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Going Home – Chapter 39 – Hidden Monsters

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King Veelka wasted no time diffusing the hostilities.  He sent out his populist to encourage the rebels to rejoin the pack and offer peace to the jackals for the former king’s egregious behavior, requesting audience with a constituent of their clan to further discuss their truce.  He and his new guards escorted Tomas, Jill and Layla to the holding cells to release the prisoners.

The door to the cells stood open.  The chains lay in a heap on the floor and one guard lay moaning just outside.

One of Veelka’s new guards moved forward, sword at the ready and ventured through the opening.  Soon they heard sounds of a struggle followed by the guard’s reappearance.  He stumbled out and fell hard against the floor battered and bruised.  He raised his eyes and addressed Tomas.

“Your mate is a dynamo and a very angry one.”

Tomas couldn’t help smiling.  He lay a consoling hand on the guard’s shoulder, shifted his appearance to human and ventured through.  After a short minute, he signaled the others to follow.  Jill entered first, eager to see her mother and check on Robbie.  What she encountered sent her into dry heaves.  A  guard she recognized from the hive room lay dead on the floor.   A frozen expression of agony twisted his features.  His skin looked burned and had turned a sickening shade of brownish green as if he’d been consumed by a thermonuclear blast.  Tom pulled Jill away from the gruesome discovery and shielded her from the sight.  Soon she felt her mother’s arms encircling her as well.  Jill tried to breathe but their seemed to be a deficit of oxygen in the air.

“Breathe, baby,” Rebecca said as she rubbed Jill’s back.

“Did the wasp poison do that to him?” Jill asked in a shaky voice.

“Yes, but Robbie’s ok, dear.”

“How?” Jill asked looking up.  Her mother led her to the back of the cell.  Robbie lay on a bed of hay with his mother by his side.  His complexion didn’t look as bad as the guard’s but she still saw the awful greenish hues on his skin.  Jill dropped down beside him and lay a hand on his brow but he didn’t stir.  Paloma gave her a weak smile.

“I’ve stopped the spread of the poison for now but in order to remove the rest from his body, he needs an infusion of a plant extract from our territory.  It’s a ephemeral flower that blooms late in the season.  I purged what I could but it continues to multiply and spread at an alarming rate.  I can keep him in stasis until I get him home.”

Jill continued to rub Robbie’s forehead and smooth the fur around his ears.  She thought a minute and looked up at Paloma, “You put the poison in that guard, didn’t you?”

Paloma’s face turned hard, “He deserved it!  Treating my Robbie like he was already dead, an expendable casualty of war!  He laughed at my son’s discomfort and told me to give up.”  Her face softened as she looked back at her son and tears welled in her eyes.

It didn’t take long for Saal to arrive at the castle.  He met briefly with the new King before he rushed to take Paloma and Robbie home.  He returned later for Tom, Rebecca and Jill.  He spoke as they followed him to a designated portal site.

“Robbie’s responding well to treatment.  His mother should have him back to normal in a few days.  He wants to visit when he’s well again.”

“He’s more than welcome,” Tomas said.

No one knew how Ulvarg had managed to open a portal to the human  realm.  It was an ability delegated to the Guardians.  Saal had proved himself worthy and received this rare gift.  It was a mystery that disturbed them all.

Tomas pulled his family close as they waited for the portal to appear, relieved to have them back and soon, safe in the human realm.  “We should celebrate tonight.  Our first night back home, what do you think?  Dinner out?” he asked.

“Yes!”  Jill said.  “I really want a big juicy burger!”

“I could use a Chardonnay,” Rebecca said.  “Maybe two.”

Tom laughed as Saal opened the portal to their home.

 

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No More Fear – Chapter 37 – Hidden Monsters

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Tears streamed from her eyes and splashed on the cold stone floor.  Jill blinked hard to focus on her father’s face.  He stood mere yards away but he wouldn’t be able to stop the blade poised at her throat.

“Ulvarg, please!  I’m the one you want.”  Tom removed his fighting staff and slid it across the floor past his king.  He removed a long dagger and small knife and slid them across the floor as well.  “I’m unarmed, Ulvarg.  Please, take your vengeance out on me, not her.”

“My vengeance requires more than your life, Tomas.  I wanted you to suffer and know agony before your death.  You do not deserve the quick end of a slit throat.  I vowed if you returned, I would smash your will to live until you begged for death.  And even then, I would not bring your end until I grow tired of your screams.”

