From the book
Prologue He'd been hunting in the forest's depths for months, but he'd never known such silence. No monkeys shook the leaves over-head, no birds cried, no insects droned. The only sounds seemed to come from within: the pulse throbbing in his temples and his own labored breathing.
The previous day the young man had hiked what he guessed was about eighteen miles before collapsing into sleep. But those trails hadn't been nearly as challenging as this one--a muddy ribbon twisting up the forested mountainside, inset with loose boulders of granite and quartz. He was in good shape and just twenty-five years old, but each step took its toll. He fell behind his companions, whose bare feet gripped the slippery rocks better than did his leather boot soles. His blue cotton shirt and brown pants were streaked with mud.
Somewhere along the way--it was hard to tell exactly where it began--the gentlest of whispers broke through the enveloping hush. The higher he climbed, the louder it got: a breathy hiss that grew into a roar. Twisting through the overgrown vegetation, he found the other men standing on a broad, flat shelf of land. A scene like none he'd ever witnessed burst open in front of him: a vast pool of swirling water, fed by a majestic torrent that spilled down the angled slope for what looked like a mile. A mist rose from the tumult, obscuring everything in a gauzy veil: the swaying ferns, the logs slanting across the water, the trees ringing the banks. According to his calculations, they were about five thousand feet above sea level.
He paused to drink from the pool, but his rest was brief. A short distance uphill, one of his companions spotted footprints that didn't belong to their own party. The feet that had impressed those marks into the mud were bare--but oddly round, with a big toe that seemed to jut away from the other four toes at a severe angle.
When he saw the prints for himself, the hunter felt his heart slam against his rib cage: this was the target he'd traveled so far to pursue, and it finally seemed within his reach.
Following the tracks, the men stumbled into what appeared to be an abandoned tribal village. Years earlier, the land had been cleared for huts that had since collapsed. Stray stalks of sugarcane pushed through the ruins. As the hunter broke off a stalk and sucked the grassy sweetness from its marrow, another of the men observed that some of the plants had recently been ravaged--violently torn up by the roots and mangled into pulp.
They looked at one another and grabbed the rifles they wore strapped across their backs.
More tracks led down a hill. The men carefully crossed a stream on a fallen log, and on the other side of the water they encountered a cluster of enormous granite boulders, some as big as small buildings. The tracks here were even fresher, filled with muddy water that hadn't had time to settle.
The hunter circled to the right of the boulders, while a few of his companions walked to the left. He emerged from the granite blockade just in time to catch an obstructed view of four dark creatures fleeing rapidly into the dense cover of forest.
The figures disappeared as quickly as they had exploded into view. Running with their heads down and bodies bent forward, the woolly creatures appeared to him, he later noted, "like men running for their lives."
Just minutes before, he might have sworn that the mountain torrent had been the most awe-inspiring sight he'd witnessed in his young life. But this blurred vision of bodies in motion--gone in the blink of an eye--blew it away.
Chapter 1: Destiny
Gabon, West Africa
(Ten years earlier)