“Misty, on your right!”
Misty’s ears perked up at her brother’s warning, and dodged to the side just as an axe cleaved the ground open right where she had been standing. While the Mythic recovered, she pounced on it and sank her teeth into its shoulder.
It didn’t scream or even bat its black and red eyes.
Misty let go just as it raised its hand to swat at her, and scrambled backwards to make some distance between them. To her right, Ozzie was dueling a sword-wielding elf with his knife. She and Porter had both been worried about Ozzie bringing such a tiny weapon to the battle, but he was quickly proving them both wrong. Ozzie knew his knife was most effective at short distances, and that longer weapons were ineffective when their wielder didn’t have room to swing it. As long as he was close enough to use his knife, most of their enemies wouldn’t be able to touch him.
As skilled as he was, though, he would never be a predator like Misty. With her lean, strong wolf form, she weaved in and out of their enemies like a shark in an ocean of bodies, biting and clawing anyone who let their guard down. She had no armor, but it didn’t matter— Mortoph had given her everything she needed to survive this fight.
Speaking of her adopted father, she turned to look up at the Fear Feeder and snarled. If she hadn’t already disowned Mortoph, this would have been more than enough to convince her. The creature that was unhurriedly trying to crush the Mythic army smelled like dead people, and looked even worse. Day after day, year after year, she had spent her entire life being told that anything inhuman was a monster, including herself. To find out now that Mortoph had never been human at all made her blood boil with rage.
A quick look around the field told Misty that her side didn’t seem to be doing well. The Slayers could barely hold their own against the mindless Mythics, and they still had Uthas Drall to deal with on top of that. If they couldn’t beat him, they would have gotten nowhere. She pushed those thoughts out of her mind, though. For now she had to focus on fighting. She snarled as a wyvern came to challenge her, and then pounced and sank her teeth into its wing.
Don’t kill them, Azkular’s voice warned her in her head. She tried to obey, but it was getting harder. The wolf in her smelled blood in the air, and that excited it. It wanted to bite, kill, and eat, not knock its prey down and leave it there. Luckily, Mortoph had spent years teaching her how to control these instincts, and now they were little more than an annoying voice in the back of her head. Still, she couldn’t deny that the Mythic blood in her mouth tasted good…
“Misty!” Ozzie shouted suddenly, bringing her mind back where it belonged. They were standing back to tail now, each of them facing down a different Mythic. Ozzie’s was a naga, her snake tail coiled underneath her, ready to lunge at the young man and sink her venomous fangs into his skin. Misty’s was, to her surprise, another werewolf. This one was a male, full grown with fur as black as midnight.
Okay, Misty thought, lowering herself down to pounce. Let’s see what he’s got.
The other wolf didn’t wait for her to strike first. He lunged at her, jaws snapping. Misty backpedaled, trying to keep him from getting at her throat, and almost knocked Ozzie over in the process.
“Hey, watch it!” he complained, dodging to the side just as the snake lady came at him.
“Sorry!” she said quickly, never taking her eyes off the black wolf.
The other wolf growled, pulling his lips back to show her his teeth. A primitive threat, but one she was perfectly capable of understanding. Repurposed or not, this werewolf considered her a threat and wouldn’t stop fighting her until she either ran away, or died. Misty gulped, forcing her fear to the back of her mind, and threw herself at her opponent.
The black wolf rose onto its back legs, and she rose to meet it. Her teeth found their mark, biting into his throat, but his thick fur and tough skin kept her from causing any real damage.
Don’t kill him, she told herself again, but found that her human voice of reason was suddenly speaking much more quietly than her animal instincts— and they demanded she kill the wolf that had dared to challenge her.
The larger wolf managed to shake her free, and she backed away again. Her hackles rose, and she lowered herself to the ground. Her opponent did likewise, and then darted in to snap at her neck. When she recoiled, he came at her again and swiped his claws at her face, leaving four bloody cuts behind. Misty yelped in pain, and then retreated further.
No, that’s not right! her instincts told her. Every step you take backwards makes him more confident!
She wasn’t going to let that happen. With a growl, she pounced at the other wolf and slammed her side into him, using her weight to throw him off balance. He stumbled backwards a couple steps, and before he could recover she darted in and bit him in the side. The skin was a softer there, and her teeth punctured it. Blood filled her mouth. She shook her head right and left, trying to cause as much damage with this one bite as she could.
