Chapter 10:

Chapter Ten


Chapter Ten

Zave screamed, and Fey was on her hooves in an instant, her eyes widening as she saw what was waiting for them. There were three monsters, one for each of the weary travelers—and this time, they had already taken on their nightmarish true forms. They grinned savagely, their jagged fangs gleaming in the weak light.

Fey glared at Zave. “What did I tell you about making a fire?”

“They were already here!” Zave yelled back indignantly. Beside him, Clueless sat up as well, yawning, stretching, and completely unaware of the danger they were in.

Moving as a pack, the monsters descended on the camp. The first one zeroed in on Zave, salivating hungrily as it raised its claws for the kill. But before it could strike…

“No hurt Zave!” Clueless shouted, jumping to her feet and charging at the encroaching monster.

“Clueless, no!” Zave yelled, but it was too late. With a lazy swing of its arm, the monster sent her flying out into the woods where the fire’s light couldn’t reach her. The monster glanced at Zave, then went after the canine skinwalker instead. Zave struggled to his feet. “CLUELESS!”

Another shadow darted in front of him, blocking his path, and Zave looked up to see a pair of glowing, sickly yellow eyes staring back down at him. He took a step back and the monster followed, knowing there was nothing Zave could do to protect himself. Something touched his foot, and Zave instinctively bent down to grab the branch. It was about five feet long and as thick as his arm. Freshly fallen, strong and heavy. The monster just grinned, as if daring him to try it. Trying to look braver than he felt, Zave swung the branch like a baseball bat.

It shattered against the monster’s face.

“Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap,” Zave whimpered, backing away again. He shot a glance over at Fey, hoping that she might come to his rescue again, but she had her hands full dealing with her own monster. It hadn’t managed to kill her yet, but a deep looking gash on her arm was steadily turning her white fur red. As he watched, she lowered her head and charged at the beast, aiming her horns for its heart, but the monster leaped nimbly out of the way, landing up above her in a nearby tree.

There was a howl of pain, and a moment later Clueless came running out of the darkness. Blood was smeared across the fur on her face. The monster that had chased her followed close behind, bleeding from half a dozen wounds on its shoulder where she had bit it. Clueless, being Clueless, didn’t seem to notice her pursuer, and was focused on reaching Zave.

“Clueless, loo-aaah!” Fey tried to warn her, but her words devolved into an anguished scream when her monster, taking advantage of her distraction, jumped down from the tree and raked its claws across her back. Her shirt was reduced to ribbons, and Fey collapsed with blood gushing from her wounds.

The second monster tackled Clueless from behind.

Zave’s monster lunged for him, and he was only saved by the rock his ankle caught on. He fell backwards with a shout, landing with his face less than a foot from the campfire he had made. The monster towered over him, running its long, wormlike tongue over its teeth—but Zave didn’t miss the nervous glance it gave the fire.

With no other options, Zave reached out and grabbed one of the burning branches. Flames danced across its surface as he held it out in front of him like a blazing sword. To his surprise, the monster actually shied away from it. Slowly, Zave got to his feet, making sure to keep the burning branch between him and it. When it didn’t attack, Zave did the only thing he could think of: he threw the branch at it.

The monster shrieked in horror, a sound that quickly changed to an agonized scream. The instant the fire touched its wiry furred hide, flames spread across its body unnaturally fast, until it was completely engulfed. Zave watched in horror as its flailing abruptly stopped, and it collapsed into a pile of charred, smoking bones.

Both of the other monsters froze, staring at him in shock.

Acting quickly, Zave grabbed another stick from the fire and brandished it at the monster that had tackled Clueless. She didn’t look badly hurt, but all she was able to do was squirm under the beast’s weight.

“Let her go!” Zave demanded.

The monster’s eyes widened as he thrust the flaming stick into its face. It did as he said, letting go of Clueless and backing away on all fours. Not that Zave intended to let it live. He just wanted to get it away from Clueless before he set it ablaze.

Just as he was about to hurl his torch at it, something grabbed him from behind. The third monster’s hands wrapped all the way around his head, and it raised him off the ground with an angry growl. In his panic, Zave dropped the branch. Zave thrust out behind him with his legs as hard as he could, but it was like kicking a tree. All he could do was dangle helplessly as it prepared to sink its fangs into his…

It froze—and then a wave of intense heat washed over Zave. Half a second later, he hit the ground as the monster’s bones clattered all around him.

Fey stood over him now, wielding another burning stick. Her shirt hung from her shoulders like rags, and blood was flowing freely down her back, but she managed to stand firm and lock eyes with the last of the monsters.

“You’d better run,” she told it, her voice ragged, “unless you want to end up like your friends.”

The final monster bared its teeth at her, but retreated into the forest anyway.

“This isn’t over,” it said with a voice that was like all the world’s worst diseases speaking in unison. “There will be more of us. We won’t stop until we have you! Both of you!”

With that, it galloped into the darkness, vanishing almost instantly. The moment it was gone, Fey dropped the branch and fell to her knees, what little strength she’d been able to summon used up. Zave was tempted to go check on Clueless, but all she seemed to have were a couple scrapes and bruises. As much as he disliked her, Fey was the priority right now.

“Hey, can you hear me?” he asked, crouching in front of her.

She raised her head weakly, but didn’t respond.

“Fey, listen to me,” he said quickly. “You’re hurt bad. Do any of your bags have a first aid kit?”

With a trembling hand, she pointed to the backpack she had been carrying. Zave hurried over to bring it back to her. She pointed again, this time at one of the side pockets. It didn’t look big enough to hold a first aid kit to Zave, but he opened it anyway. Inside was…a can of soda?

Before he could question it, Fey had grabbed it out of his hand. It took a couple of tries for her to open the tab, but once she’d succeeded, she tipped it back and chugged the entire thing. Then, to Zave’s horror, she stuffed the empty can into her mouth. After chewing it for a few seconds, she swallowed it whole.

“Fey, what are you—”

“Instinct!” she whispered.

Just like when she’d Awakened Clueless, Fey’s eyes burst into light. The wounds on her back lit up as well. Zave watched in fascination as they slowly shrank in on themselves until only five thin lines of pink skin contrasted sharply against her pure white fur. Soon that too began to grow back, and within seconds it was as if she’d never been injured at all.

“What the hell was that?” Zave demanded.

“Instinct,” Fey answered, getting to her hooves. She swayed a little, but managed to keep her balance. “It’s a special power some skinwalkers have.”

“And that power is to…eat trash and then heal yourselves?”

She eyed him in annoyance. He could tell she still blamed him for the monsters finding them, even though they’d clearly already been there when he’d set the fire.

“No,” she snapped, “just mine. Other skinwalkers have their own Instincts. Mine is to convert anything I eat—yes, even garbage—into healing energy.”

Clueless had gotten up and rejoined them, wrapping Zave in yet another hug. Fey looked at them, then down at the smoldering piles of bones they’d created.

“Okay, guys,” she said with a sigh, “team meeting. Obviously, traveling through the woods with these things after us is suicide. At first light tomorrow morning, we’ll find a road and hitchhike to the nearest town. From there, we’ll take a bus the rest of the way.”

Zave nodded in agreement. Anything was better than having to keep pace with his ill-tempered wilderness guide.

“But that leaves us with a new problem we’ll have to solve,” Fey went on.

“What’s that?” asked Zave.

Fey looked at Clueless, and Zave realized what she’d meant before she even spoke.

“Teaching her to blend in with real humans.”