Fey looked down at the bus tickets in her hand.
The unlikely trio had arrived at their destination a little after ten o’clock, thanked their nameless Samaritan, and gone on their way. The bus station had been easy to find, and despite an hour-long wait, Fey had managed to procure three tickets to a small town in southern Illinois named Spokena.
Spokena. The name itself sent shivers down her spine. The town itself was nothing special, but it bordered a large forest named Keysong National Park—or, as she had once called it, home.
Her old pack was still there, of that she was sure. The park was massive, and they had a proverbial cornucopia of resources to sustain them within its borders. Plants for the herbivores, small animals for the carnivores, and a lake for fish and fresh water. No, what worried her wasn’t whether or not she’d be able to find them.
It was what would happen when she did.
Trying to ignore the rumbling in her stomach—half from stress and half from hunger—she looked over to where Zave and Clueless were waiting for her. They were sitting at a picnic table with three servings of chili fries in front of them. Zave was patiently trying to explain the concept of a fork to her, but Clueless’ eyes kept shifting to the steaming pile of junk food. Zave paused for a second to show her how to hold the plastic utensil, and that was all the time she needed to bury her face in the spicy brown glop. Zave did a double take, then pulled her head back up. She was grinning. People were staring. Zave was laughing.
Fey clenched her fist. She needed to get Clueless away from him.
Her old pack might not be happy to see her, but she had a feeling they would go easy on her once they knew about the monsters that were chasing them. But Zave? Never. If returning to the Wild after going Tame didn’t convince them to tear her limb from limb, showing up with a human in tow definitely would.
And it wasn’t just that. Clueless needed to be rid of him for her own reasons, too. She had spent her entire life being Zave’s pet. For all the crap she gave him about it, Fey didn’t really blame him for that. But the years she’d spent depending on Zave for food and shelter had made her…well, as a dog she would be called loyal. As a human, she would be called brainwashed. She was devoted to her former owner, utterly and completely, and that would never go away as long as Zave was there to encourage that mindset with his mere presence. If Clueless ever wanted to be her own woman with any sense of independence, she needed to get as far away from Zave as possible, as quickly as possible.
It was for Clueless’ own good. It would make her happier in the long run. Fey’s own negative feelings for Zave be damned, she was doing this for Clueless.
But how she was going to manage that was a different story. Clueless would never willingly part ways with Zave, and she doubted Zave would either. Even with flesh-eating monsters hot on their trail, he had proven to be almost as loyal to her as she was to him. That left Fey with two options: separating them by force, or by tricking them. She immediately discarded the first option. She had no doubt that she could take Zave in a fight—even by human standards, he was a wimp—but the damage that would do to her and Clueless’ relationship would likely be irreparable. She needed to do this as painlessly as possible. Painlessly for Clueless, at least.
An idea began to take shape in her mind. Looking down at the tickets in her hand again, she spun on her heel and made for the ticket line a second time.
On the way there, she dropped one of the tickets in the trash can.
Forty five minutes later, once again clutching three bus tickets, she made her way over to where Zave and Clueless were waiting. Clueless had polished off her fries long ago, and was making envious eyes at what remained of Zave’s, but the third plate was still full.
“Hey, I got you that,” Zave greeted her, nodding toward the remaining serving of fries. “They might be cold by now, but…you know.”
He only met her eyes for half a second before looking back down at his hands again. Fey raised an eyebrow. He had been unusually quiet ever since their argument in the truck. Maybe, she thought with a flutter of hope, getting rid of him would be easier than she’d expected.
“Thanks,” she said, sitting down opposite of them. Her stomach growled when she smelled the fries, but she ignored them for now. “Guys, I have good news and bad news. The good news is, I got bus tickets for all of us.”
“What’s the bad news?” Zave asked.
“Bad news is no more breakfast,” Clueless said glumly, looking down at her empty plate. Zave glanced at her—was that guilt Fey saw in his eyes?—and then pushed his leftovers toward her. Clueless tore into them with animalistic ferocity.
“The bad news is that there aren’t enough seats on the bus for all three of us,” Fey answered. She selected a ticket, looked down quickly to make sure it was the right one, and then handed it to Zave. “Two seats on the first bus. That means one of us is going to have to take the next one.”
Zave’s eyes widened a little. “Split up? With those things chasing us? That’s a terrible idea!”
“We can either do that,” Fey snapped, “or wait until tomorrow for the next bus.”
“You know as well as I do that they won’t pass up an easy chance to attack us again. Speed is our best ally right now. We have to keep moving, one way or another.”
Zave closed his mouth.
“So,” Fey went on, “Clueless and I will take the first bus. Zave, your bus will leave four hours later. I’ll have a hotel room ready for us by the time you get there.”
“Why does she have to go with you?”
Fey snorted. “If something does happen, who do you think could protect her more?”
Zave didn’t look convinced. “But…what if they come after me?”
“They won’t. They’re after skinwalkers, not humans. You were only ever bait or collateral damage to them.”
Zave hesitated, but eventually nodded his agreement. Turning to Clueless, who was licking the paper plate clean, he said, “Clueless, listen to me. You need to go with Fey, all right?”
“You come too?”
“I will, but I’ll be a…a little ways behind you. Fey will take good care of you, won’t you, Fey?”
Fey nodded. That was one promise she didn’t have any reservations about making to a human. Over by the street, a large bus hissed to a halt. Fey glanced at her watch.
“That’s ours,” she said, standing up. “Come on, Clueless, we have to go!”
“But…Zave!” Clueless protested, looking at her human in dismay.
“It’s okay, Clueless,” he said with an encouraging smile. “I’ll see you again in a few hours. I promise.”
Fey felt a twinge of guilt in her gut.
Reluctantly, Clueless got up and followed Fey to where the bus waited. Zave was a step behind them the whole time. Once they were at the door, Fey presented their tickets and climbed inside, motioning for Clueless to follow suit. Instead, Clueless spun around and wrapped Zave in a bear hug.
“Not go without Zave,” she said.
Zave hugged her back. “Do you trust me, Clueless?”
Clueless nodded like a bobblehead.
“Then trust me when I say that everything is going to be fine. I’ll see you later tonight at the hotel, okay? You can trust Fey too. She wouldn’t lie to us.”
There was that annoying pang of guilt again.
Slowly, so slowly that Fey was afraid the bus would leave without her, Clueless managed to peel herself away from Zave, turn around, and climb aboard. Fey selected a pair of seats near the middle of the bus, and let Clueless have the one near the window. Hopefully the view would keep her occupied during the long trip.
The bus shook, then began to move. With tears in her eyes, Clueless waved goodbye to Zave—not knowing she would never see him again.