Chapters One, Two & Three

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“Hey, Ilenio, wait up!”

I turned. “Hello, Athrias.” I smiled at the young man coming my way, followed by a herd of sheep. “Going home early, too?”

He nodded vigorously. “After all that’s happened at the village, my father doesn’t want me to stay out late.”

“Yeah, I know.” I fumbled, whistling to my sheep to resume the path down the mountain. “It’s not like it used to be.”

“You can say that again! That…beast—or whatever you care to call it—is really making people afraid.” Angrily, my friend tossed his head back. “We’re not free to go out at nights or whenever we feel like it.”

“Well, I for one wouldn’t want to end up like those butchered corpses.” A sad smile curved my lips at the memory of the nasty pictures my nightmares tormented me with of late.

“So you’ve seen them?” Lowering his voice, he came closer, a glint of insane curiosity flashing in his eyes.

“Hem…not really.” I blushed. No one knew about those dreams, but they were getting so bad, they had simply slipped out. “Just heard someone say how terrible the bodies looked when they found them.”

“Especially since that beast takes it out on people our age.” Athrias shook his head, then took a step back as if I weren’t so interesting after all. “Have you heard about the last one?”

Not in so many words. Nauseated by his sickly gossipy tone, I tried stopping the gory image of a young body crossed by bloody slashes, one deep in the throat, another at the crotch like a giant hole instead of the usual sexual organs, without any success. “Not in any detail,” I lied eventually, ignoring the cold shivers running down my back.

He moved closer again, this time though as if wanting to make sure I wouldn’t miss a word. “I heard my father tell my uncle it was cut up so bad, the Patroniter had trouble identifying it.”

I sighed. “Oristan is as befuddled as the rest of us. And who could blame him? They tell me that poor girl—”

“No, Ilenio, it wasn’t a girl, but a boy.” He lowered his voice. “They tell me the killer had fun cutting off his cock.”

So that’s why he had a giant hole where it should’ve been! Sick to my stomach, I couldn’t reply. Then again, who needs pictures nowadays? Apparently, word got around fast in our village.

“And that was just the last thing they did to him.” Athrias grim tone sounded ominous. “My father was so disgusted he couldn’t talk about the other details, but one thing seems certain.”

The killer must be an animal for sure. There’s no other explanation. Those gashes came from nothing human, not even close to being done with a knife.

“Oristan is convinced it’s an animal.”

“Too bad he can’t seem to catch it.” Raising my gaze to glance at the last rays of the day, I felt their warmth despite the season’s turn for the cold.

“My father’s the Patroniter’s only assistant.” Athrias shrugged. “There should be more men or resources since the Seigneuros abandoned our county two years ago.”

“Right after the raptor’s massacre, right?” Of course, I remembered the last time we had seen the master of Griphonis Castle in our midst, the same time five people were slaughtered in one single night and since one of them was found on a tree, it had given rise to the common saying about a bird being responsible for the horrifying incident. And what if it’s him this time, too?

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