A few hours previously, somewhere within the forest that blanketed the uneven ground between Edmund Manor and Carviliet, trotted a creature called Raif. It was canine in appearance—the size and build of a large dog, though slightly foxlike in shape and coloration—but it hadn’t always been like this. That, however, didn’t matter anymore.
All that mattered now was the finding of food to fill its empty belly.
As the sunlight faded, the urgency of the matter grew. Raif had not come equipped with nocturnal vision and did not care to be outside of the safety of its burrow after dark. Yet the demands of its stomach were not to be ignored. The squirrel it had caught and devoured yesterday morning would not sustain the creature for long.
Its small brain had just begun to buzz with panic when it caught a whiff of something glorious: the sweet aroma of Dead-Thing.
Nose in the air, Raif followed the Dead-Thing-Smell to its source, a small clearing in the woods. And there it was, sprawled on the ground in all its rotten, bloated splendor. Raif trotted up to the Dead-Thing, rolled in its essence, then dug in.
Inconveniently, most of the Dead-Thing’s tasty flesh was covered in a sort of coarse, inedible material. Raif found this annoying, but manageable. By tearing at the stuff with its teeth, Raif was able to get through the impediment to the soft, putrid meat beneath.
The creature feasted until its tummy was quite rotund. It felt warm and sleepy, ready to return to its den and sleep until midmorning.
Then it stopped short.
There was Something in its head. Something that didn’t belong there.
Your name is Raphael Greenwood, the Something told him. Do you know what you are? What you were?
A thought stirred within him, the outermost edge of a memory long forgotten. Raif looked back at the Dead-Thing.
A human. You were a human, Raif. Look at you now. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.
Raif! Yes, Raif was its name. The Something had called Raif by its name! There had been other words, too. But those words had no meaning. They were just sounds strung together. But Raif was its name.
“Raif!” Raif yipped contentedly, ambling happily towards home.
Behind, in the clearing, the rotting, partially-eaten corpse of a young woman lay, spread-eagle, in the fading light. Her throat was slit and her mouth was slightly ajar. Her eyes were gone, no doubt pecked out by crows. In the empty sockets, as well as in the gap between her lips, there was movement. Crawling. Wriggling.
It was a feast for worms.