Mara stopped abruptly in her tracks. Moments ago, there had been the sounds of crickets, an occasional bird chirping, the giggling sass of chattering squirrels as they scurried from tree to tree, branch to branch. Suddenly, all was quiet. The breeze whispering its secrets through the foliage, giving relief from the heat of the day, stilled.
Stepping off the path, Mara had the niggling sensation that someone watched or followed her. Catching a glimpse of something out of the corner of her eye, she glanced in that direction, but saw nothing unusual. Trying unsuccessfully to shrug off the disconcerting feeling, she cautiously placed one foot ahead of the other. Trained to move stealthily, no gravel moved under her step, no leaf rustled. Step by step, she returned to the pathway that led to the river. The distant song of slowly moving water was all she heard.
Then as suddenly as the quiet had descended, there came a great howling. It sounded like a pack of dogs or wolves, but it was louder, more grating to the ears, more ominous. It had a spooky, hair-raising quality.
A shiver ran down her spine. She stopped midstride. “Grut?” she wondered aloud. Surely, not, she thought, but could it be?
Few grut, the dreaded beasts of Sinespe—the world under, the world of the hopeless and dead—had been seen in the area for some time, as few of the Select they were sent to pursue and to destroy, remained. Still, the cacophony was unlike any she’d encountered before.
As though in response to her query, the screeching, howling lament increased in volume.
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