The aurochs flipped his neck back. His horns went up and stabbed the fifteen-year-old hunter, the youngest, through the neck. The headman commanded two other men, "Attack the calves!" as he raised his spear-thrower. He took aim at the alpha bull, and managed to throw just one javelin. It embedded itself in the bull's horns, and the alpha bull gored the alpha human against a nearby tree trunk. Those two other men were at that moment being kicked to death by the big hooves of two aurochs cows. Another man, butted and killed by blunt force. A sixth man was flicked into the air by the alpha bull, and impaled upon his own spear.
Gray Wolf stood by, holding his spear-thrower. This was the first time he had witnessed the tribe attempt to hunt the aurochs. He gripped his thrower, white knuckle with fear, as another tribesman died under hooves.
"Throw it! You're letting them die!" his mind screamed, and his arm, shoulder, and hips seemed to move on their own as a javelin pierced the chest of one of the young calves-no time to celebrate, he had one of his buttocks pierced by a bull's horn. The flesh ripped, and he soared through the air. His chin struck a nearby tree branch.
"Gray Wolf!" pleaded Knapper, Knapper's chest suddenly had a horn through it, and Gray Wolf's world went black.
The squawk of a crow irritated Gray Wolf out of his concussed slumber. He staggered to his feet and was barely able to stand. His injury, it would heal, but it wasn't going to make life easy. He looked around, all of his clan lay dead upon the ground of the field abutting the forest. And just one aurochs calf to show for it. At least the flies haven't come yet, and less people in the camp means less food is needed right? No, they were men that died, and if Gray Wolf was truly a man, he would have died too. It was his fault they were dead. The men sought a big quarry to make the tribe grow. And they had failed. Gray Wolf had failed. He swallowed his shame, and grabbed a hold of his axe. Knapper had made it for him.
"He was the best stone knapper in the tribe," Gray Wolf said as he ran his hands across the worn biface. There was no time to dry the meat, or render the visceral fat. Only a few men were back home, the ones that couldn't hunt. They weren't going to steal anyone's wife, but now…
Wolf shook these thoughts out of his head, and began swinging his axe at a thicket of saplings. Thunk.
"You've dishonored us all," the voice of the clan chastised him. Crack. "How will you face the women and children?"
"You should have herded them away!"
"You failed the duty of a man!" CRACK, and the biggest sapling violently dislodged from its roots, from a swing propelled by fury and shame.
Rapid labor turned the bark of the saplings into cords, and another scant moment lashed saplings together in a triangle, the sides bridged with the twigs and branches of the young trees and all lashed together. Some more cord was tied around the front of the sledge.
Thunk squelch! Gray Wolf's axe bit into the hip joint of the young calf. Then the other. Then the two shoulder joints. He put the four legs on one side of the sledge, and the torso on the other with great difficulty. He paid his last respects to his fallen brothers, and began his journey home.
The pain ran down from his lower back to his legs with every step. Couldn't pay attention to it, have to make it home. There was nothing he could do for the injury, putting things in wounds infects them. Better to just leave it, let it heal itself. Make it back to the tribe. The hills rose and the ground became less solid. Each step sent a few pebbles skittering behind him and, still, his haunch hurt. But he was focused on blocking out the pain, focused on bringing SOMETHING back for the tribe, so he kept walking through the forest. Through the crowds of trees that seemed to block out the sun. And as it began to grow dark… footsteps! In the forest around him! Gray Wolf quickly dropped the cord pulling the calf.
Snap, went a couple of twigs underneath an unseen foot. The crippled hunter grabbed his javelin-thrower and loaded it with a spear. Only five left. He scanned the trees around him. Nothing. But the footsteps continued. Wolf picked up his sledge and continued walking. And the footsteps continued, a little faster, after him.
Gray Wolf reclined and made a fire. A bit of meat from one of the calf's legs would satisfy for the night. The temporary camp was surrounded by nothing but dark trees and dark skies, the fire serving as a solitary beacon of humanity, of civilization, generating warmth and light, reminders of the hearth and home that he longed to return to. Crack, another twig snapped underneath the unseen foot. Wolf grabbed his javelin thrower and stood up. The pain. He grit his teeth, blocking it out.
"Come on out!" he roared, challenging whoever was taunting him in the depths of the foliage. No response. He picked up one of the fuel logs from the fire and ran into the trees, scanning for any sign of life-there! Far off into the distance, it looked like a man. A man monstrously muscled, more than any man that Gray Wolf had ever seen. A man that appeared to have horns. To add to this bizarre visage, the man was arranging some sort of objects in a circle. No, not objects; heads. The heads of Gray Wolf's hunting party. Arranged just as Gray Wolf and his clan had arranged the skulls of antelope and rabbits to bless the hunt. He was speaking to the heads in some language Gray Wolf had never heard.
