Chapter Twenty Three

Kulgan looked up at the cocoons hanging from the queen titantula’s underbelly.

 

“Miss Adlis is in one of those!” Za yelled, pointing.

 

Kulgan was already moving, though. Stuffing Zam back into its holster, he used both hands to swing and leap across the web as quickly as he could. He could hear Za struggling to keep up behind him, whimpering as they flashed past a dozen smaller titantulas. Luckily, none of them made any move to give chase.

 

“Which one's she in?” he demanded as they drew nearer. The queen stopped in her tracks, and for a second Kulgan thought she had heard them. To his relief, she lunged at a smaller spider that had scuttled in her path, eating it in one bite. He stopped a few feet away from her back legs.

 

“I- I dunno,” Za answered when he caught up.

 

The queen began to move again, and Kulgan cursed. “Well, you'd better figure it out!”

 

“But you—”

 

“Look.” He pointed at the webby sacks hanging from her stomach. “Adlis is in one of those. The rest are filled with Grayland monsters. What else could they be? So, if I cut the wrong one down, we may be in even more trouble than ever!”

 

Za paused, turning his head up to the monster's belly. Some of the cocoons were motionless, which probably mean the prisoners were dead. A good number of them were still twitching, though. Which one was Adlis in?

 

The queen was getting too far away, so Kulgan set off after her again. “Hurry up, will you?”

 

Za followed, his head twitching as he scanned each of the cocoons with his senses. “Uh... Um... I don't... MISS ADLISSSSS!”

 

One of the cocoons began to shake even harder, and Za pointed to it.

 

“Yeah, I saw it too,” Kulgan said. “Good thinking.”

 

Unfortunately, Adlis wasn't the only one who had heard the simmk's call. The queen titantula stopped again and then, with calm, deliberate steps, turn around to face them.

 

“Well...” Kulgan grunted. “D'yargo.”

 

He grabbed Za and dove to the side just as her head came down, mandibles snapping. She missed, severing the strand of web instead. Kulgan and Za fell for a couple of seconds, and then Kulgan reached out and grabbed another strand, bringing them both to a halt.

 

“Oh, we're gonna die, we're gonna die!” Za moaned as he dangled from Kulgan's arm, who in turn was dangling from the web.

 

“Yeah, probably,” Kulgan agreed, grimacing from the weight. “Do me a favor, though? Try to keep that from happening for another few minutes.”

 

There was a thunderous rustling up above, and Kulgan looked up to see the queen rapidly making her way down to them. The web shook with every eight-legged step she took, and more than a few smaller titantulas were sent tumbling from their perches. Kulgan instinctively reached for his gun, but Za was still hanging from his arm.

 

“Do me another favor,” he said.

 

“What?”

 

Without a reply, Kulgan threw him as far as he could. The simmk flew through the air for a few feet before landing on a thick section where several strands of web joined together, their fluids fastening onto the back of his coat like glue. Now with both hands free, Kulgan hauled himself up onto the strand of web he'd been hanging from. Drawing both Zam and Zagyr, he looked up at the rampaging spider queen.

 

“Don't get in my way.”

 

Kulgan squeezed both triggers six times, his fingers moving in a blur. Twelve bullets exploded from their tips, flying straight up into the giant titantula's face. Such attacks were barely pinpricks to a creature her size, but the sensation of suddenly being bombarded with pieces of hot metal was enough to stun her. She misjudged one of her steps, her long, log-shaped leg flailing wildly in the open air, and Kulgan dove out of her way, already reloading.

 

Two more well placed shots snapped another web the queen was perched on, and she lost her balance. She fell far less gracefully than she walked, tearing a hole straight through several layers of the web on her way down. For a second Kulgan worried that she was too heavy, and would fall all the way through, bringing Adlis with her on her final descent to the Graylands, but then she finally slowed enough to come to a rest near the bottom of the nest.

