Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for violence and mature content.
a/n: hey, thanks for checking out Starry Veins! This is the novel I wrote for Round V of LMS, and it's still a first draft! While I don't discourage any feedback, I prefer not to receive feedback on grammar! I'm not polishing this draft up yet, so I'm not as concerned about editing. I am, of course, open to all feedback, but I ask that you keep this in consideration! Thanks <3
warning for: excessive descriptions of blood/gore/mutilation
Fighting wolves was much easier than fighting other people, but on the other hand, Mishal didn’t know how to handle them. What they would do. There was no predictability to the wolves’ movements, but there was a cunning and finesse that made him uneasy.
He pushed himself into it. All that mattered was the rhythm of his sword swings and when they connected and where the wolf was. He just needed to shut out all the rest, the yelping and the cries and the pain surrounding him. The smell of dirt and fur and blood.
It worked. Or it was working. Up until he heard the roar from the forest nearby. The wolf by his sword lunged forward as he turned, and he barely dodged out of his claws and fangs snapping for him.
But still, he turned towards the forest, because it was a sound he had never heard before and yet, sounded vaguely humanoid. He was right in time to see Isadora flying, crash against a tree with a crunch, and crumple to the ground.
His breath left him all in one whoosh. He forgot all about the wolves and ran through the glade towards her.
Her hair was pooled around her head where she lay on her side, face twisted into a sharp grimace that did not relent. Her shoulder looked out of place, bent at an angle it was not meant to be bent at. Her breathing came in staggered, shallow gasps.
He set aside his sword and pulled her onto his lap. She whimpered as he moved her, and her eyes opened. Tears rolled down her face. He repositioned one of his hands to try to support her head, and as he put it against her cheek and her pale hair, they were all darkened with the thick scarlet of blood.
And now he could feel it. His legs and his other arm, soaked. He ran his hand down her shoulder to her back and found, between her spine and her ribs, a huge gash that squelched under his fingers. He shuddered, bile rising at the back of his throat.
“Oh no. Oh, no, Isa, no, wait, there’s— This isn’t—” He found he struggled to find his own breath. “There’s so much blood.”
She lifted a hand to grab a tense fistful of his shirt. “I saw someone— something—” She coughed, trembling under in his arm. “In the trees. I saw— in the trees—”
The crunching of leaves drew his attention upward, towards the source of the bestial scream and Isadora’s injury and—
His breath caught.
The thing was about twenty yards away from them, stalking ever close. It was huge, and the grisliest thing Mishal had ever seen. A mane fell around its head in an enormous golden and black wreath, and from that extending down were its massive paws, bigger than Mishal’s head. Its tail flicked and brushed against the treetops, and if everything about this thing had not already winded him, the bulbous tail coming to a sharp, bloodied point did.
Worst of all was its face.
Once upon a time, ignoring everything else, this thing could have once been human. It had the face of a man, with lion’s fur splitting from the long-since twisted and ruined skin. Its mouth was stretched apart, fangs grown to such a point they easily surpassed the things lips and dug grooves into its chin, terrible reddened scars enflamed beneath the glinting white teeth. Saliva dripped from its mouth, from its fangs, like mucus. And its eyes— They were undeniably human as they stared back at him, but a squalid grey film covered them so entirely that, if they had a former colour, it was lost. And they were not unfocused, but empty. And if there was ever a time they held emotion, it was utterly gone now.
Its head lowered the closest it came, legs folding up into its patchwork body. Mishal had seen Lore kill mice enough to know this thing was about to pounce.
They were going to die. He stared at this thing in its miserable eyes and knew, with a sickening jolt spreading slowly through his body, that they were going to die.
Forestter stepped from the glade, flanked by another expedition member, Remington, swords drawn and dipped in red. Forestter glanced over his shoulder. “Get everyone out of here,” he said, face drawn and shadowed. “Run.”
He looked back to Isadora in his arms as Forestter and Remington shouted at the amalgamated beast. Her eyes were shut now, her breathing shallow and stuttered, and her head lolled back. And there was so, so much blood. There definitely should not be this much blood, ever, anywhere.
Someone touched his shoulder. He looked up into the distressed face of Gracia, who tugged on his arm. She was looking up at the beast, screaming again. “We need to go.”
“There’s so much blood,” he said, dazedly. Everything felt fuzzy around him.
Gracia looked down at him and jostled his shoulder much harder. Hard enough to hurt. “Mishal, we’re going.”
He stared down at Isadora, and nodded, but didn’t move. How could he move? He had to— But if he moved Isadora, it would hurt her—
Someone rushed to his other side and, without the caution truly needed, picked up Isadora. He didn’t even see who it was before they were running. Gracia slipped a hand under his arm and bodily dragged him.
He scrambled to get his legs underneath him, trying to breathe again because his vision was starting to go dark. She didn’t let him go as they ran, blindly, into the trees. He saw Isadora, thrown over someone’s shoulder. With her back now exposed, he could see the tear that ran up her back. It wept freely, matting into her golden hair, and staining it startlingly red, darker and brighter than Ember’s.
And he knew he was covered in it, could feel the cool morning air biting at his dampened skin. The viscera covered him, his legs where he had cradled her and his arms where he had lifted her.
Where the wolves had gone, he didn’t know. He could still hear their howls and wasn’t sure how many of them were real and how many were echoing still in his ears. The scream of the beast grew fainter and fainter, and one of the last he heard was the kind of thunderous roar one would emit in a rush of victory.
He ran, Gracia beside him and Isadora ahead of him, and could hardly focus on more than the smell of blood and how it coated him. He could barely see as black spots danced through his vision and he felt faint, light-headed, but still he ran. Trees and shadows whipped by him, roots clamouring to grab at his ankles and branches dipping as if in a breeze to stop him. Gracia guided him, and Wren must be close too or they’d all be dead.
Through the canopy, light split like butter soaking into bread through the leaves, until eventually, they came under the light itself when they burst through the trees.
And still, they ran, and Mishal could still hear the howling and the screaming thundering in his ears.