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They’re different. The prey, they don’t have faces. No mouths, no eyes, no noses. Their ears and hair aren’t visible either. All that shows are a black dome, a lighter-shade-of-black plate where the prey’s face should be. Do they even have brains? There’s two of them. Their clothes aren’t typical either. Thick, not cloth. Green with black. Or is that black with green? It doesn’t matter. They have metal sticks. Boots with metal toes. These prey, they’re dangerous. If they even are prey. But they spoke, they must be.

“Anyone here?”

The others heard. They’re stirring from their food-induced stupor. Even if the prey are different, there’s dozens of others, each with two spikes. They’ll investigate the prey for me, let me know observe how they act. Not all prey are the same. Some prey are fearful, the one I ate in the metal hunk. Some prey fight back without a plan, the ones in the store. Other prey are smart, the ones in the giant metal hunk. I wonder what these prey will be. Fearful? Rash? Smart? Judging by its clothes, it’s both smart and fearful. Afraid of death, smart enough to avoid it. Like me. A dangerous combination. The clothes are practical. The black and green blend in with the surroundings. Perfect for avoiding prey. But not so great for avoiding others. And the dome. The most curious part of all. It’s protection for the head. Protecting their brains, their weakness. I want it.

“Hey, uh, I think we should get out of here.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Are you blind?”

“Right. I see what you mean now.”

The two prey backed away. But the others rushed towards them. Two dozen others had responded to the stimuli. Even more were reacting to the new sound of footsteps. I still don’t know why others enter a stupor after eating. It doesn’t happen to me. And dissecting the others didn’t provide any results. Maybe I can use their stupor to my advantage one day. When catching prey, for example. Speaking of which, there’s prey that must be caught. That metal dome is precious if it can defend my brain. But the prey are fast, running away. The only thing to do is give chase. What if this is a trap? If the prey are leading us to an area advantageous for them. Or to an area with even more prey? It could be. Should I let them go? No. Disregarding the metal dome, I need brains. The marrow I have right now will rot by the next sunrise.

Chasing the prey is easy. Their smell is easy to detect. The sounds of footsteps are loud too. In the woods, footsteps echo, coming from everywhere. But it’s the loudest from one direction. Following that direction leads to the prey. Even when the prey stops moving, hiding out of sight, their smell gives them away. After running, there’s a distinct sour odor, smellier than usual. The same smell released by fearful prey. It makes sense. Fearful prey run.

“Why are there so many!?”

“That whole camp must’ve been infected. Save your breath.”

Using the feathered-spike shooter is difficult while running. The metal wooden part bounces up and down, messing with the direction the rope fires in. And if I miss, I have to slow down to retrieve the feathered spike. Waste not, want not. The downside to carrying the feathered-spike shooter is it takes up a hand. I had to give up the metal rod. But I can still bang the metal stick against the shooter to attract the others. The metal stick makes a loud ringing sound compared to the rod. It isn’t a complete loss. I think it’s a fair trade.

“Do you have your stink sauce?”

“I do, but I rather not use it.”

“Well, I’d rather not be dead.”

Stink sauce? What is that? The prey had bags too. I almost didn’t notice. They were the same color as their clothes, green with splotches of black and brown. From within the bag, one of the prey retrieved a glass cylinder filled with a black liquid. The other prey copied its actions, reaching into its own bag, pulling out a similar jar. It was hard to see their actions, others constantly blocking my view. But I didn’t have to see to know what was inside those jars. The smell of rot, pungent and thick, assaulted my senses. To deceive others, they were putting it on themselves, masking their own smell.

But as long as the others keep them in hearing range, the prey shouldn’t be able to escape. Unless the others stop moving. Why did they stop moving? They’re crowding around two trees. Did the prey escape up them?

Plink.

Plink. Plink.

What’s that sound? Like glass hitting the ground. The others are heading away, scattering from the trees. No. That’s wrong. The prey climbed the trees. Then they threw objects down to create noise, distracting the others. Come back. The others are dumb enough to be tricked by something as simple as this. But I’m not. Come back. The ringing from the metal stick is a better lure than the plinking of whatever the prey are throwing.

The others came back. But they lose attention easily even if I continue to make noise. I’ve noticed that. If the source of attraction doesn’t lead to food, the others lose interest. But if I walk in circles, they’ll follow me. I can’t stand still. But there’s an easier way to keep the others’ attention on the trees. A dollop of brains smeared on the trunks should do. I’ll throw it to prevent them from licking it away. The others are crowding around one tree now, unable to reach the brains but struggling anyway. Perfect. Now, how do I get the prey out of the tree? Climbing up to reach it would be dumb, exposing my most vulnerable part to the prey. Unless I climb upside down? No. I’d need both hands to climb. Confronting prey without a weapon is dangerous. Then the answer’s simple. I’ll shoot it down with feathered spikes.

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Virlyce

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