 

She was also covered in so much web that she was practically cocooned, herself. While a titantula's body might not stick to its webs, the webs were only too eager to stick to each other, and they had wrapped themselves so tightly around the queen that, for the moment, she could barely move enough to twitch. Perfect.

 

Holstering his guns again for now, Kulgan began to leap down the strands of web faster than was probably wise. He would plummet for twenty feet or more before catching himself on another strand of web. The bleak landscape below was always there, reminding him of what was waiting below if he were to mess up, but he still didn't slow his descent. It only took him a minute to reach the fallen queen.

 

“Embin, if you even still listen to me,” he said as he climbed up onto the mummified spider, “please let this work!”

 

He pulled out his flint and tinder again, and struck it. Just like last time, the webs immediately went up in flame. Unlike last time, though, the prize he needed to dig out was buried under several feet of web and angry thrashing spider. He stood up, watching as more and more of the queen was engulfed in flame. He would have to time this perfectly, or else Adlis wouldn't be the only one to die here.

 

He counted in his head. One... two... three... NOW!

 

And with that, he jumped right into the middle of the fire. The weakened webs collapsed instantly under his weight, and he fell until he landed on the titantula queen's slimy underbelly. The webs and spider legs did a lot to block out the sun, like he was standing under a shady tree, but the flickering firelight above gave him just enough light to see by. Getting to his feet, he quickly began scanning the cocoons lying all around him. Which one had Za said she was in? In all the confusion...

 

“Mmphmm! Mmmmph!” one of the bundles of web began to mumble, jerking around spastically.

 

Kulgan breathed a sigh of relief. He had worried she may have died during the fall. A glance upwards told him that the flames were quickly spreading. He didn't have a moment to lose. Kneeling down, he struck his flint and tinder one last time, lighting Adlis' cocoon on fire. Then, just like he had with Za, he sliced through the fibers and yanked Adlis out.

 

“Oh my... Oh my holy Embin!” she gasped. As soon as he let her go, she fell down on the queen's belly, shaking like a leaf in a strong wind. Her ears were as white as Kulgan had ever seen them.

 

“Are you all right?” he asked.

 

“I... I... spiders... giant spiders...”

 

Kulgan nodded, not surprised. At least she was alive. She would have plenty of time to overcome her shock later, assuming they survived.

 

“Welcome to the life of a Ranger,” he muttered before hefting her small, prone form up in both arms. For once, Adlis didn't offer a single word in protest.

 

Unfortunately, surviving was going to be the tricky part. Looking up, he confirmed that the flames had nearly engulfed the queen's entire body, and the heat was becoming unbearable. Not only that, but the queen was thrashing about like... well, like it was on fire. He needed to get out, fast.

 

“Adlis,” he said, looking down at the trembling zik maiden, unsure if she could even understand him, “I'm going to put you on my back. Can you hold onto my shoulders?”

 

She didn't reply, but when he put her back down and pulled her arms around his shoulders, she obligingly took hold anyway. Just in time, too, because the queen titantula gave a violent shudder under his feet as he stood up. He had hoped that the fire would be enough to kill her, but he knew that had been a slim hope. More likely, the flames would weaken the webs enough for her to break free. That gave him half a minute, maybe, to climb out.

 

With the zik girl's weight hanging from his neck, Kulgan took a running start and jumped up onto one of the long, spindly legs. If the queen felt him, she didn't react— not that it mattered, she was rolling and thrashing so much. Kulgan wrapped his arms and legs around it, Adlis dangling down behind him with her surprisingly strong grip, and began to inch his way upward. The going was slow. It reminded him of the first time he'd tried to break a horse, except that he was hanging upside down and the “horse” was over thirty feet long. The closer he got to the top, and to the flames, the hotter it became. Getting in had been easy enough. Now he had to get out.

 

“D'yargo,” he growled, but didn't hesitate. Banished or not, Twister or not, he was a Gray Ranger, and Gray Rangers knew how to do what had to be done, no matter what the cost.

