AFTERLIFE: Chapter 2
Kat Dubois Chronicles, #6
*NOTE - This is an unedited excerpt. Please excuse any typos.*
Mari froze, eyes rounding. And then she launched into a dead sprint. She didn’t even bother to look behind her to see what was there; my expression must have told her everything she needed to know.
But she wasn’t fast enough.
The viny tentacle nearest Mari whipped out, coiling around her ankle and yanking her foot out from under her.
Mari shrieked as she slammed down face first onto the ground, barely catching herself with her hands.
I was already running toward her by the time she hit the ground. I could hear Anapa’s heavy footfalls behind me.
Mari rolled onto her stomach and clawed at the ground, but her fingers didn’t seem to be able to find purchase. The creature dragged her backward, pulling her ever closer to that immense, writhing mass.
What would happen if she reached it? What would it do to her? The horrifying possibilities spurred me onward, and I ran even faster.
I closed in on Mari way slower than I would have liked, wishing desperately that I had my sword, Mercy, with me. Not a moment after the thought entered my mind, I felt the weight of the sword on my back, the gentle constriction of the leather harness wrapped around my ribcage. There hadn’t been any swell of power in my sheut. No sense of the At and anti-At lacing throughout my soul and forming the sword. It was as though my thoughts had brought it into existence; it was suddenly just there.
I didn’t have time to waste thinking about how my sword had come to be here. I was just grateful to have it with me. Between one step and the next, I reached over my shoulder and drew Mercy, the At blade ringing out as it slid free from the scabbard. The sound echoed all around me, carried off by the mist.
“Mars!” I yelled, barely a dozen steps away from her. When she looked up at me, I tossed her the sword.
Mari stopped fighting and twisted onto her back, hand shooting out to snag the sword hilt. She sat up and slashed at the tentacle wrapped around her ankle, severing it in one smooth motion. It whipped about, the severed end oozing a thick amber goo that reminded me of tree sap.
Mari scrambled backward, using feet, butt, and one hand to get away from the monstrosity while she brandished the sword at its weaving tentacles with her other hand.
The snakelike appendages closed in on her, hanging just out of reach of the wickedly sharp blade. Each time she threatened one tentacle, another lashed out, only pulling back when she turned her attention to it.
More tentacles sprouted from the writhing mass, while others grew longer, circling around behind Mari. She wasn’t moving fast enough, and I doubted the sword would hold them at bay for much longer. Soon they would have her surrounded, and then they would strike.
“Sword, Mars,” I shouted. I was almost to her. “Now!”
Without even looking, Mari chucked Mercy into the air.
I caught the sword by the handle, whipping the blade around to cut off the ends of the two tentacles nearest me even as another two snaked around Mari’s legs. The severed tentacles whipped about, spraying that oozing, amber goo all over the place like a slobbering dog shaking its head. I could feel it splattering my jeans and coat.
I spun, slicing through another tentacle, then sprang into an aerial over Mari, slashing through the two new tentacles wrapped around her legs while I was upside down. The second my boots touched the ground, I whipped Mercy out to the side, dispatching the final, slithering appendage. A thick glob of amber goo smacked into the side of my face, dripping onto my shoulder and into my hair.
I raised my arm, attempting—and failing—to wipe the warm, sticky mess from my face. Giving up, I took up a defensive stance. I turned to the side, bending my knees and raising my sword, elbow held high.
The severed tentacles whipped about, spraying that amber goo all over the place as they retracted into the larger mass.
“You good, Mars?” I asked over my shoulder, not willing to take my eyes off the thing.
“Yeah,” she said, voice shaky. “I think so.”
I backed up a step, maintaining my stance. I took another step, and another, until I reached Mari. Anapa was with her, pulling her up to her feet.
“Fight, or run?” I asked.
“Fight,” Mari hissed, and out of the corner of my eye, I watched two anti-At daggers appear in her hands, blades glistening like obsidian. I didn’t know much about Aaru, but one thing was becoming abundantly clear: thoughts held a shit-ton of power here.
