Outside of the cabin, the spirit reflection was ominous. The trees, larger, craggier, somehow sharper than their material counterparts, swayed as if caught in violent storm winds. There was no wind. In fact, the air felt as still and stale as the interior of an empty mayonnaise jar left in the sun. The sky high above was a chaos of dark clouds, as if caught in a frozen moment of being torn asunder and thrown into streaming piles before getting shredded anew. It was utterly still, but every time you looked up, the storm had raged on.
Except. Except the moon. Luna hung in the sky like a blade. No part of the strange tempest strayed between her and the ground. If there had been any doubt they had not stepped into the Hisil, that alone put it to rest.
Fog gave his pack a look with eyes that gleamed like metal. Except for himself everyone else had gone to Urshul, choosing the long, heavily muscled legs for speed over the nearly endless stamina of the fully wolf form. Silly cubs. Urhan was for the hunt. Urshul for the kill. Hopefully they wouldn’t have to bleed too much before the lesson took root. It should be a proverb: When on a hunt, ignore the Hunter in Darkness at your peril.
Cynder had read aloud most of the entries describing the Meers’ hunt for their Totem. Fog took a few moments to establish the proper landmarks and fell into the easy, distance eating lope wolves were known for. The rest of the pack swiftly caught up to him, but he refused to speed up. They were noisy. It would be a challenge even with his sharp senses to detect danger before it struck, going faster or another form would only make it harder.
Their luck ran out near what was the edge of their property in the material world.
Only a handful of yards into a break in the trees, the silence was shattered by the roar of an engine. An actual roar. The trees shivered and magath poured forth. The one that roared was also the largest. It was like some mad scientist had mated a Chevy Impala with a huntsman spider. Eight headlight eyes burned with malign intelligence. Chrome chelicerae twitched. Long, steel legs arched from the wheel wells.
But it wasn’t alone, curled balefully around a bristle-like antenna on the spider-car, a huge rattlesnake glowed like a coal. Heat shimmered around coils thick as motorcycle tires. It hissed. It was the sound of water hitting a griddle.
Several feet behind on the left, a man-shaped tree stalked. Thorned vines twined and throbbed over its body like veins. Where the mouth should have been, loop after loop of brambles bound down. The cruel barbs gleamed like polished wood in the half-light.
And in the sky, two sick parodies of birds wheeled. A hawk flailed in the air with shattered wings, the limbs grinding and flopping grotesquely yet somehow keeping airborne. The other appeared to be a sharp-eyed mockingbird with a beak the color and texture of bleached bone or a tooth.
The pack scattered instinctively, trying to scatter their enemies focus. Fog took to Urshul, baring his teeth at the unnatural beings. From the corner of his eye, a ruddy dire-wolf exploded toward the car thing with a rising growl. Before she could get close enough to spring, it’s eyes flashed like a searchlight-sized strobe. The world became nothing but after-image. Fog shook his head and lashed out blindly, hoping his vision cleared fast enough. From the cries of dismay, the rest of his pack was just as helpless.
He ducked and weaved randomly, trusting his instincts and remaining senses to avoid the angry magath. Time and again he’d sense something not familiar and snap, only to miss. Whistles, screams, and abrupt yelps told him his pack was bleeding. Sharp pain erupted down his side and he felt his blood flowing in a hot pulse on his fur. A sound like a side of beef impacting a brick wall punctuated by a whimpering scream reached his ears. Uratha blood was thick in the air. His pack was getting killed.
Something swooped close enough to ruffle his whiskers. No time to think, just lunge. Feathers. Delicate bones snapping and the sweet, molten gush of blood. Flesh tearing, flying away as he thrashed his head back and forth. One down. He spat the remains to the ground with contempt. His vision was coming back.
The spider-car launched itself into the air, knocking the Storm Lord flat. Blood and froth burst from her nose and mouth as it tried to squash her under it’s bulk. Jet was staggering to his feet from where the spirit had tried to pin him moments before. Weeping gouges in its metallic chitin demonstrated he hadn’t been easy meat. The Bone Shadow howled, Ember had gone Gauru. Fifty feet away, Alex was snapping at the prickly treant. Blood flowed from dozens of wounds, but the magath had rusty colored sap flowing from several places and some vines dangled in limp tatters.
Fog wheeled in a fury when his eyes found the fire snake looming over Anaru’s twitching body. Between one bound and the next, existence turned crimson. The spirit rattled its tail in fear as the huge grey wolf-man charged. It struck, but talons swatted its head to the side. It burned against his skin so he bit it to make it stop. With a screaming roar, Fog plunged the claws of his foot into the back of the snake, seized a coil in his fist and pulled until the flesh gave way. When it was little more than twitching, fading gobbets, the Irraka looked up for his next enemy.
Ember and Cynder were burrowing into the body of the car, their taloned fists flung oily gore as they dug through its guts, racing to be the first to rip its beating heart from it’s body. Jet was trying to cave it’s face in with one of its own legs, ripped off at the “knee.” He knew it was hurt. It was trying to get away. The smaller magath suddenly broke, sprinting for safety as the Impala crumpled to the ground. Legs scrabbled at the turf feebly.
The fierce surge of victory was short lived. The bloody form of Anaru was stretched out on the loam. Human. Cooling.
Their brother was gone.