 

Letting go with one arm, he drew his hunting knife and thrust it up into the burning web. The pain came immediately, searing pain and scorching heat, but he bit his tongue and focused his thoughts. He slashed at the web, cutting a hole wide enough for them to fit through. He could feel the flames burning away his clothes, scorching his skin, but did didn't stop until...

 

“There!” he gasped. He pulled his hand back, and the knife tumbled from unfeeling fingers. He refused to look at his arm. He couldn't afford to be distracted, no matter how much agony he was in. The pain was nearly blinding. Grabbing hold of the leg again, he threw his body upwards, carrying himself and Adlis up through the hole he had carved. The flames licked them both, but he ignored them and less than a second later he leaped from the titantula queen.

 

They both fell for a few seconds, and then Kulgan reached out with his good hand and grabbed a strand of web, halting their descent so suddenly that it nearly broke Adlis' grip around his neck. She didn't so much as scream.

 

A spine tingling RRRRRIP! filled the air, and Kulgan looked up to see the queen finally tear her way free of the flaming web. Burns covered her body, but she didn't even seem to notice them as she rolled over and fixed her black, beady eyes on Kulgan again.

 

Arm injured, Adlis in shock, he thought, taking stock of the situation again, Za is... where did I leave him?

 

He looked up again, through all the broken layers of web, but couldn't spot the simmk anywhere. With his luck, he had probably been cocooned up again while Kulgan had been gone. He didn't have long to think about it, though, because the titantula queen lunged for him. He let go of the web, falling a few feet just as her massive head passed above him, and then grabbed a second strand. This time he didn't wait for her to attack before scrambling up onto the strand and took off running. He could feel the web shaking under his feet as the queen came after him.

 

“Got to find Za,” he muttered to himself as he ran, leaping from strand to strand. The spider queen was agile for a beast her size, but even she couldn't duck and weave through the webs like Kulgan could. Even with Adlis on his back, he was able to gain distance on her quickly. “Find Za, and then...”

 

And then what, he thought? Even if he found the simmk, they were still suspended a thousand feet above the ground with an army of spiders on their heels. He had escaped the Shapeless only to be trapped in an even worse situation.

 

Story of my life, he thought, rolling his eyes as he shimmied up a loose strand of web. His right hand was tingling, an unnerving mixture of pain and numbness, so he had to grip the sticky rope with his spider skin-wrapped boots and his left hand.

 

“Spiders...” Adlis moaned, still hanging from his neck. “Make them... go away...”

 

“If you were planning on snapping out of it and giving me a hand, now would be an excellent time to do that,” Kulgan said.

 

There was another cluster of webs to his right, just out of his reach. Kulgan hesitated, feeling Adlis' weight on his back. Perhaps he could... no, not with Adlis there. They'd both end up falling to their deaths.

 

The decision was taken from his hands, though, when the titantula queen finally caught up to them, her height putting her just a few feet below Kulgan's dangling feet. Gritting his teeth and hoping that Adlis wouldn't lose her grip, he jerked around on the web, making it swing back and forth. Gently at first, then gradually becoming stronger, carrying him closer to the cluster of webs in the distance. Just a little further...

 

He glanced down just as the titantula queen jumped for them, her mandibles clicking eagerly, and he let go. He narrowly passed between the giant snapping jaws. His heart leaped into his throat as their landing drew closer... closer... Their momentum was too weak, he realized at the last second. They weren't going to make it. He extended a desperate hand toward the webs, knowing full well that nobody was there to catch him.

 

And why would they? He was a Twister. He wouldn't have caught himself, given the choice.  Adlis, though... someone should have been there to catch her. And it was his fault there wasn't. He closed his eyes, cursing himself—

 

Just as a hand wrapped around his wrist.

 

Kulgan's eyes snapped open as his journey downward was suddenly halted. “Za?”

