Shattered Bonds (Jane Yellowrock #13) - Faith Hunter
He Ate Her Body While She Was Still Alive, Piece by Piece
Beast pawpawpawed, slow, across ridge of rock over creek. Silent. Good predator. Moving back paw into front paw track, paw prints overlapping in fresh layer of snow. Beast lifted snout and sniffed, breath in two white clouds in icy air. Wind blew own scent back, along path. Wind filled nose with musk of three male deer, upwind. Bucks did not see or smell Beast. Beast is best hunter.
Biggest buck raised head. Sniffing. Pawing dirt. Eyes on tree bark where Beast had left mark before last pregnant moon. Where Beast had sharpened claws to mark territory. Old spoor. Beast had hunted along creek then. Was best hunter’s old spoor still strong with threat? Had Beast made stupid kit mistake?
No. Beast is good hunter. Want big deer. Has much meat. Will have good blood and good organs and good belly fat. Beast hungers. Big buck is strong and healthy.
Pawed closer. Crouched. Eyes on other creek bank and deer below. Watching.
Snow covered ground, deep as Beast paw. Wet rocks were black, sharp as knife blade in hands of human hunter. Sunlight was low, angled. Reflection in pool of water below did not show Beast. Did not show deer. Was good hunting spot. Water splashed from small falls, crisp, like breaking sticks. Would cover Beast sounds.
Smaller male in male deer herd finished drinking. Leaped up bank to flat ground beneath Beast’s perch. Beast waited. Finally, big deer dropped head. And drank.
Beast tightened crouch, pulling all body onto paws, shoulders high. Leaped. Shoved off with back legs. Stretched out front legs. Claws extending. Falling. Thick tail rotated for balance. Scent of buck rushed up. Heavy. Pungent.
Deer flinched. Hooves left ground. Buck leaped high. Away from other deer. Beast snarled. Not expecting jump. Whipped tail, swiveling body. Reaching.
Buck splashed into deep water. Beast missed.
Buck leaped again. Splashed hard. Hooves driving up far bank. White tail held high.
Landed half in water.
Front paws missed rock just under surface.
Paws, legs, shoulders, head, slapped into water. And under it. Nose flaps closed, but not before water went up nose.
Front feet hit bottom, back feet hit bank.
Wrenched body back. Rear paws and claws dug deep into half-frozen muddy bank. Body twisted. Out of water. Blew water out of nose in loud snort. Spat and shook. Loose coat slid around muscular body. Flinging water droplets into snow. Blowing.
Beast whirled, searching for two smaller deer. They had vanished. Beast snarled at world. Screamed. Big deer must have heard or smelled Beast.
I hunger! Screamed again, sound echoing in hills. Chuffed in anger. Pounced up and down, paws sinking into half-frozen mud.
Deer did not come back. Prey was smart.
Shook again. Water had not penetrated into deep coat. Had not washed into paw pads. Beast would not freeze.
Pulled in air over tongue and over scent sacs in roof of mouth. What Jane called flehmen response, but Beast called scenting. Stopped. Held muzzle into air and smelled again. Caught stink of cat on air. Sucked in air again, hard and long, showing fangs, smelling with nose and part of brain that Beast had stolen from ugly dog, good nose, what Jane called bloodhound.
Smelled cat. Was male. Did not smell like lynx or bobcat. Was not small feral cat humans used as mousers. Was different. Was . . . bigger. Scent was old and no tracks showed in snow. But cat had been on Beast’s territory. Back feet landing in prints of front feet, Beast stalked scent. Followed old cat smell many short steps, body in crouch, to tree on edge of hunting territory. Male cat had left spoor near tree. Old scat. Male cat was healthy. Strong. Bigger than lynx. Beast sucked in scent through nose and mouth. Cat was not lion from Africa. Cat was not leopard. Not puma. Was not werecat. Beast knew those smells. Did not know this cat. Beast pawed scat and saw bones of rabbit in scat. But. Cat was gone.
Beast clawed tree, shredding bark. Clawed and clawed, marking territory. This is Beast territory. This is Beast hunting ground. Snarled again. Shook more water out of pelt. Left spoor at ground under tree, on top of male cat scat. This said, Beast place. All who hunted here would know it was Beast place. Went back to pool of water and drank. Beast water. And when Beast sees deer again, Beast deer. Beast food.
Beast screamed, mountain lion cry bouncing up hills like human ball on walls. Beast shook, flinging more water,