Then, with Misty’s teeth still in his side, the black wolf jumped into the air and landed on top of her, pinning her underneath his weight. While she squirmed to get free, he sank his teeth into her shoulder.
Pain lanced through the young werewolf’s body, and she had to resist the urge to tear herself away from her opponent. His teeth were deep inside her, and that would only cause even more damage. She could smell her own blood, and it had the opposite effect of smelling her enemies’ blood. Fear flooded into her mind, and the wolf part of her demanded that she give up the fight and run away. The black wolf was too strong for her. She would never win.
You’re wrong, she told herself, fighting back the instincts again. You’re not an animal. You’re a Mythic!
With this thought, she managed to block out the wolf completely. Her mind cleared, though her shoulder still burned with pain, and she was able to think as a human again. It was then that a plan came to her…
Misty shifted back to her human form. Her shoulder hurt beyond belief as her muscles twisted and reshaped themselves around the other wolf’s teeth, but she forced herself to keep going until she was fully human once again. Before the other wolf could react, she brought her newly regrown hand up and drove her thumb into his eye. It wasn’t enough to do any permanent damage, but it was enough to shock him into letting her go. Her shoulder now free, dripping blood on the grass below, her hand shot out and grabbed a nearby rock. She sprang to her feet, came at the black wolf, and slammed the stone into its face. A single white fang flew free of its mouth and landed in the grass a few feet away.
The wolf glared at her for a few seconds, and then collapsed.
Again, she was suddenly assaulted by her werewolf instincts despite being in human form. Fire filled her veins, making even the wound on her shoulder seem insignificant. She wanted to lean her head back and howl to declare her victory. More than that, though, she wanted to kill the other wolf. It was the only way to make sure he would never come back and try to hurt her again. Even as she stood there looking at his prone form, she found herself baring her teeth and preparing to bite the veins in his throat. Repurposed or not, the black wolf needed to die!
Her mind stuck in a bloodthirsty haze, she forced herself to raise her hand and slap herself in the face. The sharp pain cut through her instincts, putting her humanity in control once more. Turning her back on the unconscious wolf, she looked up and glared at Uthas Drall towering above her.
I’m not a monster, she thought spitefully. No matter what you say, I will never be a monster!
She spun around just in time to see Ozzie finish off the naga with a blow to the head.
“Still okay?” she asked, making her way over.
He nodded, and then shot her a quizzical look.
“I need to be human for a few minutes,” she said, answering his question before he’d even asked. Letting her wolf side rest for a bit would make it easier to keep her instincts in check.
Ozzie hesitated a moment, but then nodded.
“All right,” he agreed reluctantly. “Just be careful. You don’t have any weapons on you, so you’ll be completely— guh!”
Misty stopped. “Ozzie?”
Ozzie gurgled, and started desperately grabbing at something behind his back that Misty couldn’t see.
Then she saw his blood spilling onto the grass below .
The air behind him shimmered, and a black clad form appeared. He was tall and lean, and wore bandages over his face, but that didn’t hide his black and red eyes. Misty gasped in fright when she recognized him as Shadow, the Repurposed dragon that had acted as Ozzie’s partner while he searched for Porter.
Wordlessly, Shadow ripped his dagger out of Ozzie’s back and allowed the boy to fall to the ground.
“Ozzie!” Misty screamed, and instantly changed back into her wolf form. Growling with savage rage, she pounced at the human-shaped Mythic.
Ozzie landed face first in the grass, his blood running down his side to pool on the ground around him. Blinding pain seared his back, but he could already feel it fading away. The world around him started to grow darker, but through the shadows he could see two figures fighting. One on four legs, the other on two.
Misty and Shadow.
No, he thought, his brain already sluggish. I just found her… I can’t… leave… her…
Even though his arms were numb, he managed to get them under him and pushed up. It didn’t matter. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t move. He had already lost too much blood. He was too weak.
Even though he could barely register it, his fingers closed around something lying in the grass. He brought it up to his face, trying to see it through dying eyes.
His pulse spiked.