Anapa nodded in agreement, and a second later, he was holding a long staff with wicked-looking silver blades on either end and looking a hell of a lot like he knew how to use it.
I grinned, anticipation thrumming through me. There wasn’t much I loved more than a good fight. “I was so hoping you would say that,” I told Mari.
As if on cue, new tentacles sprouted from the hideous monstrosity, reaching for us. More and more emerged, cautiously extending outward, until there were too many and I lost count. They weaved from side to side gently, like a horde of cobras mesmerizing their prey just before they struck.
In unison, the tentacles reared back.
I held my breath, my anticipation transforming into fear. Fighting had been the wrong decision. I could see that now, clear as day. We were far outmatched, but it was too late to run.
All at once, the tentacles lashed out.
I managed to slice through at least a dozen before one caught my sword arm. It coiled around my wrist, squeezing as it worked its way up my arm. Another wrapped around my waist. Another my right thigh. And another my left ankle.
Panic fluttered in my chest as I fought against the tightening bindings.
The tentacle wrapped around my waist wound its way higher, constricting around my ribcage as it lifted me off the ground.
I struggled to breathe. I struggled to move at all.
“Mars!” I called out with my last breath. “Anapa!” I craned my neck this way and that, searching for them among the sea of writhing, snapping tentacles.
I spotted Mari, looking even worse off than me. But a moment later, a tentacle coiled around my head and covered my eyes, sealing me in darkness.
I hung there, blind and suffocating, for what felt like an eternity.
And then, suddenly, I was falling.
I landed on my butt, tentacles loosening all around me. I wriggled out of them, shrugging off their dead weight and crawling away a few yards as I sucked in a lungful of air. I almost didn’t believe what I was seeing.
Reinforcements had arrived—Dom had arrived—and he was tearing through the tentacles with a glorious fury. He fought like a man possessed. Entranced by his deadly dance, I couldn’t tear my eyes from him.
Someone grabbed my arm, their grip tight, but I hardly noticed. “Come on, Auntie!” that same someone yelled. “We’ve got to go!”
The voice cut through my admiring trance, and I turned to look at the young woman tugging on my arm. “Susie?” I said, stunned to see my niece.
“Come on!” she repeated, pulling harder.
I let her yank me up to my feet. I felt like I was looking at a ghost, and I couldn’t stop staring at her. Probably because I kind of was looking at a ghost.
“We’ve got to get to the anchor point,” Susie said, urging me away from the fight.
“But—” I glanced over my shoulder, looking for Anapa and Mari. “But what about the others?”
“Re already got them out of there,” Susie said. “They’re all waiting for us.” She tugged on my arm, pulling me into a stumbling run. “Let’s go!”
Again, I glanced over my shoulder, catching sight of Dom as he tore through the tentacles. “But Dom—”
“He’ll be fine,” Susie said, urging me onward. “He knows how to handle the Beast better than anyone.”
I fell into step beside her, matching her long, loping strides, no longer needing to be pulled along. “The Beast?”
“Yeah,” Susie said as we ran. “That’s what we call it.”
I glanced over my shoulder, but I could no longer see any hint of the Beast or Dom through the mist. “What is it?”
“Nobody knows,” she said, “but it lives in the mist surrounding Aaru, lying in wait to attack new arrivals.”
“Why?” I asked.
Susie shook her head and shrugged. “Don’t know,” she said. “But it’s not usually this hostile; it mostly just messes with people’s heads . . . makes them see things that aren’t real.”
I frowned. It was starting to look like my venture into Aaru was going to be even less pleasant than I’d imagined.
“Don’t worry, though,” Susie added. “Once we get to Dom’s place, we should be safe. It’s in another part of Aaru, and Dom told me the Beast almost never leaves this part.”
“Never?” I repeated back to her, hoping I’d heard her right. If I never saw the Beast again, it would be too soon.
Susie flashed me a tight smile. “Almost never.”
That's it for CHAPTER 1! The second chapter will be posted next week. :)
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