Chapter 21:

Chapter Twenty One


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Chapter Twenty One

Glenn was the first to strike. Moving with the swiftness of a buck in its prime, he gripped his antler knives and drove them down into the chest of the first sleeping beast.

It opened its eyes and howled in pain as it died.

The other four were on their feet in an instant, their fangs gleaming in the moonlight. Fey fixed her eyes on the monster at the far edge of the camp and dashed toward it. It snarled at her and flexed its claws in anticipation. In the corner of her eye, Fey could see Norrin wrestling with another monster, his natural strength as a bear-walker equaling their own. Elsewhere, Ember was facing off against one that was several times her size. As soon as it lashed out at her, she turned to smoke. While it was distracted trying to attack her incorporeal form, Skylar swooped down to sink her talons anywhere they could reach.

Fey’s monster lunged at her, but with goatlike nimbleness she was able to dodge out of the way. As its jaws snapped at the spot where she had just been, she balled her fist and drove it into the monster’s face with all her might. The moment she made contact, though, pain lanced all the way up her arm. It was like punching a brick wall! The monster swung its claws at her, and would have taken her head off if her enhanced reflexes hadn’t let her duck beneath the blow. Bending her powerful knees, she leaped backwards, landing almost ten feet away.

Idiot! she cursed herself. You know that’s not going to work!

She wasn’t as strong as Norrin, and she didn’t have claws or talons like Ember and Skylar. All she had was her agility and her horns. She just hoped they would be enough.

The monster came after her, long strings of drool hanging from its mouth in anticipation of the imminent feast, and Fey threw herself forward into a roll. Her momentum carried her right between its legs, and she leaped to her hooves and dashed behind it before it could turn around. She felt the wind touch her hair as swung its claws, nearly taking her head off. She retreated a few steps, then spun around to face it again. It growled in irritation.

“Hold still!” it yelled.

“Come and get me!” she yelled back.

It came for her again, but by now a plan had formed in Fey’s mind. She charged straight for it, and when it bent down to bite her, she jumped. Her strength carried her high above its head, and she carefully aimed herself so that when she came back down…

She landed gracefully on its face, and the monster howled in pain. Not that she could blame it, since her hard cloven hooves had come down right on its eyes. She immediately jumped again, launching herself into a backflip as its hands closed in on her—one of which, she noticed, was missing everything but its thumb and little finger. She hit the ground lightly and, while the beast was still rubbing its eyes, she charged forward to ram her horns into its heart.

Her plan would have worked if it hadn’t jerked out of the way at the last second. Instead of its heart, her horns pierced its side. It howled again as she gouged two painful, but ultimately harmless holes in its side. Then, before she could react, it grabbed her.

“I already know that trick, bitch!” it roared.

Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap! she thought as it hoisted her into the air, holding her by the horns. She tried to kick it, but its long arms kept her out of reach. It glared at her with its sickly yellow eyes, now bloodshot from being kicked, and it almost seemed to smile…

Then it ripped one of her horns clean from her head.

Fey screamed as pain beyond anything she could have imagined exploded in her skull. Her vision went white, blinding her. There was no Fey, there was no monster, there was nothing but pain. The moonlit forest slowly came back into focus, and she saw the monster opening its mouth to finish her off. She couldn’t bring herself to protest. At least death would stop the horrible, soul curdling pain.

But then Glenn was there. With a swing of his knives, he slashed the back of the monster’s ankle, bringing it to one knee. Before he could kill it, though, it whipped Fey up and over its head, hurling her at him. She collided with him, knocking the deer-walker off his hooves and sending them both tumbling across the gory camp. The world spun chaotically, and Fey had to fight to keep from throwing up.

“Fey, you need to move!” Glenn grunted, and she realized she was lying on top of him. She did her best to raise herself up, but the pain in her head spiked and her strength left her, collapsing back on top of him.

The monster rose and came for them, walking with a distinct limp but still far from defeated. Blood was running down Fey’s face in rivers, soaking into her fur and turning it scarlet. She tried to move again, and Glenn did his best to push her off of him, but the strain made her vision go dark. She gasped for breath, struggling not to pass out. The beast loomed over them, grinning in satisfaction…

Norrin grabbed it from behind, wrapping it in a literal bear hug. With its arms pinned to its sides, the bear-walker squeezed with all his strength. It cried out, and below that Fey could hear the telltale sound of bones snapping. Her heart leaped. He must have finished off his first opponent just in time to come save them!

That is, she thought as another shadow appeared behind him, if he had finished the first monster off.

It was beaten and bloody, but still very much alive, and it sank its teeth into Norrin’s neck. Norrin roared in pain. The surprise attack loosened his grip enough that Fey’s monster broke free. Snarling, it turned and swiped its claws across Norrin’s face, knocking him and the one biting him to the ground. Then it turned back to Fey and Glenn.

“Leave him alone!”

Before the monster could react, Ember had clambered up its back and had perched herself on its antlered head.


Her entire body burst into smoke, blinding the beast. It clawed wildly at its face, trying to find something it could grab onto, but Ember’s Instinct had effectively made her invincible. Coughing, it took an awkward step to the side, but the cloud followed it. Then, with a screech, Skylar came down out of the sky, sinking her talons into the monster’s face. Once she had a good grip, she flapped her wings, trying to raise the nightmarish creature up above the trees where she could drop it.

In doing so, she blew Ember’s smoke cloud away.

The monster’s eyes immediately locked onto her. Skylar released her hold and tried to fly away, but the beast’s hand shot out and grabbed her by the ankle.