Yes! If he could just… Then he could…
He wasn’t thinking clearly anymore. He had to act fast, or it would be too late. Wrapping his fingers as tightly as he could around it, Ozzie raised his hand into the air and…
Shadow lashed out when Misty pounced at him, knocking her out of the air like she was just a fly. She slammed into the ground and gasped as the wind was knocked out of her lungs, and the world spun around her. In front of her, Shadow drew his knife again. Beyond him, she could see Ozzie lying in the grass.
“No,” she whimpered, coughing as she tried to her breath. “I- I just got him back! Don’t take him away from me!”
If Shadow could understand her, he paid her no attention. He knelt down and in front of her and raised his bloodstained knife, preparing to plunge it into her heart. Misty struggled to get on her paws again, but her head was still buzzing, making it too hard to move. She closed her eyes.
At least we’re dying together…
Suddenly, there was a howl. Misty’s eyes snapped open just in time to see another wolf tackle Shadow from behind, its teeth tearing into the Repurposed dragon’s throat. Shadow was caught off guard, and wasn’t able to react in time. The other wolf pinned him to the ground and bit him again with animalistic savagery, and soon his insides were scattered across the ground. Dragon or not, even he couldn’t survive that.
At first Misty thought it was the black wolf she had beaten earlier, but it couldn’t have been. This wolf’s fur was a light gray, spotted here and there with black patches, just like…
Misty gasped and scrambled back to her paws.
It was just like hers.
The other wolf spun around, snarling, but froze when it saw her. Misty looked into its eyes, hardly able to believe what she was seeing.
Green eyes so bright they could almost glow in the dark.
Just like hers!
“Look at that thing!” Tick exclaimed. From their vantage point at the top of the tree, they could clearly see the fifty foot tall monstrosity as it wreaked havoc on the battlefield below.
“What is it?” Manchi asked, her voice quivering with fear. She was standing behind him, her arms wrapped around the tree trunk so tightly that Tick thought she might break it in half.
“I have no idea,” Tick answered, balancing on his thin branch without holding onto anything. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Anxiety turned his stomach to stone as he watched the battle below. Porter, Sarah, Gwinn, and all his other friends were out there fighting, and here he was hiding in a tree. He felt useless, just like Gwinn had assumed he was when they first met. He squirmed on his tree branch, itching to go back and help, but unable to leave Manchi behind.
“Do you think they’ll be okay?” the other chimera asked.
“Of course they will! I told you, Porter’s a hero!” Tick said, trying to act confident. He knew Manchi could see the worry in his eyes, though. She bit her lip, and hugged the tree tighter.
Lightning flashed in the dark sky, and Tick wondered, not for the first time, if it was a good idea for them to be up so high.
“Maybe we should get out of the tree,” he suggested. “It might get struck by lightning.”
Manchi shook her head and pressed her face against the tree trunk. “No! It’s dangerous down there!”
Tick wanted to point out how they were just as likely to get hurt sitting in a tree in the middle of a storm, but decided not to worry her anymore and turned to watch the battle again. He had long since lost track of his friends in the chaos. He couldn’t even find Gwinn, whose white fur usually made him easy to spot. He gripped the branch underneath him tighter, hoping that they were all okay.
They’ll be fine, he forced himself to think. They’ve been through bad things before, right?
Not like this, the pessimistic part of him argued. This is worse than anything they’ve ever seen before— and they have that monster to deal with too.
“Tick?” Manchi spoke up from behind him. He turned to look at her. “Tick, I think…”
Tick never got to hear what she thought, though, because at that moment there was a bright flash and a sudden blast of heat— and then the tree exploded. Tick was thrown off his branch by the blast, his hair and fur standing up straight from the static electricity, and slammed into another tree behind him. The tree he had been on before was in flames, and with a groan it began to lean forward. He couldn’t see Manchi anywhere.
“Manchi!” he shouted, but she didn’t answer. Instead, all he heard in reply was the wood groaning as the tree fell. Tick hastily got to his feet and leaped to the next tree just as it came crashing down, taking the one he’d just been on with it.
“Manchi!” he screamed as both trees collapsed, rolling down the hill until they came to rest on the bottom. He looked back to where the first tree had been standing, but there was no sign of her there either. “Manchi!”
Maybe she’s at the bottom of the hill, he thought desperately, and quickly made his way out of the tree. He ran down the hill as fast as his feet would carry him, and streaked out onto the battlefield, where both trees now lay smoldering. There was still no sign of Manchi, though. His tail lashing from side to side with fright, he turned to look at the battle— the last place she could have gone. Fueled by panic, he didn’t think twice before running into the midst of the violence.
