“What is it?” I asked.
“Prints.” He answered, crouching down. “Not animal, not human either.”
I crouched down next to him, amazed he had managed to spot anything, and looked at the print in the muddy terrain. It definitely wasn’t an animal, the set of tracks in the mud looked suspiciously like a human hand, but with the fingers spaced more than possible, the angle between the the thumb and the pinkie was almost 270 degree. There was about three to four feet of distance between the side by side prints, what ever had done this was large.
We split up by a few dozen yards and I quickly followed the tracks, the backside didn’t lead too far, to a gigantic tree that bore some claw marks. It was obvious that the creature had climbed down from it, which only made the situation more stressful. A monster hidden in the trees in this level of darkness was a disaster waiting to happen.
I backtracked, going to where the other two had gone. I found them easily, slightly relieved nothing had happened. Everything was quiet, extremely quiet… There weren’t any of the usual forest noise; no insects, birds or the sound of leaves rustling in the wind. Just us with our irregular breaths…
“Bad new.” I whispered. “I think it can climb in the trees.”
Kaleb muttered a few swear words under his breath. Simon didn’t react.
“Do we call the others?” Kaleb asked.
“It would be wise.” Simon answered in the same tone he always had.
Kaleb opened his bag and took out his flare gun, I did the same, setting it in my coat’s pocket. He aimed it at the sky, finding a clear patch before firing. It was an extremely conspicuous thing to do, but chances were high we had already been spotted before now.
“You think they’ll see it?” I asked. Flares didn’t make that much noise and if the foliage cover was anywhere near as bad as it had been where we were, they probably wouldn’t have seen it.
“Liam will definitely pick it up.” He said, reloading the gun.
“There’s a burrow.” Simon commented and we went to where he was standing.
Hidden in the roots of a massive tree was an entrance, big enough for someone to enter without having to crouch down. As we approached, the smell of rotting meat came to our nose. Which meant it was either the nest we’d been looking for or we were going to run into a black bear.
Before we could decide what to do, Simon started going down. We followed him, sliding down the small inclination that lead to the burrow’s entrance.
“There’s a wind draft, I think there’s a second exit.” Kaleb whispered.
He was right, the wind came in and out, producing a low howl that filled the underground lair. The stench was much worse inside. We shone the lights around to map out the area and saw the horrid spectacle; bones of all sizes were scattered everywhere, many definitely human in origin. The burrow walls were covered in a sticky secretion as Kaleb discovered when he tried to put his hand to support himself.
“Found something.” Simon said lowly.
“What is it?” I whispered over the wind.
I walked closer and saw.
A pair of large cocoons were there, both of them held a human body, by the looks of it a couple in their fifties. The first one was intact but eyes glassy and mouth hanging open, the color of the exposed skin of her face was pale. The second was much worse. Held back primarily by strands of sticky matter, the corpse’s torso had been ripped open, emptied of most of it’s organs…
I threw up. I know, not heroic at all, but I had never seen a dead body (Coil excepted, but he was still moving.) not even that of a grandparent or an aunt or uncle as I didn’t have any. Kaleb put his hand on my shoulder and lightly rubbed as I emptied my stomach on the ground, Kaleb had held it better but he kept his eyes away. Simon seemed completely uncaring…
The more things went on, the less human he seemed. I knew he was inhuman, but something about him was just too wrong for a simple magician.
“By the discoloration and muscle shape of the woman and the temperature, I can estimate the death occurred within the the last thirty or so hours as Rigor mortis and livor mortis have already settled. With the condition of the body it is evident the death was not caused by trauma, I would venture to think a fear induced heart attack.” He took a knife and began cutting at the sticking matter holding them. “Matching wedding rings, a couple, the clothes indicate they were outside.” He then searched the man, although most of his chest was gone, a good part of his coat had survived, torn to bits. He retrieved a wallet.
“Edward Moore, Fifty-seven, lives on windpass road, should not be too far from here. Slightly northward.” There was a grim efficiency with which he had conducted his investigation. Not even a sliver of emotion had tarnished his expression. “I cannot garner conclusive results from cursory inspection as to his method of death in his current state as of now.”
“Okay?” Was all I could think of to answer.
Then I heard a splash.
“Did you hear that?” I whispered.
“What?” they both answered. I was apparently the only one with enhanced senses.
“Something’s coming.” I added.
I paused, focusing all my attention on my senses. The wind did a good job of obscuring everything I could hear, but I caught something; The raking of claws against stone.
“It’s here.” I whispered.
“We fight.” Simon said.
As if waiting for a cue, Kaleb took out some glow sticks from his pack, breaking them. Normal glow sticks didn’t last for long, but the Darksiders’ had proven to be much better, being the kind the military would use, he tossed them to both sides of us.
As if alerted by the light, the creature let out an inhuman screech that hurt my ears. I resisted the urge to cover them, instead slipping the light into my coat and holding my knife firmly between my hands.
There was a moment of nothing, just the same low moaning of the wind. My body was stiff, I was afraid, who wouldn’t be? I was in the second fight for my life within the span of twenty-four hours. And then it came at us.
I barely had time to see it. A grotesque monster like a naked obese man with mummy-like dry veined skin, it’s maw stretching open more than humanly possible. Worst of all was it’s limbs, nearly three times as long as a person’s jointed four times at impossible angles. There was no other way to call it; it was a monster.
Quicker than one would expect it for it’s size, it charged, clinging to the surface of the burrow’s ceiling with it’s claws before pouncing down. It landed in the middle of us and started wailing, sending a flurry of blows our way. Kaleb seemed to have the right idea, dropping prone and backward to avoid the hand claws going toward his throat.
I wasn’t quick enough, the thing hit me with the hand on it’s hind leg, it’s hand’s claws gripping at the flesh of my chest, I felt small bits tear and it hurt for a moment, the vampiric blood kicking in. The smell became worse by a hundredfold. With ribbons of my flesh still on it’s claws it tried to strike again, this time I was ready. I dodged back and as it’s claw swung past, I move in, rather than a long slice, I thrust the blade with all my strength.
Under the footlong length of steel, the skin of the creature distorted but didn’t tear, rather it diffused the hit, I kept pushing and instead the tip slid down on of the crease of it’s skin until it completely slid off.
I didn’t have time to see what any of them were doing, I just hope they’d had more success than I had. I struck again, this time with the point of the blade but it just bounced of the skin as if it’d hit a carapace.
This wasn’t doing anything.
I dodged the next claw. Our only saving grace was that it seemed intent on fighting all of us rather than ignore two and butcher the last. I spent some times dodging the blows. Kaleb wasn’t faring any better, his shirt was in pieces and the remains soaked in blood but his exposed chest was pristine in appearance. Simon had adopted a purely defensive strategy.
“Not working.” I said.
“Run?” Kaleb said his breath running short. Combat was exhausting, I was thankfully resistant to it.
“Will chase us. Very quick.” I said. “Have an idea.”
I ran back, the sound making the creature turn it’s head toward me, and hit the wall, running back toward it. I jumped and hit it’s torso, I grabbed it’s neck with one hand, it squirmed to get me off, but I raised my knife, driving it right down it’s eye. it went in with a sickening squish. It started wailing and thrashing about and without having to say a word we ran.
It was pissed.