 

“I ain't lettin' ya get Miss Adlis killed!” the simmk grunted. He had his feet planted wide and one hand on another web while the one he stood on bounced up and down.  His coat was missing, making him look even thinner than he usually did. Straining, he tried to pull Kulgan up to him, but his scrawny arm could barely support two people's weight, much less lift them up.

 

Shaking with agitation, the titantula queen lined herself up underneath them again.

 

“Spider,” Adlis whispered blankly. “So many... spiders...”

 

“Za?” Kulgan asked tentatively. “No matter what happens, don't let go of my hand.”

 

Before Za could question him, Kulgan gave a sharp yank on his arm. The simmk's feet left the web he was perched on, and with a shriek all three of them went tumbling down— right onto the queen's head. She jumped in shock, raising her head a little, sending them all rolling down to her back.

 

“Get up, get up, get up!” Kulgan yelled, struggling back to his feet. Za's fist was still wrapped painfully around his wrist, and Kulgan used that to haul him upright. Adlis, luckily, had stayed attached to his neck. “Run!”

 

The giant spider still hadn't recovered from her surprise. What kind of prey was this, and why wouldn't it just let her eat it? All she'd had to eat for years were her own sons and daughters, gray in color and in taste. Then today not one, but three, brightly colored morsels had fallen right into her nest—and they wouldn't hold still! Kulgan used that surprise to his advantage, running down the spider queen's back and leaping off her rear end with Za in tow. They landed on another thick section of webbing, pausing only a couple of seconds while it bounced.

 

“Thanks for that,” he said over his shoulder once they'd taken off running again.

 

“I didn't do it for you,” Za shot back, though Kulgan noted how he still hadn't let go of his hand. “Now get us out of here!”

 

Kulgan frowned. “Right. I'm still working on that part.”

 

“YOU DON'T KNOW HOW TO GET US OUT OF HERE?”

 

The sound of ripping fibers came from behind them, and Kulgan looked back to see that the queen had given chase again. And now she looked furious.

 

“You are the worst guide in Tassendile, Mr. Kulgan,” Za was still ranting.

 

“Well, excuse me! Making sure you two were still alive seemed a little more important.”

 

Za was right, though. Now that he'd retrieved them both, he needed to think of a way to get them off this web— and fast. Jumping would be the easiest thing in the world. There were hundreds of gaps in the web that were big enough for them to fit through.  He didn’t even consider it, though. They had already survived one unsurvivable fall, and there wouldn't be any more hidden monster nests to save them this time. No, this time Kulgan had to make sure they would be alive when they reached the ground.

 

But how?

 

They ducked into a low web-tunnel. The queen had to stop, being far too big to fit in after them. Kulgan emerged on the other side, and spared a look back just long enough to see the mammoth spider begin to climb over the thick wall. He took off running again.

 

“Kulgan...” Adlis mumbled.

 

“If you have any ideas, I'm all ears,” he said,

 

“So many... spiders...”

 

Kulgan shook his head. “Gonna have to pass on...”

 

He froze so suddenly that Za ran into him from behind. Actually...

 

“Za, where's a titantula?” he demanded, spinning around to face the simmk.

 

Za backpedaled. “What do you—”

 

“Just tell me! Where's the closest one?” Za started to turn toward the queen, and Kulgan waved his hand. “A smaller one, you idiot!”

 

Za hesitated a second, and then pointed in the distance. Kulgan followed his finger, and now that he knew what he was looking for he spotted the man-sized spider instantly. He grabbed Za by the wrist again. “Come on!”

 

The queen came thundering after them as they closed in on the smaller spider. Za was babbling incoherently and Adlis was mumbling into his ear again, but Kulgan ignored them both. This was a stupid idea, and it was probably going to get all three of them killed, but he was going to do it anyway. Part of him told him it was pointless. He was in the Graylands with a pair of civilians. Being eaten by giant spider was as painless a death as anyone could hope for in a place like this.

