Part 1

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The body lay in a pool of blood, its sticky, bittersweet smell piercing his nostrils.

“Poor Derrynt.” Leaning against one of the many trees enclosing the tragic scenery, a stocky man next to him shook his head dejectedly. “Look how that beast left him.” Evidently mangled by a predator, judging by the visible traces all over the chewed flesh, ripped skin and torn muscles were strewn around like a naughty child’s forgotten toys. “It’s disgusting! And I don’t know how you can stand to look at it so closely, Kendryck.” The man’s gaze veiled in aversion.

“Just checking for clues, Skivet.” For one thing, the victim was young, hence a better prey for any carnivore looking for an easy kill. “For any kind of evidence.” Kendryck narrowed his gaze on the death scene, annoyed with the man’s useless chatter and with the scarce light that didn’t allow a thorough examination. “Anything, actually.” Bending on his knees, he canvassed the ground around the body, detecting bloody paw prints leaving the scene. “Which can help us identify the predator.” Not that he needed to confirm what his guts had already told him.

“Ha! You mean it’s possible to track down the beast simply by the…” Another man of slimmer built gestured revolted at the mess on the ground. “The tooth marks on our teammate?”

“Absolutely, Bryce, and if you want to know, it’s the same predator.”

“The same that struck Calhoun?” As though realizing he had a job to do, Skivet crouched on his heels, finally daring to observe Derrynt’s remains.

“And Frydan, too.” Yep, the third killing in just over a month, and so much for the Chief’s team effort!

“The Chief isn’t gonna be happy about it.” Since when had Bryce started reading his mind? “He turned to us when the first bloodshed started, then became desperate with Calhoun’s death.” A grim snarl curved his thin lips. “Remember what he told us?”

“Hard to forget his speech about efficient team work defeating these killers.” At Skivet’s words, Kendryck remembered the Chief glaring at them, an assorted group of makeshift hunters with the exception of himself. “And how our common efforts would catch them in the end.”

“Lucky for us it’s just one.” ‘Cause you could’ve never handled anything more. Not to belittle the Chief’s efforts at assembling a patrol group, but it was far from getting any positive results.

“How can you tell?” A flash of curiosity lit Bryce’s eyes.

“‘Cause each predator leaves a unique signature.” One I’ve learned to decipher. “See these lacerations?” He indicated the large gashes at the base of the neck and on the chest. “That’s the signature I’m talking about.” And he had seen far too many similar corpses to be wrong about the solitary perpetrator that had snuck up behind the young man and brought a swift death. An avoidable one, if only the man had been trained, which unfortunately he hadn’t.

“No, Kendryck, it can’t be the same that has been slaughtering cows, horses and sheep for the last two months.” Obviously having concluded his perusal, Skivet straightened up.

“It is.” Unwilling to pick a fight, still bent on making his point, Kendryck kept his tone even. “Trust me.” Point of fact—of the whole damn team, Kendryck was the only one with field experience. “And after consuming your precious resources, it’s now acquired a taste for human flesh, which is only going to make it more vicious.”

“Yeah, right. That’s why we’re on its tracks.” The meek note told Kendryck something in his words must have hit Skivet deep inside. “Our village can’t take it anymore.”

“Doesn’t even seem to be the same place I grew up in.” Bryce nodded in agreement, a concerned expression clouding his dark eyes. “Everybody’s so afraid now. They hardly leave their homes, and the animals we used to leave free are now chained down, kept inside locked stables.” He shook his head probably at the grim picture he was painting. “I don’t know if you can understand me, Kendryck, being that you’re not a native and just recently moved in.”

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