There were two different sides to the fight now. The Slayers were fighting the Repurposed, and the Mythics were doing their best to fight the giant monster. The last Tick had seen Gwinn, the wampus cat had been on the side where the Repurposed were fighting, so he turned to sprint that way, hoping that was where Manchi had gone.
The first Mythic to see Tick was a large, leathery skinned troll. Fixing its black and red eyes on the little chimera, it swung its massive hammer over its shoulder. Tick darted out of the way just as the hammer slammed into the ground, missing him by less than a foot.
“Stop fighting me, stop fighting me,” he sang to the troll. The troll stopped moving, and looked at him expectantly. Tick took another deep breath and sang, “Protect me!”
Another Mythic came running at them, and the troll obeyed Tick’s command. Hefting its hammer, it swung it around and smashed it into the other Repurposed Mythic’s chest. The unfortunate gorgon went flying, and when it landed it didn’t get back up. Tick clambered up the troll’s back and sat on his shoulders before anything else noticed him, and then scanned the scene until he caught a flash of white in the distance.
“Go that way,” he commanded the troll, making sure it saw which direction he was pointing. The troll immediately set off, swinging its hammer at anyone, Slayer or Mythic, that came too close. Clinging tightly to the troll’s head, Tick cast a glance up at the giant monster. It was too busy fending off the Mythic army to worry about the Slayers right now— and why should it, with its own army of Mythics fighting them? It let out a roar, and gouged another hole in the ground, its claws throwing dirt and stones everywhere.
Tick’s attention was brought back to the situation at hand when his troll suddenly threw itself forward, and Tick had to hold tight to its sweaty scalp to keep from being bucked off. The troll stumbled and fell over, and Tick realized that there was an arrow protruding from its chest. Just like Gwinn had warned him could happen, the troll had interpreted Tick’s command to protect him in a way the chimera hadn’t intended. It fell, and Tick was thrown from its shoulders. He rolled across the grass before finally coming to rest. Dazed, he shook his head and got to his feet— just as a massive foot came down, shaking the ground.
Tick’s eyes went wide with terror, and spun around to see that he had landed no more than twenty feet away from the monster. The thing was so gigantic that Tick was like a bug to it, and as it raised its foot again, Tick realized that it could step on him without even noticing. With a scream, he turned and ran the other way, heedless of the fighting going on around him. Behind him, the monster stomped again, and the tremors were enough to throw Tick off his feet. He got to his knees and looked back…
The monster swung its claws into the earth again, and this time it unearthed a boulder that had been buried underground. The boulder arched into the air, flying across the battlefield— directly toward Tick! His feet rooted themselves to the ground even as his brain screamed at him to get out of the way, and Tick could only watch as the big rock flew across the sky, coming closer, and closer, and…
“Tick!” someone screamed, and the next thing he knew something had slammed into him from the side, pushing him out of the way. He tripped and fell to the ground, and rolled over just in time to see Manchi standing right where he had been less than a second ago. In a sudden flash of lightning, they made eye contact, and he could see her terrified face for a fraction of a second.
And then the boulder landed, crushing her underneath it.
“Manchi!” he screamed. The great rock rolled a few feet further before coming to rest, leaving the little chimera girl behind.
Tick ran up and knelt beside her, and what he saw terrified him. Every bone in her body had been shattered, and she was struggling even to breathe. Her eyes looked up at the sky, unseeing. She was obviously in so much pain that it hurt Tick just to look at her.
“Why?” he asked, knowing she probably couldn’t hear him. Tears ran down his cheeks, and he scrunched his face up in grief. He gingerly took her hand in his, trying not to cause her any more pain. “Why did you do that?”
“T- t- t-”
With a gasp, Tick raised his head again. Manchi’s eyes had turned to look at him, and she coughed as she tried to answer through her crushed windpipe.
With the last of her strength, she gave Tick’s hand a squeeze.
“To protect you,” she croaked.
One final breath escaped her lips, and the little chimera girl died. Tick sat there staring at her for a few seconds, and then bowed his head back and cried.
NEXT TIME: I’ve got nothing. No jokes. No sarcasm. Be here for next week’s chapter… I’m sorry.