Flashing teeth, hungry mouths, sightless eyes, hooked claws: the only things I saw before my blood augmented the already considerable amount of red that had been supplied by the struggling sun. They came from the high grass, quiet and vicious. They might have been dogs, or even some kind of wolf, but I wasn’t sure. After they tore me apart, they withdrew and crouched down somewhere in the field, where I could detect them only by their inhuman breathing. My once astonishingly rehabilitated body was now laid wide open, as I was now only a clutter of ruined flesh that hung in gory flaps. Breath still haunted my lungs, but my strength was nearly gone.
The very tops of the grass seemed aflame with the last touches of twilight, and a calming breeze played against the savagery of the previous moment. The creatures, whatever they were, seemed to be waiting for something. After a few minutes had passed I heard footsteps coming toward me through the field. It was a calm gait, and one that possessed only two legs. I think that the approaching thing might have even paused a moment to appreciate the spectacle of my blood mixing with the dying rays of the sun. The movement of the approaching creature was light and graceful. It was a woman.
I gathered the silence of the field, inhaling it while I listened. The night began trickling into the field as the sun grew colder. My sisters began to giggle softly, like children deliberately betraying their hiding places. Large storm clouds tumbled gray and ominous through the distant sky, mumbling. I determined my target: what I took to be the leader of the pack of monstrous things, as its breathing was the deepest and most measured of the horde. But I was too eager to see what was planned for me, so I coiled what strength I had managed to recover, and waited.
“You travel like a thoughtless bird, Family Man, straight and unwavering…and wholly predictable. The train is one of the last ways to access the city. I really didn’t think you’d take such an obvious route, but she assured me that you would. I should know by now not to question her. Did you really think she wouldn’t know you were coming? Where did you think your dreams were going? After everything I’ve heard about you, you turn out to be nothing more than a simple-minded brute. You lack the cleverness of your art, monster…Well, I’m certain that you must know about us from her dreams, so it should come as no surprise to you as to what’s going to happen next. Or were you arrogant enough to believe that you would have the honor of being devoured by our mother?”
My heart was heavy when I surprised the massive beast from behind, as I had crept beneath the sound of the woman’s monologue to get to the thing. Its strength was monstrous as it tried to struggle free of my grip, but my strength was more monstrous, still. The creature’s neck snapped with such a loud crack that I half believed that lightning had struck somewhere in the field. The other creatures rose from their hiding places, surprised by the sound of their leader’s sudden death. I took a moment to look at them. They were so beautiful that I almost forgot how it was that we all came to prowl the red fields. They were like wolves from another world. Their eyes were opaque and blind, and their teeth and claws were designed to hunt prey far larger and fiercer than any earthly deer or elk. They were the size of mountain lions and the color of summer storms, and they moved with the killing grace of predator insects. My heart broke when they decided to attack me.
My father met the first beast in the air. The creature became nothing more than a shriek wrapped in blood. A second monster wished to test my balance by lunging at my knees. The sharpened tip of my father’s handle passed through the creature’s brain, continuing through its lower jaw and down into the earth. Still another beast leaped at my back. I spun around and sent my deadly forebear howling into the thing’s ribs, chopping the creature from its trajectory and sending it, bleeding and tumbling, into the distant and obscuring brambles. As I was busy at my work, I detected the nimble retreat of the woman who had spoken at me, as she had wisely determined that her pack of deadly things were not likely to outlive the dusk. The last two monsters tried to assist the woman’s escape by rearing up in front of me, attempting to frighten me backwards. My sister passed between their heads and plunged into the fleeing woman’s back. She stumbled into the limbs of a dead tree that stood just outside the point where the field met the woods. She tried desperately to steady herself using the lifeless branches, even as many of the limbs speared through her hair and poked at her flesh, but they kept snapping off in her hands as she slowly collapsed to the ground.
I wanted very badly to spare the remaining creatures, but I couldn’t let them apprise Miss Patience of anything beyond what my wayward dreams had already let slip. The beasts came at me almost passively, as if they had nothing left to fight for and wanted only to discharge their lives as quickly as possible. I made their deaths as quick and gentle as I was able. My heart was dust, and my tears felt hot against my skin, hotter even than the blood that still flowed from my many, many wounds.
The woman was still breathing, as I had intended. I moved to look upon her face. She was blind and terribly beautiful. Her eyes were a marriage of glass and spring rain, and I immediately recognized her from my dream. “To be more specific, I move like an eagle, as an eagle has nothing to fear. And you will find no critics of the eagle’s tactics among the littered bones of his former prey,” I said in an attempt to renew my passion for the shepherd’s game. I had intended to probe her for insights into the mystery of Miss Patience, but I had destroyed far too many beautiful things to summon any lingering sense of purpose. I couldn’t bear to look at her, but even as I turned away I could hear the rain falling behind her beautiful, sightless eyes. She gathered what breath I’d begrudged her, and spoke.
“I didn’t know… eagles could…cry.” The blind woman died at almost the very instant the night rose. The fledgling darkness drifted across me, washing the remains of the sun from my skin, and I sank into the darkened field, defeated.