Footsteps in his domain. A stranger in his territory. The beast rose.
locals feared this place. They spoke of a black shadow, like a wolf but
broader in face, scrawny as death. Mostly it did no harm, for it was
slow and confused, but there were nasty rumors. Sometimes it came to
itself, and then it attacked. Not to eat, or to defend, like a real
beast. The few survivors spoke of a flash of recognition, of awareness,
in its crazed eyes. Then it pounced, and victims had visions of doom and
despair that rendered them so helpless that the did not care as jaws
slashed, blood flowed, life ebbed. All feared the shadow-beast.
boys in the slums, far from its territory, had little to fear. They had
mothers to threaten them into good behavior with its image. Yet, for
Mark, the story had a strange allure. As a child he dreamed of taming
it. As a youth he dreamed of controlling it. And at last, as a man, he
went looking for it.
The beast knew the second the man set
foot among the hills. Clarity returned to his mind. He remembered, if
not who he was, then what. The man's scent was familiar. The physical
images of memory were long gone, but he knew that scent. Silent paws
made no mark on the mountain earth.
Mark knew he was being
watched. He saw and heard nothing, but he felt its presence. He felt no
fear. Boys who survived the slums learned to conquer fear.
shadow emerged from the brush. At first Mark thought it was a dog. Then
he realized it was only a man, crouched on the earth, a man in ragged
velvet that might once have been finery. The man stood, and his eyes
pierced into Mark. "Who are you?"
"Mark, leader of the Shrikes."
"A human then?"
"As far as I know."
human. I see it on you." The man straightened, brushed off his clothes,
examined the scenery. "I gave up," he muttered. "Perhaps I should have
fought on. I did not know the full cost of giving up. Well, I will not
forget it now."
He faced Mark again. "Take me to your home. I must recover. I must study. Then we will plan."
the man who had been a beast, fit well in Mark's world. He did not
challenge Mark's leadership, but as he became influential in the gang,
things changed. The men learned new techniques. They learned how to
examine an enemy and find his weakness. They learned control, and
subtly, and became the most feared gang of Grayton.
did not remain with them long. He had a land to survey. He changed his
name to Donovan and practiced his old skills. His enemies had won, and
their descendants reigned. And they did it poorly. The primitive Sprites
claimed a space in politics beside the most prestigious Muses. The
rulers were weak, pleasure-seeking, powerless. Keiran's kingdom was
split in pieces. Two of them had nobodies for rulers, unrelated to any
old ruling families. And yet they stood beside the others, and even the
old families had gone soft and weak.
He would have to fix it. The first step was to clear out these new, weak kings. He would find new leaders—from the old lines, if he could. If not, anyone he could control would do. He must put the kingdom back the way it was supposed to be.