A Continuing Haibun Cycle
The ox had died quickly. Its remains were still held by the bridle strap on the other side of the overturned wagon. One hoof stood upward like a sundial. It was beginning to stink, and the flies had come, even in the cool of the evening. The people had suffered fear and tried to run away, but had been likewise killed.
The killer knelt next to a well-preserved track. She measured it with the span of her knuckles. Four spans of her hand wide, six long from the middle claw-tip and the bracing claw behind. The track was easily a palm-width deep.
"You're old and huge, aren't you?" she asked of the two-days-gone Dolgur. "What are you doing on the road?"
Dolgurs, from what she knew, were not migratory like other dragons. They tended to find a remote territory and stay put unless another creature pushed them out. A dolgur this size would not need to worry about such things. Even a whole pride of spotted lions would give it a wide berth. Humans didn't encounter them unless they were pushing into new territory, or the Dolgur was an adolescent looking for its place in the world.
She sat back on her heels and thought about it. The Dolgur was attacking prey and only eating a small part of the kill before moving on. It was strange. Other animals had come and had their fill, while still leaving food aplenty to rot on the bone. She didn't see the sense in it. It lacked the faultless logic of animals.
A scraping noise, then a low animal call arose from the woods beside the road. The killer waited, listening. The sound of strong jaws came to her, the sound of flesh tearing. It was more than one creature, she decided. Not big, but powerful, by the sound. She didn't recognize the snorting little interrogatives that passed between the scavengers.
She stood without a sound, easing her Ka'Javiila in its belt loop, then checked her three throwing daggers. Across her back sat a scimitar that would part sailcloth like silk. She had just oiled it that morning, and it would come free of the scabbard with a flick of her wrist.
"I am of the Ghost Society, sending souls upon that road that I must one day walk. Gods of the earth and the dark hereafter, I am your instrument if you wish it. I am a decider of fates, I am a killer, I am human."
She walked to the edge of the wood and moved inward without hesitation. The brush had been trampled down and broken by the Dolgur's passing, making it easy to track the progress. The trampled flora made it hard to move without snapping twigs, though. She slowed. Her quiet was animal quiet, her steps falling with practiced grace.
A little girl's dress, stained with blood, hung in a thorny bush. The fabric was torn, not cut. The garment had parted under pure strength, not sharp claws. A bloody drag-trail moved deeper into the wood. The snorting of feeding animals grew louder as the killer walked. Her hand touched the throwing daggers that hung against her belly. It wasn't wolves. She would have recognized their yips and growls. Not lions either. It was far too quiet. She came around the bole of a large evergreen, wondering what she'd see.
There were three of them, each the size of a large dog. Their blunt snouts were coated with human blood. The little girl's remains were virtually gone--the tenderest bits go first--but another body offered a few meals still. The killer allowed herself to look at the torn body, allowed herself to feel this death, and added it to her understanding of the world.
They turned to look at her, their eyes sharp but unconcerned. Those eyes that would look tiny and myopic in a full sized dolgur looked large and expressive in these small pups. Their hide was already heavy, though they sported stripes of dull green across their flanks. These stripes would fade away to a dull, mottled brown as they grew. They were heavy-legged, with outsized claws that would probably make it impossible for them to do more than trot. Each one weighed as much as she, wielding twice her strength at least. They examined her for a moment, but didn't show any urge to attack or chase her away. They were young, well fed, and ignorant of danger.
Two of them went back to eating the dead the other dolgur had left. The killer nodded. These were the pups of the big dolgur, her babies. She was moving them to new lands. The bloody swath served to ensure their food supply as they went, and it would mark a route if they ever needed to return to her home ground.
One of the dolgur pups, a little larger than the other two, approached her. It stopped a few feet away, sniffing. Up close, she could see the big bunches of muscle on the sides of its blunt head. It could sever an arm, even at this size. After sniffing for a moment, the dolgur lay down before her, putting its chin on the ground and watching her like a hunting hound.
"This will change things," she said. The nearby dolgur pup picked its head up. "Erk," it answered, sounding like an owl with a sore throat.
When they were finished with their feed, the three dolgurs lay down near each other and slipped off to sleep. The killer went back to her camel and mounted. She'd have to ride into the dark part of the night. The camel looked back at her with a baleful eye, bellowing out one of his characteristic complaints.
"I know." She urged him onward and into a trot. The evening was clouding over. She'd be soaked before long.
This trail of the dead
this massacre of still flesh
what purpose is served
Winter of one life
brings on the spring of the next
life's eternal trade
The monster's children
the milk of her teat so red
their fearsome birthright
and a long night's ride ahead
beneath weeping clouds
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