Chengral lowered his weight upon his heels and closed his eyes. He cleared his mind from all distraction and thought. Willing his heart to a slow rhythm, his breath evened out to match the flow in his veins. The forest sounds hushed all around him, as if aware of his meditative state. He listened to every whit of the nocturne’s symphony—one by one, the notes dismembered.
Which resonant chord would reveal the pathway of his mark? Which—
Chengral opened his eyes, deciphering a cleft in the harmony of the night.
He turned over his shoulder, his nostrils flaring wide as he inhaled the faint scent of his preys’ warmth. They were not too far. He listened to the silent passageway the insects had painted from their fleeing a day ago. He rose to his feet, chin down, heart growling.
Blood. He could hear the sounds of their roaring Letys blood . . .
Every particle of his being sprang to life and he flung himself into a full gallop. The thought of the hunt ignited his craving. He tied his cape around his waist, his wings spreading wide either side of his body. With one mighty leap, he sailed through the dark, his fists splitting the wind in two.
Unused to flying, Chengral would mull over this amazing feat a different time. The drive to hunt down his quarry burned deep in his skull. Their bonfire, like a lone beacon in a sea of void, drifted far below. His rage kindled.
“As to your bidding I go, my queen.” Desire twisted in his loins with the thought of Tanchaa’s promise.
The Letys would be no more after this hour. They would regret their barbarous deeds of devouring their young and slaying their old. They would taste the suffering his people endured when they sneered the chesdin way. They would lament the moment they dared to settle alongside the inhabitants of this world. A soft hollow melody from a crude whistle reached him, their restless animals barked and howled.
Anger. Hatred. Disgust.
The voices of his emotions tore through him with one mighty roar. Chengral heard their panicked silence. He smelled their fear. He felt their souls. He tasted their blood. They were aware of his incursion. One more sniff and he knew without a doubt. They were Letys. A rush of fiery anticipation lit his veins.
He saw their terror.
With feral vigor, Chengral retrieved his sword and dagger mid-flight. He descended upon the fire’s glow—the impact plunging them into immediate gloom. Six. He could hear every one of them. They screamed, jumped to their feet, eyes wild. Their bodies trembling and thrashing and falling. Fear had them in its grip.
Chengral snarled and lifted high his powerful sword. He slashed through the air with the pure voice of metal. A wet gurgle. Then silence. He swung around, promptly locating the others as they raced into the darkness.
Dangerous. Cannibals. Heathens. All deserving of chesdin justice.
“For Tanchaa! For Choldra!” Chengral howled. He sprung upward with one mighty thrust of his wings and landed in their pathway, his impressive wingspan barring the trail. The whites of their eyes shown, their teeth flashed, their arrows pointed.
But Chengral was faster. His blade slashed and forever stilled the movement of three with one unexpected sweep of his arm.
He sneered. Cowards. All of them. They had forgotten the chesdin path. The Choldra way of life. Truly Tanchaa stood correct. They were merely animals and nothing more, having mated with the denizens of this world. His fathers long forgotten—paling their veins to nothing more than water.
A shriek split the night followed by sharp stab.
Chengral cried out and whirled around with a quick release of his dagger. It sang through the air. Clear. Fast. True. The Letys stared powerlessly at it and dropped its crossbow, its eyes wide with a muted scream. A thud. Chengral marched onward and retrieved his dagger. He wiped away the filth on the creature’s leg.
He remembered the arrow in his shoulder and wrenched it from his searing flesh with a cry. Hot blood oozed down his back. He growled and searched for his last victim.
It fled on a beast of four legs.
Chengral laughed. Would the Letys creature be foolish enough to lead him back to its nest? To where he could finish off their wretched existence? He decided at once a hunt without mystery would spoil his pleasure. Let it be done with now. Soon enough he would find joy in ridding the burrow of its paltry creatures.
He vaulted into the heavens—his billowing wings captured the wind and drove him through the black sky. The Letys mount blared, the beating of its hooves quickening. Chengral readied his blades, holding them out at his sides, his eye fixed on the traitor’s form below. He threw the dagger. A sharp whistle. A thump. A shriek. And still, it clung for its life to the mount.
With a smile, Chengral quickened his pace, easily gliding past the horrified Letys. He followed pace, basking in its terror as it sent many glances his way. He could hear its breath. Hard and grating in its body. He could smell its terror. Hot and blind in its thoughts. He could taste its blood. Fast and wild in its veins.
A swift flight of sound split through his hair and Chengral knew. The Letys attacked with its arrow. Time to end this child’s play. Coiling quickly in the sky, he kicked the weapon away from its grasp. Its cry music to Chengral’s delight. He arched and circled back, his claws hooking and lifting the creature into the blackness. Higher and higher.
It kicked and squealed and howled. And still higher Chengral rose.
“For the young you have slain!” he bellowed, releasing the Letys into the living night. A yowl. Then silence. Silence but for the furious pounding of Chengral’s heart. His breath hard in his lungs. His body tight.
And still he rose, his talons clawing the moon. His body taut and sultry with Letys blood.
Chengral gazed into the shadows below. With an aerial somersault, he found it. The Letys mount. Foam in the mouth and rearing with piercing shrieks at his nearness. His dagger jutted from its back. He swooped down and pulled it out. The beast wailed.
With his free hand came down his sword.