It just didn't seem possible. The bears and panthers that roamed this part of the forest were solitary creatures, and he had never known one to kill more than a single animal at a time. Even the largest wolf pack in the forest couldn't have killed so many sheep all at once, and certainly not with such ferocity. Some of the sheep had been torn into pieces so small he'd had to clean them up with a shovel. Whatever killed the sheep had to be something else entirely. But what?
Bornis was convinced it was monsters. The young blacksmith still believed the stories many adults told when they wanted to frighten their children into being good - stories about shadowspawn sent forth to stalk the night by Ta'shaen-wielding Agla'Con.
Jase shook his head. "Shadowspawn," he mumbled aloud, disgusted with himself for even toying with such thoughts. Those vermin, both shadowspawn and Agla'Con alike, had been destroyed along with Shadan during the Battle of Greendom twenty years ago. Shadowspawn indeed! he thought darkly.
Despite his unwillingness to believe such nonsense, however, he cast an uneasy glance at the trees around him and hurriedly rinsed off the soap. He left his blood-stained clothes in a heap at the base of the tree, refusing even to look at them as he beat a hasty path for the back door of his home. He would burn the clothes first thing in the morning, since he would never again be able to wear them without wondering if the blood of the sheep had somehow become tainted with evil.
Barefoot, and wrapped only in a towel, he flung open the door and rushed inside with a quickness in his step that had never before been present. For the first time in his life, the urgency to get in out of the forest night sent a chill up his spine. Things had changed in Omer Forest, he realized. It was no longer a safe place to be.
He tiptoed quietly down the hall and up the stairs to his room. He could hear his mother in the kitchen, but the rest of the house was silent. He listened for a moment, then shook his head in disgust. Great, he thought glumly. The one night I don't feel like talking is the night Daris and the others have to be gone. His silence would certainly let his mother know that something was bothering him; she knew him too well not to notice. He just hoped she didn't press him for an explanation. At least not until he understood things himself.
He looked at his reflection in the mirror. Liar. You know what's bothering you. You're just afraid to admit it. He shook his head. Afraid? He was terrified. Because if the nightmares he'd been having recently meant anything, he was more dangerous than whatever monsters were roaming Omer Forest. If those nightmares were right about the true nature of his Gifts, his life was about to plunge headlong into chaos.
Sipping at her tea, Brysia Fairimor watched her son from over her cup without speaking, her tilted green eyes sparkling with concern. She knew better than to interrupt him. As always, he was working through things on his own before he discussed them with others. Just like his father, she realized. Exactly like his father.
She knew part of what was bothering him - she'd heard about the Himels' sheep before he had. But there was more to his silence than just the slaughtered sheep. She could see it in his face. He had been quiet all through dinner, his eyes distant while he picked absently at his food.
His contemplative mood made her glad Daris and his new warder trainees, Greig and Tomlin, had gone to the Waypost to speak with the garrison commander about the Himels' sheep. The silence would give Jase a chance to think things through.
Setting her cup down, she undid her braid and shook her head, causing her long, honey-colored hair to spill freely down her shoulders. Kinked and wavy, it framed her sharp Elvan features in a wreath of gold.
In spite of Jase's need to talk, however, she hoped Daris and the others returned before too much longer. She hadn't needed to see the sheep to know that whatever killed them wasn't natural, and though she wasn't ready to pin the deed on shadowspawn just yet, she hadn't ruled them out as a possibility either. There were other creatures in the world not linked to the corruption of the Agla'Con that were far older and more vile than anything the servants of Shadan could dream up.