“No!” Glenn gasped. Fey tried to move, but only succeeded in nearly making herself pass out again.

There was no one to help her. Norrin was still wrestling with the other monster on the ground. Ember had reformed herself, but the other two monsters had ganged up on her. And, trapped under Fey’s weight, all Glen could do was watch as the monster yanked Skylar out of the air. With a roar, it whirled around and slammed her into the ground. Her body went limp.

“No!” Glenn yelled again.

Fey didn’t know if Skylar was already dead or just unconscious, but the monster wasn’t taking any chances. Raising her listless body to its mouth, it sank its teeth into her feathery flesh.

“NOOOO!” Glenn screamed at the top of his lungs. With a surge of adrenaline, he shoved Fey off of him and was on his hooves in an instant.

His knives were a blur, first slicing off the monster’s arm so that it dropped Skylar, then its leg. It collapsed with a howl, feebly swiping at Glenn with its almost fingerless hand. With fury burning in his eyes, Glenn raised both knives and drove them into the monster’s eyes. It made a wretched gurgling sound as blood gushed freely from both sockets, twitched a couple times, and then fell still.

Nearby, Norrin finally managed to pin his foe beneath him, and sank his teeth into its throat. It died too, leaving his face coated with a mixture of his own blood, and the monster’s darker blood.

That left only two more for the pack to deal with. Fey, despite still not being able to see straight, felt a flutter of hope in her heart. Against Norrin and Glenn, they didn’t stand a chance!

The first of them tackled Norrin from behind. Glenn rushed over to rescue him, but the second was too quick, grabbing him by both wrists. A quick twist made him drop his knives, and then it raised him into the air by his arms to watch as the first monster took Norrin’s head in both hands and slammed his face into the ground. Once. Twice. Fey didn’t want to watch, but couldn’t make herself look away. Five times, and Norrin went limp.

Don’t be dead! Please don’t be dead! Fey prayed desperately. She looked over at where Skylar lay, but it was obvious she hadn’t survived the mauling she’d received. Her face—or what remained of it—was unrecognizable as the stoic hawk-walker she had grown up with. Please don’t let two of them die in one night!

Ember rushed in and raked her claws down the monster’s cheek, and it rose to confront her as well. It lashed out, and she exploded into smoke. Knowing it couldn’t hurt her like this, it turned its attention to Glenn instead, who was still helplessly dangling from the other monster’s arms. As soon as its back was turned, Ember reformed herself and ran forward to—

It moved faster than she could react, spinning around and slamming its fist against her head. Ember rocketed backwards, sliding across the corpse-ridden campsite, until she crashed into a tree. She didn’t get back up.

Now it was just Glenn, and he was at the monsters’ mercy.

I have to…get up… Fey thought, struggling to rise. Her head throbbed in agony, and she collapsed again. I can’t…let them die…because of what I did!

This time she was able to get to her hooves, but she wobbled so badly that she almost fell back down again. Her vision swam. Sometimes there were two monsters and one Glenn, sometimes four monsters and two Glenns. But she couldn’t let that stop her. She had to fix this. She…had to…save…

She fell.

Don’t pass out, don’t pass out, don’t pass out! she thought, pushing back against the wall of darkness that threatened to overtake her. If you pass out, they’ll all die!

The monsters gave her an impassive glance, and then turned their attention back to Glenn. He fought to break free, but he just didn’t have the strength. Seeing his packmates fall one by one to these creatures had only stoked his fury. If he died, the rest of the pack would die too—and that included his son. Hanging from the monster’s grasp, he thrashed and kicked, but to no avail. It was too strong. All he and Fey could do was watch as the other casually approached, raising a single claw to slice open his belly. It pressed the tip against his soft flesh, obviously relishing the suspense. If it expected Glenn to show any weakness, though, it was disappointed, since he just glared defiantly back at it. It pushed harder, and blood began to darken his light brown fur.

And then the beast burst into flames.

Fey stared in disbelief as the monster flailed in agony for a few seconds, its screams echoing through the night, before collapsing into a pile of smoldering bones. And behind those bones stood the last person she expected to see.

“Zave?” she croaked through a dry throat.

Zave stood facing the last monster, a burning branch in each hand. The remaining monster shied away from the flames, then dropped Glenn and turned to flee. Zave was moving before it had taken two steps, though, hurling one of his branches at…nothing? But then, as if it had been rehearsed, the monster dodged to the side, straight into the branch’s path. It ignited with a howl, and within seconds there was nothing left of it either.

“Fey!” he shouted, running over to where she was lying. “Fey, you need to get up!”

“Z…Zave?” she asked, hardly able to believe what she was seeing. “What are you…how did you find me?”

Zave’s eyes were wide and his voice was frantic. “There’s no time to explain! Clueless and the others! we have to get back to the cave before—”

Suddenly Glenn was there, He grabbed Zave by the shoulder and spun him around, his eyes flashing dangerously.

“What about the cave?” he demanded. “How do you know about it?”

Zave’s mouth opened to answer, but then his eyes widened. “You…You’re his father.”

Glenn shook him. “Answer me before I kill you, human!”

“I- I saw it in the fire,” he explained quickly. “This isn’t over. You have to get back to the cave. He’s coming!”

“Who’s coming, damn it?”

“I don’t know who he is, but I know he’s coming!” Zave looked him in the eye. “He’s coming for your son!”

Glenn threw Zave aside and was gone before he hit the ground.

Next Chapter: 12/30/2023