 

The other part of him, the part that had been raised as a Gray Ranger, felt sick at the very thought of giving up without a fight. The Gray Rangers were the soldiers who waged war against the forces of the Graylands, against Vashiil itself. No matter how bad things got, a Gray Ranger didn't stop fighting until they were completely and utterly destroyed.

 

They reached the smaller titantula with the queen hot on their heels. Just as Kulgan had predicted, this one ran from its mother as well. The queen obviously had no qualms about eating her own kind, so of course all her children would do their best to stay out of her way. This one, with its nightmarish mother already bearing down on it, had only one way to go: down. Spinning a new strand of web, it dropped from the larger web until it was safely out of the queen's reach.

 

But not for long.

 

“Everybody jump!” Kulgan yelled. He leaped before Za could argue, his grip around his wrist bringing the simmk along with him. They plummeted through open space for a few heart stopping seconds, Za's shrill screams filling Kulgan's ears, and then they landed atop the fleeing titantula.

 

This wasn't like landing on the queen. While still massive, this titantula was only barely bigger than Kulgan was. He landed on its back, making the spider swing wildly back and forth, and if he hadn't been holding Za's hand the simmk would have missed the mark entirely.

 

“You! Are! Insane!” he yelled, dangling a thousand feet above the barren gray landscape.

 

“It helps,” Kulgan grunted, pulling him back up onto the spider.

 

The titantula didn't take their intrusion lightly. In a storm of flailing legs, it tried to knock the three hitchhikers off of it. When it raised its head up to bite them, Kulgan kicked it in the face.

 

“Now what?” Za asked once the swinging had slowed down enough that it wasn't threatening to throw them off.

 

“Now,” Kulgan said, tapping his foot on the spider's rear, “we ride this fine fellow all the way to the ground. Our own personal elevator!”

 

As if waiting for Kulgan to say exactly that, the spider stopped descending, only a hundred feet below the larger web.

 

“I don't think it wants to,” Za remarks.

 

Kulgan fended off another bite and shook his head. “Don't worry, he'll do it.”

 

“How are you gonna make a giant spider take us all the way down there?”

 

“I'm not going to make him do anything.” He pointed above them. “She is.”

 

Za glanced up, and froze when the he saw the titantula queen still looming over them.

 

“W- What are you—”

 

“She eats her offspring,” Kulgan cut him off. “She has to, with the scarcity of real prey in the Graylands. The other spiders learned to stay away from— nuh uh!” He kicked the spider in the face again just before it could sink its teeth into his leg. “The other spiders know to stay away from her. That means that when she comes down...”

 

The queen shook, frenzied, and began to tear a hole into her web. Another strand of web, this one as thick as a tree trunk, came from her abdomen, and down she came. She spread her eight legs wide, her sheer girth blotting out the sun.

 

“... this little guy's going to run from her,” Kulgan concluded.

 

Sure enough, as soon as the smaller titantula sensed its mother coming for it, it began to descend again, faster than ever.

 

“Hold on!” Kulgan commanded, grabbing the newly spun web with his good hand. He glanced down at his other hand, but immediately had to look away. It wasn't pretty, but that didn't matter. Right now, he had to focus on getting them all out of here.

 

“We're not gonna make it!” Za said, worriedly looking up at the queen with his painted eyes. Kulgan looked up too, and grimaced.

 

“We'll be fine,” he lied.

 

The simmk was right though, he realized. The queen was descending at a much faster pace than the smaller spider. They wouldn't make it halfway down before she caught up to them.

 

“Mr. Kulgan?”

 

“I said we'll be fine.”

 

“But she's—

 

Kulgan made up his mind. “Here,” he said, prying Adlis' arms from around his neck. “Take her. Stay here.”

 

He set the zik maiden on the spider's back and gently pushed her toward Za. She went without argument, her eyes still glazed over. Za took her by the hand and gave Kulgan a confused look.

