Though the heat had lessened from the peak afternoon hours, a sheen of perspiration covered her. She wiped her brow with the back of her hand as she took a quick mental inventory of the things she carried: weapons, supplies, wits. She gave a nervous inward laugh over that last one.
The screaming continued, unrelenting.
She crouched low behind the oak, its branches bent nearly to the ground. Its full summer shroud already displayed a dry fuscous brown cast. She grasped hold of a low hanging branch, found a notch in the trunk for her leather-booted foot, and boosted herself up. Dressed in simple free flowing garb, she easily melded into her hiding place. She glanced out.
“Great Creovita!” she muttered. Grut. There must be an entire pack of them! A shiver ran down her spine. Her heart raced. Her hands shook and her stomach clenched. A single scratch from a grut claw, fang, or tail, would infect, causing a painful death within hours. The victim’s skin would begin to burn away and his—or her—throat would close. She watched below.
Ten or more muscle-bound beasts paced outside a small wayfarers’ hut. At first glance they resembled wolves, but they were larger, nearly four feet high at the shoulder, covered with hair, smoky black in color and coarse as wire. Each sported a spiky spine and a razor sharp tail. Their bulging red eyes oozed thick black mucus. As they howled, the beasts’ three rows of teeth, curved slightly inward, became visible. Like a snake, Mara thought.
As though to punctuate the truth of their nature, the grut emanated the unmistakable odor for which they were known: the smell of death, the smell of Sinespe.
She struggled to breathe as the air became more putrid. Feeling assaulted by the odor, she covered her nose briefly with a portion of her tunic.
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