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Desmond

I could smell it up ahead. It was nearby, I just couldn’t place it. The smell of rotten eggs, sulfur, was strong in the air around me. My nose could find the general area of things, but it couldn’t pinpoint anything well yet. I’d just gotten used to managing the sensory overload, but this smell wreaked.

“Keep your eyes out, it’s around us.” I tried to focus off of my nose, and listened around us. I could hear the quickening heartbeats of my three friends around me, and then a ragged breathing from far in front of me, muffled by something. I didn’t know if it could see or hear us well, so I motioned to the others that it was over there.

“What?” Brenden asked, “What are you doing?”

“I’m pointing,” I whispered back. “Be quiet! It’s over there.”

“Where? I’m not seeing it.” Tells said that and started walking forward slowly.

“No!” I was whisper-yelling at her. “Don’t go toward it yet! We have to surprise it.” Tells stopped and walked back toward us. I focused again and listened. It was gone from its spot. “Shit! It moved while you were acting like asshats!” I kept listening around me.

“I didn’t move at all,” Tells said from behind me.

I snapped back, “Yes, you did, you started walking toward it.”

Tells’ looked right at me. “What? I already came back.”

“But you scared it away and now I can’t find it.”

I heard her voice from another spot behind me. ”Oh it’s not scared.”

My blood went cold when I realized Tells was right in front of me and I spun around, looking to where the voice came from. I saw Adam laying on the ground, a small puncture wound on his back. Brenden pulled out his sword immediately. I listened around for any movement. Something was here mimicking Tells, and somehow put Adam down that fast. Tells, Brenden and I stood back to back to back, looking around for whatever was here with us. I listened for movement or anything. Then I heard Adam’s voice and we all turned to look at him.

“What happened you guys?” His body was still limp on the ground.

I heard wings beating. “Behind us! Duck!” I ducked as fast as I could, pulling Tells and Brenden down with me. I heard the wings fly over me and I quickly looked up. I caught sight of it as it’s blood-red, almost brown like wood, furry batlike body flew up to a branch. It couldn’t escape my sight now that my eyes were locked on it. It was almost catlike, with a body the size of a child and its bat wings and sharply barbed tail. The little shit looked like it was smiling at us. Its tail must have been what knocked Adam out like that. That was the only thing I could think of. “We need to cut off its tail somehow.”

“Where the fuck is it?” Brenden was frantically looking around. I pointed to the branch with my pole, and it seemed like the creature caught on.

“Behind you.” Tells voice came from behind me as the creature’s mouth opened. Brenden swung around with his sword and Tells ducked.

“What the fuck was that?!” Tells yelled at Brenden, who nearly swiped her with his sword.

I watched as the creature jumped off the branch, soaring through the air toward Brenden’s open flank. It was beating its wings almost silently, but extremely quickly. It was priming its tail to jab Brenden in the back while he was apologizing to Tells. “Both of you jump out of the way! I pushed Brenden away and watched at Tells wasn’t even listening, still surprised by the swipe from Brenden, and the creature’s tail impaled her directly in the sternum. Knocking her limp to the ground. I heard giggling from the tree it flew to, as it was trying to conceal itself behind a branch.

“Stop bickering and focus. It’s already knocked two of us out. Get your shit together, man.” I pulled Brenden toward me and aimed his head toward the creature. “Right there. Now keep your eyes on it and aim to cut its tail off. If we get that, we can just try to bag it.”

“Shit, man, we had a plan and everything too.”

“Plans change, I guess. We’ve got two of us now. We can do it.” Just as I said that, the creature darted off the branch and down the trunk of the tree, hiding behind it so I couldn’t see which direction it would go. I was keeping my eyes and ears focused though.

It used Tells voice again, “What in the goddamn did that?”

“Don’t listen to it!” I said. “It’s throwing its voice to try and confuse us.” It couldn’t keep trying to trick us like this. There had to be some other plan it had. It was replicating speech perfectly.

“No, I’m pretty sure my voice is coming out of my own body.” Tells’ voice was behind us again.

“Desmond, what the fuck is going on?” Brenden was sounding worried because the creature wasn’t moving.

I saw the creature peak its head from behind the tree and Tells’ voice came from it, “What the fuck?”

“Was that my voice?” Tells’ voice came from behind me again. “That sounds so weird from somewhere else.” I heard footsteps moving around me, and Tells stepped out in front of me. She still had the puncture wound and a little blood coming from the front of her shirt.

“Didn’t you get hit by the shit that knocked Adam out?” I looked at Adam and looked back at her. Same size wound. She was fine though. I heard the wings beating again and pushed her out of the way. I glanced over and saw the creature flying at her. I think it was expecting my push though, and it corrected in time to jab Tells in the stomach this time. “Shit! Tells!”

“Whoa! What was that thing?!” Tells whipped around with her pole, right at the creature. I looked on a little dumbfounded at it. The creature was staring at her.

The creature replicated her voice again. “Why?!”

“Is that thing as surprised as we are?” Brenden whispered to me.

Suddenly I heard Tells’ voice say, “Brenden move!” and watched as the creature’s tail pierced Brenden’s neck. His body went limp and he collapsed like a ragdoll. Just like Adam.

“I am so sorry, Brenden.” I felt awful. I was so confused about Tells that I forgot to keep an eye on the creature. It was the dumbest possible move. Absolutely stupid. I whipped around to look at the creature, which landed on Adam. It began to bite into his chest, but its teeth sounded like they hit a rock and it screamed out. It then turned toward Tells and screamed at her as it began to rocket forward. Tells and I tried to catch it on out poles, but it slipped through them with ease. I tucked its wings in and glided between them, lunging for Tells’ throat. At the last moment, I swear time slowed down and Tells reached out her hand and grabbed it square in the neck as its tail impaled her arm. The creature began screeching as it pierced its tail rapidly into her arm, tens of times over. Spurts of blood were beginning to fountain out of her. I reached down to grab Brenden’s sword to cut its tail off, but as I was reaching down I watched as Tells grabbed its tail with her other hand and stabbed the creature in the neck with its own tail. The creature went limp just like Adam and Brenden.

