It was all perfectly familiar and comfortable to him. The salt taste that washed through his mouth, the slick sensation as blood and flesh were swallowed in a single mass and the warm feeling that came over him as he lay there digesting his kill. To be a hunter and know that everything else was the prey was as complex a thought as he needed to have.
Then, one day, something more came into his mind. The comfort that he felt from consuming those weaker than him no longer filled him. There remained a gap, into which something else could intrude, and he cast around, seeking to find what it might be. The actions of killing and eating continued to dominate his days, but now he was less restful in those moments when he was not killing or eating, his thoughts straying down unfamiliar paths.
When this occurred, he would look up from where he sat and observe his packmates as they rested beside him. It had never occurred to him before that he could see his own reflection in them, and now that he became aware of it, he was also aware that he had somehow separated himself from them. They did not share his restlessness, his dissatisfaction. Often, he found that he could not simply lie in one place after a hunt. He would rise, take himself apart from the pack and stalk the land in the hope of clearing his mind of whatever it was that troubled him.
Before long, his packmates began to notice his strange demeanour. He could not tell whether they were truly aware of it in the same way that he was, but they watched him warily as they fed together, and when they were lying together afterwards, they would watch him as he stalked away. With every passing day, he felt as though the gap between him and them was growing. It was a troubling thought: if he was no longer one of them, what was he?
So, one day, he stalked off after a kill and did not return. The desire to leave had been growing in him for some time, but it was only when it outweighed his fear of being alone that he acted upon it. He rose, stalked off towards some distant hills and took himself apart from the pack that had been the only life that he had known.
It was no easy life that he was delivering himself into. He was a pack hunter who did not know how to kill alone, and so he was forced to learn. At times he contented himself with smaller creatures that could not flee, at others he competed with the scavengers for carrion. Little by little, the taste of warm flesh became unfamiliar to him, until he could barely remember what it had been like.
How long he endured this half-life for, he could not tell, but it ended when he observed the prey he was stalking rooting in the earth for some sustenance. He leapt upon the creature, which fled and eluded him, but when the hunt was done, he returned to the site of the creature’s excavations. There was a scent there, unlike anything that he had experienced before. He continued to dig and unearthed a strange, globular thing. He had never seen anything like it, and for a while he pushed it around and sniffed at it, letting the strange scent fill his nostrils and set his mouth slavering.
Only when he had allowed the scent to overwhelm him did he bite into it. It was no stone, as he had thought it might be, for it gave under his sharp teeth, folding and tearing much as flesh did, though its juices were sweeter and clearer than any blood he had ever supped upon. He tore off another piece and then another, wolfing them down, one after the other. Sated in a way he had not been for longer than he could remember, he fell asleep once more and dreamed strange dreams.
Now that he had eaten the flesh of this strange, subterranean prey, he could locate them swiftly when he chose to. He senses were keener than those of the prey he hunted, and so he did not need to follow them to find what they sought. He even experimented with the other foods that sustained the prey creatures. Not all of them were to his liking, but he found that he could distinguish between them and benefit from their sustenance all the same.
Thus he continued for a time he did not measure, eating the food of the prey creatures, seeking out the same food he had first unearthed whenever he could. It was a strange life that he had come upon, but he found that it filled the void in his mind well enough. So much of his time was taken up in seeking out food that he had little time to do other than rest.
One day, he sought out his pack again, having scented their passing from afar. As his body had grown lean, so his senses had waxed ever keener, and he was aware of them long before they were aware of him. He approached them in confidence, even though many among them were youthful and did not know him. He faced their snarling countenances with equanimity.
Once he was in the midst of them, he explained all that had befallen him. The disquiet in his mind that had driven him from them, the time in the wilderness that had followed and the lesson of the prey creatures’ food that had restored him. He explained it all to them, understanding it within himself, never doubting that they would understand it too.
They listened to him in silence, their golden eyes watching his lean body, showing no signs of brotherhood between them. He no longer looked as the others did. His features were streaked with mud, and his claws were dulled by digging through the earth. There was even a strange pungency about his scent that reminded them of the prey creatures.
When he had finished addressing them, they leaped on him in a grey tide of bodies and tore him apart. There was not one of them who did not gorge himself on at least a mouthful of that flesh, so succulent and sweet.
The salt taste that washed through their mouths, the slick sensation as blood and flesh were swallowed in a single mass and the warm feeling that came over them as they lay there digesting their kill: all these things were as familiar to them as breathing. They could not imagine that there was any other way to live, and as his blood soaked into the dirt, his strange tale was quickly forgotten.