen exclaimed back at her niece with forced cheer in her voice that she seemed to know would aggravate her Mate.
Mantilo leaned closer to Glen.
“Glen...go in the house.” He commanded evenly. “Well discuss this later....I’m going to the Martians Farm, before first light.” He tried not to growl at her. If there was one thing that Mantilo had eventually learned that didn’t work on his Mate, it was growling and snarling at her....No matter how badly he wanted to at times.
But it also seemed that his even tone with her at that moment didn’t do anything to persuade her to leave him in peace.
She rolled her big beautiful eyes at him, and wrapped her arms across her chest. A stubborn tilt one her hips and head as she glared back at him. “First.....were going to talk.”
“Glen! My position and my responsibilities to this Clan come before anything we have to discuss concerning that outsider!” Mantilo growled at her. He wouldn’t give on this. He never would. He had to leave and answer the call.
Somehow seeing the reason in that argument through her heavy stubbornness Glen stomped a small foot as she realized that she couldn’t argue against his words.
“Just....can I talk to you for a minute!? You know its important!” Glen hissed in frustration. The combined sense of urgency that Mantilo felt to deal with the new threat to his lands, plus the building aggravation with the mortal whose presence in his house was wholly unwanted, was enough to tip Mantilo over the edge.
And Suddenly Ezekiel was speaking at him. Seemingly having found the words that he couldn’t utter on the run to the house. At the worst possible moment Ezekiels voice came in over his shoulder.
“Dad listen, she...” he began thinking to overstep once more, but Mantilo had seriously lost all patience with him.
“No!! You will be silent.” Mantilo barked so heavily that everyone around him jumped. “This conversation has no room for you Ezekiel, so watch your words!!!” Mantilo growled at his son, glaring back at the blue flames in his eyes that stared back at Mantilo. Ezekiel glanced away quickly.
Then Mantilo hissed and looked at Glen. “Later tonight we will speak about....everything.” He told her in a tone marginally less forceful. “But for now I want to make these final rounds and wrestle with a few unanswered questions of my own. Our talk on the mortal WILL wait, my Heart.”
Glen huffed, then nodded as the boys and their cousins began to move away into the night on heavy feet. “Okay....Tonight well talk.” Glen agreed. “I’ll be waiting up for you.”
“I’m sure you will.” Mantilo said. He rolled his eyes to the sky as reached up and rubbed at his neck and shoulders appearing to rub away some kind of soreness. He was clearly aggravated, but when he turned to Glen he gave Ezekiel’s mother a soft prolonged hug and a kiss that conveyed his hidden concern for her welfare.
“Woman...youre looking paler than usual.” He whispered to her as he moved back. “Why don’t you try to get some rest?” He asked her softly. “You’ve got to be exhausted after nursing the mortal back to life twice now. I’ll be back before dawn. Promise.”
Glen smiled at him, her understanding, and nodded again. Then she watched Mantilo and the rest of her family march out to meet the Martian’s halfway across the Clans Lands.
The Martins, a Clan of the finest equine breeders in all their Clans Lands, was a terribly small family comprised of one Leopardess, her Husband and their slim, but diligent son.
Mantilo and his small entourage of Guardians met with the ranchers, looked at the damage wrought as it was apparent that something big had torn through a side of the farmers fence and slaughtered five horses.
Mantilo sent Ezekiel, Nate, and Lander out into the surrounding area beyond and behind the expansive ranch to search for signs that their elusive prey was still hiding close by. Then he sent Erin and Drin into the Martians home so that they could gather information from the rest of the family members. While Mantilo took his eldest son and Mr. Martian with him to examine the horse’s remains.
But in that regard Mantilo quickly realized that there wasn’t anything to inspect. The horse carcasses were barely recognizable. Muzzles, throats and hind-quarters were sliced up in an almost angry fashion, organs and vital parts spread about the hay within the decimated fences that laid near the fringes of the Clans pine forests.
It was easy for the three Shifters to notice the black fluids dripping off of the chewed off limbs, fears and severed heads.
Still struggling to identify the monster at work, but knowing definitively that the black fluid was a bad thing, Mantilo left the father Martian with express directions to let his son’s burn the horse remains while wearing the Farmers Horse Shoe making gloves from the forge, then he advised the man to let his sons burn the gloves as well.
