Lethean Shroud

“My wounds look human to me. And you seem …” Rayanna’s lips pursed aside, unable to spit out a valid description of him as a normal man.

Reeve dipped his stubbled chin and arched a brow. “So, how do you reckon I seem? Odd?” Eyes riveted to her, he bared the upper half of his yellow, uneven teeth and worked the tip of his Bowie knife between his canine and bicuspid. The blade produced a stringy bit of stew meat. A few feet away from the fire, he eased the tip nearer to the¬†mouth of the fireplace. Before his knife passed the hearth’s threshold, smoke curled from the flesh and the wet scrap of meat burst into flame.

“W-what was that?” Gamey flavors clawed up her gullet. She clapped a hand over her mouth. Coughed. Swallowed back the gag-urge.

With a tilt of his head, he twisted the sizzling knife before his face. “Distant cousin, most likely. Mebbe closer in relation to you.”

He lunged with the knife. She flattened herself against the chair back. The rocker careened. Her eyes squeezed shut. Smoke and ammonia-like body odor stung her nostrils. His suffocating presence leaned over her. Hot metal flattened against her upper arm. She flashed her eyes wide as he wiped the blade across her sleeve.

“How’d you like that dinner, then?”

She froze. Mouth ajar, unable to breathe. Acrid air parched her eyes. No, she must not have tears.

With a chortle, he flipped his weapon and caught it in the same hand. “Bet you’re wondering what’d get us to hunt our kin. Ain’tcha?”

She gulped.

“We ain’t been on brotherly terms for many a year.”

“How many, exactly?” Her voice creaked. She cleared her throat. “Maybe it’s time to–”

His voice thundered. “Thousands.” Reeve settled onto the stone hearth. “And there ain’t no peace for the wicked.”

“How can you be sure who the wicked are?”

Reflections of smoke swirled in his eyes. “You figger we ought to leave room for divine judgment. Give our enemies a chance to prove themselves, or some such thing?”

She edged forward, hands clasped as if her fingers might press through to her palms. “Yes.”

“We all had a chance. To guard human life would redeem our’n.” He nodded at the flames. “But the lycan … they proved themselves all right.”

“How? W-what happened?”

“They chose selfishness.” He whipped around and stood. She recoiled as he punctuated each word with dramatic knife gestures. “To devour instead of protect. And over the ages it has grown much, much worse.”

“Then, there’s no need for a test. I’ll tell you.” Rayanna squared her shoulders and shook her head. “I couldn’t be like that. There’s no way I’m a lycan.”

He arched a wiry brow. “Really? How can you be sure you’re so righteous?” He leaned close, stew breath steaming onto her nose. “Especially when you don’t remember a thing about your life?”

 

*** TO BE CONTINUED ***

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