The sour smell of man, and of death. Two entities Godl knew in ways painful and triumphant.
Pine sap. Wood smoke. Ice. Cold granite. Heather and gorse. Mud. Scents foreign and familiar threaded kaleidoscopically through the nostrils of the jaguar as it made its way through the forest. His mouth hung slightly agape, tongue pressing the roof of its mouth when a particularly intriguing smell trailed on the wind.
Muscles rippling like blood or honey pouring from a bucket the jaguar ran at a steady pace, loping his way along the riverbank while trying to keep to the undergrowth. His legs ached from the unfamiliar exertion, but with each paw forward he relaxed into a rhythm etched in his bones. The terrain was alien, and it puzzled Godl. The motion was not. It was not so different from the hunt of which he was the master. What he did not understand, as he had never really felt it, not once in his old life in the jungle, was the fear. It wormed its way into his lungs, riding on the faint reek of the Keeper and his kind, to slip into Godl’s blood.
His heart was cold. Godl growled sporadically, the sound of teeth sliding over bone, to try and shake it loose. When it would not, the jaguar curled his lips and snarled. The reek…
The Keeper swore a mile a minute, sweating even in the cooling air settling down the slope and congealing over the lake. The machete in its heavy leather scabbard banged against his left thigh. The strap was working its way loose, but he did not want to lose precious time by stopping to refasten it. Further compounding his irritation, the Weatherby Synthetic 30.06 was the first rifle he could get his hands on, but he had mistakenly grabbed an ammo belt stocked with shotgun shells, not realizing the error until he had made it downhill to the lake. All the cartridges he had were the ones in the magazine.
The jaguar had a good head start. The Keeper was torn about running uphill and tracking the animal with the truck. He reckoned he might catch up to Godl before the animal could cross the ridgeline further south, but only if he ran like hell. And dropped him with the first shot.
The Keeper did some calculations in his head, checked the angle of the sun, and ran headlong into the underbrush. He did not look back.
The heron flew down the center of the river, mindful of the setting sun and increasing altitude as he strained to keep up with the Keeper and his prey. Heron did not believe that the Keeper knew of his existence, but given the proclivity to violence and the awful weaponry the man carried, heron wanted to take no chances. He flapped his weary wings, tips caressing the icy water as green-gold eyes scanned the riverbank.
Godl was there, Heron knew, he heard the faint crashing of trampled underbrush. Over that, like distant thunderheads giving vent to displeasure of the gods, Heron could hear the growls and snarls of the anxious jaguar. He veered slightly, taken off guard by the basso profundo vibrations emanating from the forest and unsettling his bowels. Heron swept upwards to better see where the jaguar might be heading. Up ahead, in the not too distant south, the forest thinned out somewhat and the reptilian backbone of rock signaled the line of low peaks that stood in the way.
Heron clacked his beak, circling and troubled, knowing that Godl was unaware. Below him, not far behind, the Keeper clumsily made his way along the faint track left behind by the big cat. A few spirals and a glance at the lowering sun, and Heron changed direction to head for a notch in the ridgeline.
Blood was in the air, Godl could smell it along with the cool metallic breeze that was inching its way through the trees. The scent made him hungry, reminding his aching belly that he had not eaten the last consignment of meat the Keeper had brought. His stomach contracted around the memory of tapir and turtle eggs, the familiar squeal and struggle warming his veins. Godl curled his lips, squinting his liquid gold eyes into the sunlight that was beginning to brighten the tree line up ahead.
A growl, the sound of magma shifting under rock…and Godl knew the next blood to stain the earth would not be his own.