Clueless was more than a mile into the forest by the time Fey was able to stand again. She ran blindly, neither knowing or caring where she was going. She just needed to run.
And so she ran. She ran for nearly an hour, ignoring the exhaustion that grew a little stronger with every step she took. The sun was warm, the ground was soft, and her heart was heavy with betrayal. Fey was lying! She had to be lying! Zave would never be so cruel. Not him. Not the Zave she loved with all her heart.
Ever since Fey had Awakened her, new thoughts had been in her head. Thoughts that, as a dog, she would never have been able to make heads or tails of. Thoughts so complicated that even now she had a hard time understanding some of them. And with those thoughts came feelings that were even more confusing.
The sound of running water reached Clueless’ keen ears, and she finally came to a stop. She followed the noise until she came to a stream, which she dipped her snout into for a drink. Then she laid down, panting with her tongue hanging out. Her entire body was sore from that extended run, and it had all been for nothing. No matter how hard or fast she ran, she couldn’t outrun the feelings in her own heart—yet another concept she would never have understood as a dog.
She looked around as she rested. Where she was, she had no idea. She couldn’t even smell Fey or the truck stop anymore. She was well and truly lost. And yet, she couldn’t bring herself to care. Not with Fey’s accusations ringing in her ears.
Clueless means stupid! He thinks you’re stupid, and he’s been saying it every time he calls your name!
Clueless let out a canine whine. She didn’t want to believe it. All her life, Clueless had just been the noise Zave had made whenever he wanted her attention. It meant her.
But now, with the new thoughts and feelings Fey had cursed her with rampaging through her mind, Clueless was beginning to understand that words could mean two things. Clueless was her name. But it was also…she couldn’t quite form a definition in her head, but there was a vague tingle of comprehension in the back of her mind.
Clueless did mean stupid. And she was Clueless. That meant that Zave really had…
She paused and looked down into the water. Staring back up at her was another dog—and in a flash, Clueless recognized her reflection. Two days ago, she wouldn’t have known what a reflection was, and just assumed that there was another dog watching her from beneath the water.
She craned her neck around to look at her body. This was the first time she’d taken on her animal form since being Awakened, and she couldn’t help but growl at it now. It was so…so…not Zave. She had been thrilled when Fey Awakened her, because it let her be like Zave. But with each passing day, it became more and more obvious how different she was from Zave, no matter how many feet she walked on. What did that mean for her? Was she still supposed to love him? She did love him, but there were other feelings she couldn’t make sense of too.
Maybe, she decided after a few minutes of hard thought, she didn’t want to be like Zave right now. Just for a little while.
So, ignoring the stiffness in her muscles, she stood up and padded off into the forest, determined to just be a dog for a while. No higher thoughts. No confusing feelings. Just her, a great big forest, and a million interesting smells for her to sniff.
Clueless followed the stream for a little while, pausing to mark her territory in a few places just like whenever she went on a walk with…that guy she didn’t want to think about. Then a squirrel darted across her path, and Clueless went sprinting after it, barking like a mad dog as it zigzagged between the trees. After a minute, it scurried up the side of a big oak. Clueless put her front paws on the trunk, whining for it to come back down and play with her.
She was beginning to feel a little better. If she’d been human, she would have sighed in relief as she left the squirrel behind to follow another scent trail. This one led to a nice, big pile of poop, which she gleefully sniffed at until…
A shadow fell over her from behind, and Clueless spun around—to find herself face to face with a bear!
The bear roared, showering Clueless with hot spit, and lashed out at her with its claws. It was absolutely massive, covered in thick brown fur and brandishing jaws that could pierce solid metal. If Clueless hadn’t ducked, that swipe would have taken her entire head off. Turning tail, she dashed for safety. The bear lumbered after her, its gargantuan frame moving between the trees with surprising swiftness.
Clueless’ legs still ached after her earlier run, and she hadn’t fully caught her breath yet. While she loped along with all the speed her canine form could offer, she could feel herself flagging, her steps coming a half second slower with every ragged breath she took. The ground was rising steadily beneath her paws, making her body feel even heavier. And still the bear remained behind her, its footfalls crashing like thunder in her ears.
She took the last staggering step to the crest of the hill, and there her energy ran out. Hardly able to stay standing, panting so hard it felt like her lungs would come up her throat, she took a look backwards—
Just as the bear slammed its paw into her.
The impact immediately knocked her out, which mercifully spared her the feeling of its claws raking through her body. She collapsed, the force of the attack sending her limp figure tumbling back down the hill she had fought so hard to climb. She rolled and slid, bouncing off of several rocks and trees on her way down, never slowing until she reached the bottom.
With an ominous rumble in its throat, the bear plodded back down the hill after her. It paused before her prone and vulnerable form, nudging it with one paw. When Clueless gave an unconscious yip, it raised its claws again to deliver the final blow.
The bear froze just as another form bolted onto the scene, its eyes widening when it saw her snow-white fur and jet black horns. Fey, having taken on her true form again, rocketed through the woods to where Clueless lay, throwing herself between the fallen skinwalker and the bear.
“Norrin, she’s with me!” she yelled. “Don’t kill her! Please!”
The bear stared with cold, hard eyes at the goat-walker for a long minute, and sweat ran down Fey’s fur-covered brow. This was the moment she had been dreading the entire trip. Would he kill her for returning to her old pack’s territory? Did he know she had gone Tame? Or maybe, just maybe, would he…
The bear stood up on its hind legs, its body shrinking—but not by much—to take on a more human shape. Relief washed over Fey, but the bear-walker didn’t say a word. He merely grabbed Clueless’ broken, bleeding body, flung her over one shoulder, and jerked his head for Fey to follow him.