“Do with me as you will, my King, but I beg you to let her go.  She will never be a threat to you,” Tom said.  He moved closer, his palms out in a submissive manner.

“A war is brewing at my borders because of you, Tomas.  I have no time to punish you as you deserve.  But before I kill you, you will know agony and a grief so powerful, it will suffice.”

Jill watched her father’s face.  She saw hope withdraw from his eyes before he met her gaze.  He mouthed, “I love you” as if saying his goodbyes.  A weird sensation spread through her mind.  A need to protect rather than be protected.  Her heart no longer slammed against her chest like a base drum.  A calmness stilled it and she gave him a small smile.

The blade pressed hard against her skin before she felt the King stiffen.  His grip loosened on her hair and the sword fell from his hand, clanging against the floor.  Jill twisted away and looked back to see a long blade protruding from the King’s chest.  All semblance of sanity faded from his features.  They twisted into an ugly display and finally froze as his body pitched forward.  Jill scrambled away as the King fell unseeing to the ground.    She stared at the body like someone had pulled a cruel prank on them until she looked back and saw Layla standing behind where the King once stood.  Blood trickled from a small gash in her forehead and her hands shook slightly.  She seemed shocked at her own actions.

Tom pulled Jill from the ground and held her so tight it actually hurt but she would never complain.  It felt good.  Guards appeared as if waiting for the stand off to end and rushed into the throne room.  They filed in and stared dumbstruck at their dead King.  Tom pushed Jill and Layla behind him but Layla step out and stood to meet the guards.  Her face no longer registering confusion but confidence.

The closest guard pulled his sword from its sheath and Layla walked out to meet him.

 

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Deadly Encounter – Chapter 36 – Hidden Monsters

“This should be interesting, young human,” Ulvarg whispered into Jill’s ear.  She could do nothing but watch the events unfold before her.

Veelka zeroed in on The Grey and Layla.  He said nothing but advanced upon them.  The Grey moved back, smiling as if reeling Veelka in like prey.  Layla continued to struggle for release.  She squirmed and kicked until she connected with a soft spot.  The Grey’s face contorted in rage.  He whirled and launched her into the wall near the throne.   She crumbled to the ground and didn’t move.

Veelka hesitated slightly, watching Layla’s still form before he turned back, shifted in an instant and dove into The Grey.  They fell together, teeth gnashing, claws scratching.  Jill pressed her palms to her ears to subdue the horrendous sounds.  She knew this would be a fight to the death.  Remembering her own attack, and The Grey’s vicious fangs piercing her skin, her heart sank as she watched.  The Grey shifted and quickly pinned Veelka against a far wall.  He bit hard into Veelka’s shoulder, ripping fur and flesh with his canines.

Veelka snapped his jaws, keeping The Grey from his neck.  Their growls and snarls echoed through the high halls of the throne room.  No one else moved as they watched the fierce battle.  The Grey threw a smug look Jill’s way, his teeth gleaming and dripping of warm blood, a look of triumph in his wicked eyes before he snarled and dipped his head for a fatal strike.

Veelka pushed off from the wall just as The Grey moved to bite.  It was just enough to send The Grey forward and off balance.  He slid over Veelka, who scrambled to gain his footing first.  Not missing a beat, Veelka sank his fangs into The Grey’s flanks, jerking his head quickly and snapping bones.  The Grey through his head up and howled in agony.  Spinning around, Veelka’s teeth found purchase in The Grey’s exposed neck.  His bite snapped hard and crushed bones, severed tendons and tore through veins.  Blood erupted from the wound coating both of them but Veelka didn’t let go.  He shook his head and ground his teeth until all life drained from The Grey’s eyes.

Jill felt the King shake with rage as his grip tighten.  He shoved her down to her knees and wrenched her head back.  His blade rose to her exposed neck.

 

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Allies or Enemies – Chapter 21 – Hidden Monsters

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“She’s not here, Tom.  It’s a trap,” Saal said. 
“If it were a trap, they would have sent more than one.”    

Tom rose and followed Rebecca’s scent until he saw a clump of hair soaked in blood.  His heart skipped a beat, knowing she was suffering because of him.  He scanned the area and saw a set of  glowing eyes watching.   

“Did you act alone or did King Ulvarg send you?” Tom asked.    