“What the hell, Tells?” I just stared at her.

“I guess we throw it in the cage now?” Tells’ eyes were wide open, looking shocked that she even did that. I opened the cage for her, blood dripping down her arm and chest, and she threw the creature in. It landed with a dull thud and she shut the cage door, locking it. “Honestly, don’t bother asking how I’m still up. I don’t know.”

“Uh, yeah. Shit shit shit, we need to get Adam and Brenden up.” I went over to Adam and looked over him. There were shards of the creature’s teeth on his chest, like its teeth broke trying to bite him. We picked him up and lugged his massive body to the wagon. It took all of our muscle, but we managed to carry him the half mile there. We went back for Brenden, but we couldn’t find him. It was like he disappeared. I stood in the exact spot he fell down, but I couldn’t see anything. Had he gotten up and gone back already? I walked back to the wagon and saw Tells inside.

“Where’s Brenden?” She asked.

“He didn’t come back?”

“You’re the one who said you were going to get him!”

“He’s not there anymore.” She got up and darted off to the spot with me. “See! He’s not here.”

“That’s not physically possible unless he got dragged off by something! And we didn’t see any tracks, drag marks, or anything that could have pulled-” I heard a thud.

“Oh shit, it did not just knock her out again!” I ran over to where I heard her.

“Well I found him. But, uh, he’s not here.” Tells was on a knee looking at the ground.

“Huh?” I swear I lost brain cells trying to understand what the hell she was talking about.

“He’s right here.” She was pointing at the ground until I realized that I was hearing something faint coming from under her finger. It was a slow heartbeat, and I smelled the milky smell again. Brenden was right there. Or had been there. I walked over and touched the ground, but my hand hit something before the ground. It was warm and felt like a body.

“Why can I feel Brenden but I can’t see him? Am I having a schizophrenic meltdown or something?” I was genuinely questioning my sanity about why I was feeling a body but seeing nothing.

“If you’re schizophrenic, then I’m the queen of them.” She was still poking the invisible mass. She put her hands under it, lifted, and Brenden’s body appeared in her arms. Not a single word was exchanged, but we locked eyes in complete and utter confusion for a solid minute before we started walking back.

The wagon ride back to Geren’s was quiet, being only me and Tells. For a while, I was prodding at Adam’s pecs with my sword, seeing if there was give. Sure enough, it felt like poking my sword into solid stone. Whatever this fireblood did paralyzed him and made his muscles seize into solid stone. I poked Brenden as well, seeing if he would disappear again. All I did was give him some unwanted pin pricks and get more blood on his clothes.

I couldn’t help but think about what happened to Tells. “Hey, that fireblood stabbed you with its tail, like a lot.”

“Yeah.”

“And you fell down. Paralyzed like them.”

“Uh huh.”

“But then you just stood up and rocked that thing’s shit.”

“I guess so.”

I waited a second to see if she was going to elaborate or something. Of course she wouldn’t. This was Tells I was talking to. “Did you, like, feel anything when it stabbed you? Did you have a dream about your ancestors or something? Was getting stabbed the key to unlocking your hidden chakra or something? Anything?”

Tells looked forward for a moment with furrowed brows. Then she just shrugged and started up casually. “I guess I felt warm for a second, like when you drink alcohol and you feel a warmth, but in my chest. I didn’t like the feeling, so it went away and I could move again.”

I’m no doctor, I never have been. But I’m also not stupid when it comes to basic medical stuff though, so I knew that there was something really weird going on with her. She should have been down for the count by all means, but she just decided to be unparalyzed? What? I just went back to focusing on Adam and Brenden, while keeping an eye on the fireblood so it wouldn’t wake up again.

When we reached the road to Geren’s place, he was standing, waiting eagerly.

“I smelled approaching… You did it. Fireblood is alive… you are all alive.”

I was leading the wagon, so I spoke to him. “So our friends are paralyzed and we need to get them help. Do you know anything?”

“Mother Yeline helps. She can fix ailments. Group came other day… with same ailment… going to Mother.” He had a very calm look on his face, but his heart was beating faster than normal. What would cause that? Was he worried? Lying? I didn’t have time to care.

“Can we borrow this wagon. We’ll be coming back this way to get to the city. We’ll drop it off then.” He nodded and I began riding. He waved us off and watched as we disappeared out of sight.

There is no way that should have been as quick as it was. It felt too easy, like there was some caveat to it all. Were they going to die of paralysis? I couldn’t risk it. I had the corty move as fast as it could and took off back to town. It only took about two days to get back with the corty. During that time, I did everything I could to make sure Adam and Brenden survived. Listening to their breaths and heartbeats constantly was tiring, and I got migraine after migraine trying to keep concentration on them. Their throats weren’t messed up at all, so I tried giving them some water. Sure enough, their breathing didn’t change, so I figured it was probably going into their stomachs and not down their windpipes. Arriving back in town was like lifting a massive weight off my shoulders. We arrived and pulled straight up to the temple, and Tells ran straight in to get Mother Yeline.

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About the author

Ren Cory

Bio: I'm an amateur writer, but I've got a story in my head that I want to tell. What I write won't always be amazing, but I really think it will get better with experience. I love reading and watching anything fantasy, scifi and anything in that sort of wheelhouse. I've always been inspired by those genres to be creative and do my own thing, creating entirely new worlds, histories, creatures, plants and the whatnot. I like trying out new ideas in the genres I love.

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