Blood Trail - By Tanya Huff

Chapter One
The three-quarter moon, hanging low in the night sky, turned even tamed and placid farmland into a mysterious landscape of silver light and shadows. Each blade of grass, toasted golden brown by two months of summer heat, had a thin black replica stretching out behind it. The bushes along the fence bottom, highways for those too timid to brave the open fields, rustled once and then were silent as some nocturnal creature went about its business.

Their summer-shorn fleece turned milky white by the moonlight, a large flock of sheep had settled for the night in one corner of the meadow. Except for the rhythmic motion of a number of jaws and the occasional flick of an ear or twitch of a lamb unable to be still for long, even in sleep, they appeared to be an outcropping of pale stone. An outcropping come suddenly to life as several heads rose at once, aristocratic noses pointed into the breeze.

They were obviously familiar with the creature that bounded over the fence and into the meadow, for although the ewes remained alert they watched it approach with mild curiosity rather than alarm.

The huge black beast paused to mark a fence post, then trotted a few steps into the field and sat down, gazing back at the sheep with a proprietary air. Something in its general outline, in the shape of its head, said wolf just as its coloring, its size, its breadth of chest, and the reaction of the flock said dog.

Convinced that all was as it should be, it began to lope along the edge of the fence bottom, plumed tail streaming behind it like a banner, moon-silvered highlights rippling through its thick fur with every movement. Picking up speed, it leapt a thistle - more for the sheer joy of leaping than because the thistle was in its way - and cut diagonally across the lower end of the pasture.

With no more warning than a distant cough, the gleaming black head exploded in a shower of blood and bone. The body, lifted off its feet by the impact, spasmed for a frenzied moment and then lay still.

Bleating in terror at the sudden blood scent, the sheep panicked, racing to the far end of the field and pressing in a huddled noisy mass against the fence. Fortunately, the direction they'd taken had moved them upwind, not down. When nothing further happened, they began to calm and a few of the older ewes moved themselves and their lambs out of the crowding and began to settle once again.

It was doubtful that the three animals who leapt the fence a short time later even noticed the sheep. Huge paws seeming to barely touch ground, they raced to the body. One of them, russet hackles high, started back along the slain animal's trail but a growl from the bigger of the two remaining called it back.

Three pointed muzzles lifted and the howl that lifted with them panicked the sheep yet again. As the sound rose and fell, its primal cadences wiped out any remaining resemblance the three howling might have had to dogs.

Vicki hated August. It was the month in which Toronto proved what a world class city it had become; when the heat and humidity hung on to the car exhaust and the air in the concrete and glass canyon at Yonge and Bloor took on a yellowish-brown hue that left a bitter taste in the back of the throat; when every loose screw in the city decided to take a walk on the wild side and tempers were baked short. The police, in their navy blue pants and hats and heavy boots, hated August for both personal and professional reasons. Vicki had moved quickly out of uniform, and out of the force entirely a year ago, but she still hated August. In fact, as August was now forever linked with her leaving a job she'd loved, this least congenial of months had been blackened beyond redemption.

As she unlocked the door to her apartment, she tried not to smell herself. She'd spent the day, the last three days, working as an order picker in a small coffee processing factory up on Railside Drive. In the last month the company had been plagued with a number of equipment failures that the owners had finally come to realize were sabotage. Desperate - a small specialty company couldn't afford the downtime if they hoped to complete with the multinationals - the owners had hired Vicki to find