 

“Just keep her here, all right?” he asked before the simmk could ask. “Make sure she doesn't fall off.”

 

Balancing on the twitching spider, he let go of the web to pull out his pendant.  He gritted his teeth, prepared to plunge it into his injured arm— and the titantula jerked to the side, throwing him off its back.

 

D’yargo! he thought as he plummeted down toward the Graylands.  The wind whistled in his ears, whipped at his eyes, and he could barely see as the smaller titantula grew even smaller.  For a second, panic blanked his mind.  He flipped over in midair and saw the ground rising up to meet him.

 

No, focus! he thought, clenching his eyes shut. Have to concentrate!

 

He wouldn’t be able to direct Vashiil’s power the right way if he couldn’t concentrate.  Without his willpower guiding it, the pendant would change whatever it wanted.  He needed wings.  A tail, or an extra set of legs wouldn’t help him here.  It didn’t help.  Even after he’d banished most of the terror, his heart was still pounding, his thoughts still racing.  He would never be able to Twist like this.

 

Unless...

 

With a sudden flare of conviction, Kulgan gripped the pendant so hard the edges cut his hands, and rammed it almost all the way into his arm.  He cried out.  Pain made lights flash in front of his eyes, but even that wasn’t as noticeable as the sludgy, slimy feeling of the wolf hornet’s soul entering his body. The explosion of power nearly knocked him unconscious.  He hadn't Pierced so deep in years. That deep in his arm, Vashiil's power flooded into him like a river bursting through its dam. Within seconds every molecule in his body was changing.  Twisting. His wings sprang from his shoulders and his tail erupted from his back. Six arms grew from his sides, tearing holes into his shirt as they wriggled and writhed. They were thin and spindly, almost like the titantulas' above. His two remaining human arms withered away, his fingers and thumbs fusing together to match his other limbs. He yanked the pendant out of his arm while he still had the digits to do so and clenched the string between his mandibles.

 

He closed his eyes as his body bubbled and spasmed, tearing his clothes as it reshaped itself into something new. That didn't help. Even if he couldn't see it happening, he could still feel it, and that was even worse. The ground was only a couple hundred feet away now, but he didn't flap his wings. The temptation to just let himself fall, fall and die, was stronger than he would ever admit. His torso extended, becoming longer, thinner. His face was next.

 

“No,” he begged as last part of him began to disappear.  Suddenly he could see again when his eyelids vanished.  Wolf hornets didn’t have the luxury of closing their eyes when they didn’t want to see something. His vision blurred momentarily as his eyes compounded, and then the Graylands appeared before him again in even greater detail than before.

 

And with that, the Twisting was complete, the pendant’s power expended. His body took a few seconds to recover from all the horrible sensations— and then Kulgan, more wolf hornet than human, snapped his wings open and arched out of his dive. The ground was a mere ten feet below him.

 

Please don't let me be too late! he thought as he buzzed back upwards.

 

He was just in time. The titantula queen was almost upon them, despite the smaller spider's best attempts to escape. Kulgan angled toward them. Za, who had been staring up at the giant spider, heard his wings humming and looked down— and screamed. Even Adlis, lost in shock's, eyes opened wide at the sight of him. He cringed.

 

Don't think about it. Just do it.

 

Flaring his spindly legs, Kulgan flew underneath the queen titantula's pincers, plucking them both from the back of the smaller spider. Just in time too, because less than a second later she lunged, swallowing her child whole.

 

Za was still screaming, pounding his body fist against Kulgan's chest. “Let us go!”

 

Kulgan wanted to say something. Comfort him, call him an idiot, anything. His mouth wasn't human anymore, though, completely incapable of forming human words. Besides, both he and Adlis were safe and secure in his legs, so whatever he wanted to say to them could wait.

 

He breathed a sigh of relief. The spider queen couldn't follow them now. They were safe.

 

He turned around and flew back the way he had come.