With a defiant roar, Gray Wolf threw one of his javelins as hard as he could. The missile spun as the thrower was designed to make them spin, and landed on target, embedding within the back of this man. The man felt the spear in his back, turned around, and looked right into Gray Wolf's eyes with a face devoid of features. But Wolf knew that he was looking at him. Not waiting for a response, another javelin was loaded and loosed. The man took this one to the chest, continued to glare at Grey Wolf, and walked away. Gray Wolf suddenly became aware of his heart beating faster, and sweat beginning to drip off his forehead.
"I've been seeing things, that's it!" he said to himself, saying these words at the same time he wrapped the sledge's rope around his wrist and began moving far away from this camp.
He left his fire to burn as he walked away, and the fire illuminated the scene as the man with horns remained at his hecatomb. Gray Wolf stepped on a pebble and winced as another wave of lower body pain shot through him. Gnashing his teeth, he turned around to look at his pursuer-and there he was, drawing some diagram around the heads in the dirt, impossible to see from this angle. The horned man finished drawing and seemed to be prostrating himself to what he had done. A wolf howled somewhere in the distance. Gray Wolf kept walking, through mud, through gravel, and moss. The shriek of the red fox answered the wolf. He walked until he couldn't see the fire anymore, and subconsciously deciding that a bough of pine needles was comfortable-and safe-enough, he fell asleep as he sat. The low grunt of the boar. The cry of the hawk.
Gray Wolf woke with the sun breaking through the trees, shining upon his face, but what actually woke him was a loud cacophony, all around him were the sounds of animals. Goats, birds, foxes, rabbits, all of the animal sounds he knew, he heard. Gray Wolf walked over to the noise, and peered past the trees. He saw something he had never seen before: animals of all kinds, carnivores and herbivores not killing each other, but walking as one towards some distant goal. Not to miss an opportunity, he loaded his thrower and put a javelin into a nice sized ewe in the back of the line. He would be able to bring this home for food. Wolf trussed the carcass, and brought it to the sledge. He loaded it down, took the rope, and picked up his javelin thrower and his one javelin. One javelin?!
A voice. The voice he had heard last night, speaking in tones no man of these parts had ever heard. A vision through the trees, it was the man with horns. Speaking to the animals, who had gathered around him, listening intently, just as the children of Wolf's clan did as they listened to the elder's stories. The horned man held in his hand one of Wolf's javelins, and was gesturing in the same direction that Wolf was going to walk. He gestured towards the clan's encampment. His blank face met Wolf's eyes, and he stopped his proclamation. He swung the javelin in the direction of the encampment, and the horde of animals ran off, bleating and grunting and roaring and howling in their trek. Then this man, the master of the beasts, took to his hands and feet, and began running towards Gray Wolf, bounding like a predator moving in for the kill.
Gray Wolf could do nothing but run, running like the quarry that he had become, his gluteal muscle being only a dull ache in his adrenaline-addled mind. He left the sledge behind, cursing himself as he did so, carrying only his axe with him.
"Running like a coward?" The horned man continued to bound after him, and Gray Wolf lengthened his stride in a desperate attempt to gain speed.
"You've abandoned your quarry!" That cursed silence still behind him, nothing but the padding of inhuman feet and hands.
"You're pathetic! Not only did you kill your brothers, you lack even the honor to die as a man dies yourself!"
"Silence!" Gray Wolf gasped through gritted teeth, as tears of remorse welled in his eyes, knowing full well that this inescapable shame was also hindering his flight. He ran faster, seeing the bonfire of his clan's camp, and his spirits brightened a little. He looked behind him and there was nothing. The Lord of Beasts had vanished, leaving Gray Wolf alone with the guilt of the survivor, and a chest heaving for air. He staggered through the saplings before him, entering his beloved village, hoping to see the elders, the women, the children. Even with the heavy burden of telling them of the deaths, it was better than grieving alone. But what he saw did nothing to assuage his misery.
For the village was empty. A fire burned, but there were no people out and about. Nothing but the wind blowing through the fire, the charnel pit, the huts. Somewhere close by, a crow vocalized, and a vulture responded. Snarf crack, a strange noise behind one of the homes. Gray Wolf circumnavigated the small building and witnessed a wolverine eating something. Something small, white, and cylindrical, ending in five tiny digits.
The patter of hundreds of feet. Gray Wolf suddenly became alerted to dozens of animals surrounding him. All of the ones he had seen marching forward earlier that day. A wolf, with a shapely woman's leg in its teeth. A boar with tusks covered in blood. Goats and horses with gore-stained hooves. A fox, also with a child's limb clenched in its jaws. Even the rabbits and sparrows, weasels and shrikes, seemed to be dripping blood. And an aurochs-no, the aurochs from before, with half a javelin embedded in one of its horns. All watching him with the cold, inhuman, unmerciful eyes of the wild. Gray Wolf tightened his grip upon his axe. He felt another presence behind him, a presence without even the sense of life that the animals gave, but undoubtedly it was there. The man, the Lord of Beasts, had hunted his quarry successfully. He addressed his animals, in words that Gray Wolf couldn't comprehend.
Gray Wolf began to turn his torso and arm to bring the axe around at the horned being. Then the animals swarmed him, a brief moment of the deepest agony, and then all Gray Wolf knew was darkness.