Once Mr. Martian had moved away grumbling beneath his breath about how expensive replacing the fences and the gloves would be Mantilo glanced at his silent nearly immobile son as he continued to survey the carcasses’.
Time pressed in on him. Mantilo certainly didn’t want to return home and speak with Glen about the Mortal, but he also didn’t want to completely ignore her either. Mantilo knew that he could trust Walter to do as he commanded and to keep the rest of the boys in check and out of danger. He was Mantilo’s eldest son for one, but secondly he was the next in like to take over after Mantilo steeped down. Walter was his Clans Heir. In a Shifters Clan the Clan head was the present, a staple of power and protection for his people, but the Clan Heir was the future. Mantilo stood on the opposite side of the dead horses and caught his son’s calm, nearly dead brown eyes with his own.
Almost as though he had read Mantilo’s thoughts his eldest son looked up at the moon in the sky and shook his head. “You’re running late....” He rumbled his baritone traveling easily across the still night, where not even the crickets called. The hair cut short to the sides of his head and long at the top, called all of Mantilo’s attention to the minute changes in his expressions that a less observant person may have missed.
“You should return home and get some sleep.” Walter rumbled softly, his height and weight nearly identical to Mantilo’s. Their yellow eyes connecting across the bead horses as they talked. But where Mantilo knew that his gaze was conveying both exhaustion and worry....Walters eyes held zero expression. Whatever Mantilo could decipher flickering in the depth of his sons eyes was merely a ghost of something that could have been happiness or frustration.
“Are you sure you can handle everything else?” Mantilo asked him. “What if there is another attack?”
Walter shrugged at him. “You know there won’t be...This beast has hunted, killed then hunted and killed all over again in very close intervals. Not to mention running away from us....it should be curling up in a hole somewhere for the next few days to digest or at least recoup its energy.”
“But...” Mantilo began still not comfortable leaving his sons with the rest of the work. And even though Walters thinking was along the same lines as his own....Mantilo still hesitated to retire. He wasn’t surprised by how close in thinking his son was to him. Walter was the first of his sons that he had taken under his wing after all. And the one destined to eventually take over as the Clan Head in the future.
This time Walter hissed, a dry dead hiss that conveyed little in the way of emotion, but still got his point across.
“Dad, whatever else happens we can handle it for the night.” He strongly laid out, then his eyes traveled out towards the forest where his youngest brothers Nate and Ezekiel had just disappeared into to search for clues, then he looked back at Mantilo. If such a thing were possible Mantilo would have sworn that he saw the hint of a smirk on his face. “Besides this time alone together will be good for you and mother....It will also give you and mom time to discuss the....uninvited guest in the house without any outside interruptions of the blue eyed variety.”
“Ah....but your mother and I have nothing to discuss on that matter.” Mantilo hissed in a sharp tone. “The mortal is leaving. Period.”
“Humph, go home and rest Dad. Ive got a feeling that you’re going to have a long night.” Walter softly pushed although to Mantilo it seemed like he wanted to laugh at Mantilo for thinking that any talk with his mother would end so cleanly. Though his face remained mostly unchanged.
“Yeah...all right Walter. Just make sure that the rest of the Guardians pull in their round before they come in for the night. I know that we're all tired, but a few hours of extra work will not kill them.” Mantilo began.
Then he glanced up at the Martians house realizing that Erin and Drin would still be inside with the rest of the Martians Clan gathering information. “And send Erin home as soon as possible. She needs a break and to eat as well.”
Walter simply nodded at him. And as Mantilo stood on the other side of the horse carcasses and looking into his son’s dull brown gaze he was saddened to realize once more that he was getting nothing back from him.
Mantilo would never say it, but he often feared that though his eldest son was surely strong, and courageous enough to one day lead their Clans Men, Mantilo knew that Walters painful past stunted him emotionally. He was a ball of emptiness most times, a shallow pool that reflected nothing back by choice. It often went to a dangerous level of numbness that none of his family members could quite handle though none of them loved him any less for his behavior.
But Mantilo quickly realized that this was a pathway that his thoughts shouldn’t have been traveling on such a colossal night.
Mantilo nodded his head, patted his son on the back and made his way back to the Clan Head Estate alone.
At least until he was run down by Glen for a talk.