I ran through the brush, careful not to clothesline the poor kid on my back with low-hanging branches. I’d never touched a human before today, let alone had one ride me, and it took me a few seconds to get the feel of it. Just in time, too, because the fae we were drawing out was on my tail immediately. I guess that acorn plan didn’t work…
That kid was a trooper, though, holding on as I went top speed. I can really move it when I need to, but American black bears are better on speed than endurance, and I could only outrun Yonya for a short time.
Which is why we also had a deer to help us.
I had arranged to have Darren Streamjumper meet me at the point where I’d grow tired. The white-tailed deer and I guarded the Mabinogeon weir together, helping out Guy Thomas, though he hadn’t been aware of our help until recently. I’d lost a cub to that weir and didn’t want anybody else to suffer the fate of my poor little Markus. Darren had his own reasons for guarding the weir, but he wasn’t the chattiest deer in the woods, if you know what I mean.
I caught wind of Darren’s scent and ran down a short hill. I could hear Yonya getting very close when I caught sight of the deer, standing completely still, like deer are so good at doing, his antlers looking like branches. Nathan was too short to climb atop the deer from the ground, so I sidled up to Darren and let Nathan get up there from my back.
Nathan adjusted himself and wrapped his little arms around the buck’s neck. As soon as he was secure, I growled “Go!” and Darren leapt over a log and toward the truck.
I was winded, but even a winded bear is a formidable opponent, I like to think. But when I turned and saw what I was up against, I almost did that thing in the woods that humans like to say bears do.
She towered above me, a red-and-white winged nightmare, a many-limbed, vaguely humanoid monster without eyes or feet, encrusted with bumpy plates and that magical mouse-dust. She floated above the ground, and as she approached me she lifted, intending just fly over me like I was nothing more than a pile of dirt.
I mustered my will and crouched in the snow. When she was above me I leapt up, claws out, and grabbed at her body, which was becoming more and more solidified as the scranch dust caked on her body. (And yes, bears can jump. Look for it on that web thing.)
My left paw went through the creature as though she were made of smoke, but my right paw clawed deep into fae flesh. The grip I had on her spun her in the air, and she turned her face and attention from Nathan to me. Good.
Her mouth was round and full of small, very sharp teeth. Two other mouths, equally fanged and hideous, appeared on either side of her first mouth, opening out of clear skin. All three screamed at me, in a harmonic of three otherworldly pitches.
With her face so close, I went for her neck, or her closest thing her anatomy had to a neck. But she was so fast. She undulated her body, now completely physical from the scranch dust, avoiding my bite. My jaws snapped at cold air.
She rushed me, her body flowing over me like a black tent. Spines emerged from the ray fins at the ends of her grotesque limbs. She battered me, several at a time, making a hundred shallow puncture wounds across my body.
I growled and turned into the pain. I managed to get my jaws around one of her many wrists. I held it tight and twisted, feeling the satisfying sound of bones cracking in my powerful jaws. I wished I had more mouths to bite her with.
She tried to pull away, and used whatever magical force gave her locomotion to drag me a few meters across the forest floor. I dug in my paws. We dragged tracks through the snow and dirt, but I didn’t let go. She tried to go up, but sparks of magical light rained down from above us, and she only managed to lift me a foot or two off the ground. I held my weight with my jaws until we were grounded again.
“Let me go, you stupid beast!” One of her mouths screamed at me, “or I’ll drag you to the Interstitium and feed your spirit to my faeries!”
I would have said some witty comeback, but my mouth was busy, so I just growled, thought of my cub Markus, devoured by fae, and held tighter with my jaws.
She went on the attack again, stabbing me again and again with her spiny limbs. I was starting to lose blood, and I felt my will and strength start to ebb. With a vicious bite she severed her own arm, and I fell to the ground with a trophy in my mouth, as Yonya swept away toward Nathan across the forest.
The last thing I remember before passing out was the taste of fae on my tongue, and hoping my sacrifice would not be for nothing.