 

This is your fault, he thought angrily, glaring at the giant titantula through insectile eyes. It's your fault they had to see me like this. Well, let's suffer together!

 

Ignoring Za's high pitched screams, he arched up into the air, above where the queen was hanging, and flexed his tail. Most people assumed it was a wolf hornet’s poison that had made them deadly. It was easily as toxic as titantula venom, and it had been that way even before the Graylands had come into existence. Nobody ever gave a thought to the stinger itself. That was a mistake. As long and as sharp as a sword, even without the poison not many people could take a direct blow from it and live to tell the tale. Kulgan didn't have lips to smile with, so he grinned manically inside his head as he drew closer to the web supporting the titantula queen.  A quick swipe of his tail, and the stinger cut right through it.

 

Down, down, down, went the titantula queen. Kulgan turned around and hovered in place, watching her fall. She was so huge that he even saw it when she hit the ground, painting the gray rocks with pulpy green gore.

 

Za had stopped screaming. “K- Kulgan?” he finally asked.

 

D'yargo, Kulgan thought.

 

Well, better to get it over with quickly. Angling himself downwards, he flew in as gentle a descent as he could until he was finally low enough to drop his passengers. Za immediately rolled onto his back and scrambled away from him.

 

“G- Get away!” he said.

 

There was a standing stone nearby, more than fifteen feet tall. Kulgan landed on its side, his wolf hornet feet sticking to it as if it were the ground. From there he looked down at Adlis. The zik maiden seemed more alert than she had before. Probably, the unexpected flight had woken her up. Slowly, she turned toward him.

 

Don't look at me!

 

Shame washed over Kulgan, and he scuttled behind the rock where she couldn't see him.

 

“Kulgan, what...” Adlis stood up. “What happened? Where are we?”

 

She took a step toward the rocks, and Za leaped up and grabbed her arm.

 

“Miss Adlis, stop!”

 

She paused, giving the simmk a strange look. “Wh- What's wrong, Za? What happened?”

 

Za glanced at Kulgan's hiding spot, the disgust evident even through his mask. “Don't go anywhere near him, Miss Adlis.”

 

She turned to face the rock again. “Why not? Kulgan, are you all right?”

 

No, I'm not Pitting all right! he wanted to yell at her. I'm a monster!

 

He couldn't say it, though. Human words needed a human mouth, and he wasn't human.

 

Twister.

 

“Kulgan, you're scaring me,” Adlis said. “Come out here.”

 

She tried to take a step forward, but Za's grip on her arm tightened. “Miss Adlis, no!”

 

“He might be hurt!”

 

“Stay away from him!”

 

“But what if—”

 

“STAY AWAY!”

 

Adlis did as he said for a moment, letting her arm go slack in his grip, just long enough for Za to relax— and then she yanked her arm free and dashed around to the other side of the rock.

 

“Kulgan, you tell me what happened right...”

 

Her words trailed off with a gasp when she laid eyes on the Twisted abomination that was waiting for her.  Only about a quarter of Kulgan’s face was still human, right between his mouth and his eyes.  His jaws were insect mandibles, and his eyes were enormous mirror-like things that reflected Adlis’ terrified face back at her a thousand times.  A few strands of gray hair still clung to his head in a last, futile attempt to hide his disgusting face. Her ears turned blindingly white. Kulgan cringed, knowing what would happen next. His wings itched to flap, to carry him away, but he kept them still. He couldn't abandon them. Not in the middle of the Graylands. He would just have to sit here and face her terror and disgust. That was what a Twister deserved, after all.

 

A scream tore from Adlis' throat.

 

Kulgan couldn't take it. Wrapping his stingered tail around him, he curled up into a ball and hid himself from the world.

 

 

 

NEXT TIME: Yay, Kulgan’s a bug now!  Just kidding, he’ll turn back soon.  But what’ll happen when he does?  Do Adlis and Za still trust him?  How will they get out of the Graylands if they don’t?

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