Cazador, Pt. 1

New story. I never did go back and finish “Assault on Anomgen Base,” but I’m actually looking forward to telling this particular new piece more than I am concluding the older tale.

Blood. Blood and time. The two were inextricably linked in Iohan’s mind, two sides of a coin that he sensed existed but could not fully name or comprehend.

Blood. Time. They flowed. They seeped. They ran their courses through and around and over human life. They defined human existence.

Time slowed down as the beast lunged towards Iohan, its eyes wild, its lips pulled back from its fangs in a snarl.

Blood sprayed across his face as his sword separated the beast’s body from its head.

As the creature’s body fell limp to the ground, Iohan shut his eyes. He fought the urge to run his tongue across his lips, to taste the blood, to taste the fury of the kill. That way lay madness, he knew. He’d seen too many cazadores lose their mind to the slaughter. Deep breaths. Deep, steady breaths. Slow your breathing, slow your pulse. You are human. You are civilized. There is work yet to be done.

Educate the novices.

Iohan turned around. A group of three wide-eyed youths stood before him, Bartolome, Jimeno, and Santi. Jimeno and Santi looked frightened. That was only natural, of course. As novices, this had been their first encounter with a beast. They would either grow out of it and become cazadores or else they would never lose that fear and they would return home to be farmers or craftsmen or some such profession. Bartolome, though, was grinning, his eyes as sharp as daggers. Already Iohan could tell that this one would revel in the hunt. This one would find joy in the slaughter. This one would either be a valuable asset or a terrible liability. It remained to be seen which would come to pass.

Iohan straightened his back, puffed out his chest. He needed to present a proper figure to the novices, even soaked in blood and viscera. Jimeno and Santi needed to see someone in control of the situation and themselves, someone who could teach them reliable and effective methods of dispatching the beasts. Bartolome needed to see someone strong and fearless. With practiced disinterest, Iohan reached into the small satchel that hung at his waist and pulled out a rag discolored from use. He wiped his face. He wiped the blade. There was nothing to be done for his clothes, his woven shirt and canvas pants and waxed coat.

“There is an inverse relationship between a beast’s devolution and its cleverness. The closer to human it still is, the more clever it will be. The further it has sunk into beasthood, the stupider, but also the more aggressive. If your prey was clever in life, it will be more dangerous early in the progression. If your prey was a brute, then it will be more dangerous as a beast than it ever was as a man.”

“What about that one there?” Bartolome asked, pointing at the headless corpse at Iohan’s feet. “What kind was that?”

Iohan rolled the body over with a nudge from his boot. Its skin was still soft and pink, barely beginning to take on the mottled appearance and the coarse thick hair of a proper beast. Its chest and its arms were thin, lacking in any sort of muscle development at all. The starkest signs of the transformation were the split skin at the lips and the hands where fangs and claws were beginning to emerge.

“This one was a child,” Iohan said with a sniff. “It was never a threat at all.”

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