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Somewhere in quiet corner of the world, Rigsby sat in the shadow of a small mountain range. And though it sheltered a mere three hundred residents, it was a prosperous little town. The nearby rolling green hills that fed into the mountains provided rich grounds for flocks of sheep to thrive upon, whose luxurious wool was a premium that sold well and brought in a steady income. It allowed the families of Rigsby to live comfortable lives of routine.

The day began like any other. As soon as the faint pink ribbon began to grow upon the eastern horizon, the residents of Rigsby began to stir. A few settled in the living rooms with a fresh mug of coffee, but most of the early risers grabbed a quick breakfast and headed outside to begin their day.

One of them was William Jamesonn, a lanky youth with a wild mop of blond hair, freckles, and striking green eyes. Like most of the younger generation, he aspired to be something greater than a sheep herder and unlike most, he possessed a determination and drive to do so. He had dreams of being a professional athlete and so trained himself hard for the day when he would get that golden opportunity.

Now he stepped out of his home, quietly closing the door so as not to disturb his sleeping parents. The air still carried the chill of night, fogging his breath and numbing his fingers. William rubbed his hands together, smiled to himself, and began walking briskly down the worn sidewalk. He followed it to the road, where he then crossed and found the little path that carried him around the outskirts and along the fenced pastures. By the time it looped back around to the town, it easily reached a good four miles.

William ran it every morning. Sometimes he timed himself to see if he could beat a previous record he'd set. Other times, he just went for the joy of it, taking his time and watching the sun rise over the stunning countryside. He had settled into an easy lope by the time he neared the first pasture.

Old Jim was checking on his fence, a daily ritual borne of habit rather than necessity. An old pick-up truck sat idling in the background while two grinning shepherd dogs waited eagerly in the back. The older man cracked a smile as he spotted William approaching and gave a friendly wave. "Ho there, Will! 'Nother nice day, eh?"

William slowed as he neared the other, offering his own cheerful grin. "Hey Jim, how's everything today?"

"Good as always, " Jim answered. Then he winced and put his hands behind his back, stretching old joints and tired muscles. "Take care though, Will. There's somethin' cold in the air this mornin'. Might be a storm."

Unconcerned, Will just waved. "I'll see you later, Jim." Then he picked up speed and was off down the trail.

He never came back.

Hours later, most of Rigsby's men searched for him. They combed the entire countryside for the missing youth, starting with the worn trails which Will had always liked to run. They found nothing. So they spread out into the grassy hills, the low bushes and occasional tree surrounding the mountain path. Old Jim and Jeffrey, the local sheriff, had their dogs helping, though the animals often got distracted by the scent of a rabbit or fox.

And as the day began to draw to a close, when they were about ready to give up, they finally found Will. By the setting sun's orange light, they spotted a pair of legs sticking out from beneath a large bush. They pulled him out. And he was very, very dead. But not by any means they had ever seen or heard of before in their lives.

Black had threaded through his veins, creating an ugly web of lines across deathly pale skin. Blood and vomit covered his chin, and his eyes remained wide and terrified. They too, had the black veins running through the whites. It wasn't hard to piece together how Will had died, for there was a huge hole in his guts like something had just punched right through him. There was little blood from the wound. It appeared cauterized, blackened from whatever had invaded his veins rather than heat.

The men stared in silence, trying to process what and how and why this had happened to Will. One of Jim's dogs whined and leaned against the older man's legs, tail wagging nervously. Absently, Jim scratched behind her ears with one hand. "I told him to take care," he muttered. "I told him."

The Sheriff finally crouched beside the body, reaching out to gently close the eyes. "The others don't need to see this," he said softly. "Whatever this is."

Silence came from the others. Yet it carried a kind of consensus between them. Whatever had happened to Will was entirely wrong. Disturbing. It would cause panic if it were made known.

"Wolves, then," said one of the other men. "We'll tell them wolves took him. Arlene said she'd seen one the other day near the flocks."

The Sheriff stood, brushing his hands off against his jeans. "Yeah. That'll do. Anyone got a light?"

Wordlessly, Old Jim dug a trembling hand deep into the pocket of his plaid shirt. He pulled out a lighter and passed it over. Minutes later, the men watched as flames began to eat away at Will's remains. None of them realized that as they do so, they too were being observed in turn.

A quarter mile away, two humanoid figures stood on the peak of a particularly rocky hill. Both easily topped six feet in height, their willowy bodies clad in a dark metallic armour that was centuries beyond any human technology. Both remained motionless for a long time, watching the distant flames that were mere pinpricks of orange in the fading light.

Finally, one of them dipped its head slightly and spoke softly in a melodic language. "We have failed. And now it begins."

The other said nothing, but merely turned towards his companion. He made a hand gesture and then two of them simply vanished, leaving behind only swaying grasses and the steady chirp of the crickets.

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