The lone wolf emerged from the shadows, approaching Tom with caution.  “I would not violate the policy of the pack to see you like this.  The King grows impatient to have his vengeance.  The longer you defy him, the more your mate will suffer.”   

“He is a fool if he thinks I will just hand over my child and myself  to him to satisfy his vengeance.  The game is set and I will not stop fighting him,” Tom growled.   

“Calm yourself, Tomas.  There are many who feel the King’s revenge is unfair, especially to your mate and young one.  We used to be satisfied taking orders but now a variety of unjust dealings have caused a riff in the pack.  Your exit has created a loyal following.  You have many on your side.”   

“Will they fight for me?”   

“Perhaps, but you must speak to them.  Tell them the whole story,” the wolf said.  He backed away as Saal appeared to stand by Tom.  “The King knows of your part in this too, jackal.  You are an enemy now.”  He turned back to Tom and motioned him to follow.  “Come now.  I must return before the hour is gone.”   

Tom nodded.  They followed the wolf back through the woods to a designated area where a portal appeared at the top of the hour.  Tom and Saal followed the wolf through before it closed again.   

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Billy reached the campsite hours before the federal agents would appear.  He’d heard a portion of the 911 call through his dispatch and raced to get there first.  He approached the crazed man, who smiled at his arrival.  Billy checked the phone near the man’s head.  Dead.  The man chatted excitedly about his prize and the nice lady on the phone.  She’d promised him more prizes and he’d told her his location.  Billy nodded as he pulled his revolver from its holster, lined it up with the man’s forehead and pulled the trigger.  He released the man’s arms from their restraints and re-positioned the body.  No one would fault him.  Another deranged murderer dead, the product of a broken environment no longer preying on the unsuspecting.  They’ll make him a hero.   

Billy pulled the t-shirt from beneath the man’s head and placed the bloody garment in an evidence bag.  He smiled as he thought of returning it to its owner.

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Aftermath – Chapter 20 – Hidden Monsters




Tom raced through the woods toward Saal and his daughter. Vrag moved as a silent wing man on his right side. Anguish burned away all thought and breath until he saw her sitting safe by the creek with Saal standing watch. He wanted nothing more than to hold her close but he approached with caution. Their eyes met. She looked brave but he saw the control slipping. Her flush cheeks paled. The aftermath of her ordeal crossed her young face in a raw display of anger, terror, guilt and finally horror. 

Tom knelt before her, his face riddled with his own guilt. “I’m sorry,” he said but it wasn’t enough. 

“He killed people,” she whispered. 
“You saw them?” he asked. 
“Parts,” she said, a look of disbelief crossed her face before she reigned it in. “The cop sent him after me, Dad. The one from the restaurant. I heard them talking on the phone.” 

Tom’s vision saw red. He checked Jill over for injury or bruises but it didn’t matter. 

“I’ll have their blood for this,” he snarled. 

“No, don’t go there. The police will find him soon enough. I want to go.” With those final words, Jill’s composure ended. Her whole body shook in sobs that made Tom’s heart ache. He pulled her into his arms and murmured soft words to ease her crying. She buried her face in his shoulder as he carried her back through the woods. Shadows elongated and stars began to dot the sky as they came within sight of the cabin. 

A breeze blew a rare scent through the trees. Tom froze. He glanced at Saal and Vrag, their expressions looked worried. 

Tom handed Jill over to Vrag. She screamed and pleaded but he wouldn’t risk losing her again. 

“Take her home and keep her safe. Saal, come with me,” he said. 

Saal quickened his pace to keep up with Tom as he moved with deadly silence though the trees tracking the scent. He stopped short just as Tom crouched behind a downed tree. 

“Who’s scent is it?” Saal asked. 
“Rebecca’s.”


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Break in Sanity – Chapter 19 – Hidden Monsters

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Raw adrenaline forced Jill into action like a fuse lit to dynamite. She snatched up the shovel, twirling it in her hands. The mountain man’s movements registered shock and then anger. He rose and turned, his face contorted in psychotic rage that dominated his features. His eyes showed no signs of understanding, while his lips curled and a snarl rattled from his clinched jaws. 

He pointed the gun but Jill swung viciously at his arm sending it flying into the woods. She smashed the handle unerringly against the man’s temple and he crashed to the ground. She sent blow after blow upon the man until he started to cry like a child. 

The hypnotic cloud of derangement melted away leaving only a broken, sobbing man behind. Jill forced herself to stop. She stepped back and grabbed rope from the cave entrance. She pulled his hands behind a tree and secured them. He didn’t fight her but continued to cry and curl into a ball like a caged animal that had been punished. 

“He said I could have a prize!” the man sobbed. “I want my prize!” He still lay on the ground with his arms awkwardly behind the tree. He hit his head against the ground like a child not getting his way. Unable to watch the madness any longer, Jill stripped off her light jacket and then her T-shirt before she put the jacket back on. She pushed her T-shirt under the man’s head. He calmed in an instant, happy and content. 

“It’s so pretty,” he cooed as he rubbed his face on the fabric. 

Jill had seen enough. She fished his phone out and dialed 911 before laying the phone near the man’s mouth. She faintly heard the operator come online asking questions as the man continued to mumble about the shirt. She draped a canvas over low branches to give the crazy man cover before she retrieved her shoes and ran from the camp. 

Her mind raced as fast as her feet as she made her way down the mountain and toward the sound of water. Who had the crazy man spoken to on the phone? She searched her memory as she crashed through the woods making enough sound for her father and others to find her. She was certain they were looking. She found a stream and followed it. The woods looked familiar now and she rushed on. A memory slide across her mind and she stopped. She barely registered a large black dog on the opposite side of the stream running toward her. It jumped the water and shifted in midair. 

“Jill?” Saal asked when he reached her. 
“Billy’s the cop,” Jill said almost to herself. 

 Saal clicked his earpiece. “I’ve got her.”


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Shallow Horror – Chapter 18 – Hidden Monsters

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Sunlight filtered in small quantities through the thick trees surrounding the camp. Jill’s eyes stayed locked on the crazy mountain man as he mumbled to himself, laughing every few minutes as if he’d said something funny. 

Jill sat in a shallow hole, her arms secured behind a sturdy pine at her back and her feet bound in front of her with heavy rope. Clothes on wires and odd objects littered the camp. A child’s stuff elephant lay at the entrance of a cave along with a small shoe, a broken lamp and a lawn chair. Jill concentrated on finding her bearings by referencing landmarks and moss growth. She twisted and turned her feet trying to dislodge her shoes while working each hand so as to loosen the ropes on her wrists. 

The crazy man pulled a fish from a bucket and a knife from his belt. After scaling and gutting it, he took to eating some of it raw. As if remembering she was there, he turned and offered her some. Jill shook her head and he continued to eat, mumble and laugh. Jill pushed her left foot from it’s shoe, hooking it on an exposed root to give her leverage. She began rocking the other back against the root to loosen the other shoe. She needed to be free from these bonds and away from this nut before the stars began to come out. Plus she feared what he would do when the sun fell below the horizon. 

A ringtone buzzed and Jill froze. The man looked around confused before he pulled a cellphone from his pocket and silenced to the robot sounding ringtone. He opened the flip phone and listened for a moment before he spoke. 

“Yeah, I got her.” He listened again. 
“I get to keep the shirt as a prize, right? She has a nice shirt.” He paused and listened again. “You said I could have a prize, Billy!” He listened for a few more seconds before he hung up and pocketed the phone. He turned to her and grinned. 

“I get to keep your shirt!” he said with smug satisfaction. 

Like hell! Jill thought as she worked harder on getting herself free. She pulled and twisted her wrists until she felt the knot slip, a handy trick she’d learned from Vrag. She snatched one arm free but held the rope taunt as if still bound. She continued to work on her feet. Her right shoe finally fell away before she used the root to pushed the ropes further down her ankles. She felt metal scrap at her legs and realized something else lay buried in the dirt. She found the spot and pushed the ropes against it until her left foot broke free from the bonds. Jill paused and watched the man as he finished his meal and sat working a stick with his knife. He ignored her while he now got into a heated conversation with himself. 

Jill checked her surroundings again. A shovel to her right, where he’d dug the hole. His knife in hand and gun laying on the ground next to his feet. Once she rocketed into action, her movements had to be flawless so as not to get shot or stabbed. She stared at the exposed root as she went though the motions in her mind until she realized what the metal was. She wiped her feet across the metal until it revealed a broken octagon shaped watch back. The watch band looked like twisted chainmail as she brushed more dirt from the find. 

A harsh, cold realization froze her in place. She bit her lip to hold back the scream building in her lungs. Jill sat motionless, not in some random hole, but a shallow grave. The root was a human arm.

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