Hey there friends and fictional folk! Hope you all are staying safe, secluded, and sanitary. Lucky for all of you, this pandemic will not prevent me from posting more chapters of The Mythic Naga. Enjoy!
“We’re on our way!” Natalie said over the earpiece before it clicked off.
We? Daniel wondered.
A twig snapped as he shifted his weight. Heartrate spiking, he ducked down behind the fallen log he and Mr. Ross were using as a hiding spot. Peering through a hole in the decaying wood, he had to hold in a gasp. Ahuizotl was staring in their direction. Her ears pivoted, searching for another hint of sound as her yellow eyes scanned the shadows of the park. The occasional bit of moonlight glinted off her piecemeal armor.
Daniel held himself as still as he could. It wasn’t easy with leaves tickling his arms and imaginary insects crawling over his body. Beside him, very faintly, he could hear the calm, steady breathing of Mr. Ross. He was so much better at this than Daniel was.
Helps when you’re an ex-secret agent.
Ahuizotl finally turned back to what she’d been doing before. Daniel quietly released a breath. They still had no idea what she was up to. Mr. Ross had spotted her while they had been searching Levi Park and they had taken cover to avoid a fight. As far as Daniel could tell, she seemed to be doing her best Bigfoot impression: stalking from spot to spot but not doing much. What worried him though was the strange thing she was carrying.
In her right hand, she held what looked like an oversized pair of tongs. Tongs that were half as tall as she was with ring-like loops attached to the handle. The whole thing was faintly tarnished with black splotches. Underneath those blemishes, silver metal sparkled in the moonlight.
Where had she gotten something like that? And what was it?
A hand grabbed his shoulder and he flinched before realizing it was Mr. Ross. He shifted around as quietly as he could to face his teacher. With a couple of quick hand motions, Mr. Ross signaled that they needed to keep following Ahuizotl.
Nodding, he followed as the older man rose into a crouch and slipped into the shadow of a thick tree. It was amazing how stealthy his history teacher could move. Even being a secret agent, Daniel would have thought his age would make such a task difficult. It was hard enough doing it as a teenager.
He felt like a three-legged donkey stumbling after a weasel. Every time he avoided stepping on one leaf, his foot instead came down on a stick or loose pebble. His breath was loud as a broken ceiling fan in his ears and his heartbeat pounded like a bass drum in his chest. It was a miracle Ahuizotl hadn’t managed to notice him yet.
Catching up to Mr. Ross, he crouched next to him in the shadow of a thick oak. From here, he could see both Ahuizotl and the lake for which the park was named.
Most of the strange sightings over the past few days had been clustered along the coast of Lake Levi. Daniel wasn’t sure if Ahuizotl was responsible for all the sightings, or really any of them. She looked as unfamiliar with the landscape as he was, pausing and glancing around every few paces. Even if she had been here before, she couldn’t account for more than half of the photos he had reviewed on the drive here.
If the reports were anything to go by, this was a hotbed of hybrid activity. Creatures with feathered and scaly wings had been spotted, as well as one with a glowing tail and another that swung from tree to tree like a monkey. The strangest sightings, and the ones that worried Daniel the most, were of dark shapes moving beneath the water of the lake. He couldn’t see any details due to refraction and blurry photos, but one thing was certain: whatever was hiding in Lake Levi was big. Very big.
And Ahuizotl was headed straight for the shore.
He hadn’t put it together before, but now that he could see the lake it was clear that was her destination.
“Why is she going for the lake?” he whispered, careful to keep his voice as quiet as possible. He had no idea how good Ahuizotl’s hearing was, but it was probably better than any human’s.
Mr. Ross frowned, not taking his eyes off her. “I am uncertain. My best guess is that she is looking to challenge whichever student has taken up residence in the lake, though I cannot fathom why.”
“But why does she have those tongs? And why are they so big?”
“Those are very good questions. Unfortunately, I have no answers. None of the shard related artifacts I was allowed access to looked anything like that.”
Daniel’s eyebrows rose. “Omphalos has stuff other than shards?”
“A few items. Mostly pieces of unknown metal found warped and twisted around newly discovered shards. None of them seem to have any use, but there is clearly some sort of connection between them and the shards, so we kept them for study.”
He turned back to watching Ahuizotl. It looked like she had stopped her search for the time being. She was sat on the ground in an almost meditative pose, staring out over the placid water of the lake.
The night was strangely peaceful. If he let himself forget about the mud on his jeans, the mosquitoes that he couldn’t slap, and the hybrid human-animal people ready to tear him apart at a moment’s notice, it was quite nice. Unfortunately, with those thoughts gone, all that was left was the memory of his betrayal and the guilt that came with it.
He had resolved to talk to Natalie about it as soon as he had the chance, but that didn’t make the shame go away. If anything, the looming uncertainty of that conversation only heightened his anxiety. It was why he hadn’t brought it up earlier. The hybrid sightings had given him an easy out and he had taken it.
Just keep running away from your problems, coward.
With a start, he realized that Mr. Ross was looking at him. Concern written on his face.
“What?” Daniel said, immediately tense. Was there something crawling up his back? Was there a hybrid behind him?
“Are you alright, my boy?” Mr. Ross asked.
Nope. It was worse. His face had betrayed his thoughts.
“Yeah,” he said quickly. “I’m fine…great actually.”
Mr. Ross held his gaze. The teacher sighed and shifted so that he was fully facing Daniel.
“Alright,” Mr. Ross said, piercing eyes holding Daniel in place. “What’s wrong?”
Daniel considered lying. He thought about saying he was just nervous because of Ahuizotl. But he knew Mr. Ross would see right through that lie. The truth would get dragged out of him eventually. Besides, he needed to stop taking the easy way out and running away. This seemed as good a time as any to start.
“I messed up,” he admitted. “During the mission to hack the school newspaper’s systems, I got caught.”
“That’s fine, my boy. I got caught on my first mission. The important part is that I was able to escape unharmed, just as you did. We can try again later. There’s no shame in that.”
He shook his head, breaking eye contact and staring at the ground. “I didn’t escape. I…I got blackmailed.”
There was a heavy pause.
Daniel cringed. Mr. Ross’s voice had taken on a dangerous edge. He had really messed up. But he couldn’t back down now.
“The president of the newspaper club caught me,” he continued, forging on despite feeling like he might throw up. “He’s got dirt on me, Mr. Ross. He knows about…about that. I got scared. I didn’t know what to do. I failed.”
He blinked hard, determined not to cry again. This was neither the place nor the time.
A heavy hand gripped his shoulder. He looked up to meet Mr. Ross’s gaze. The teacher’s eyes were filled with sorrow and soft compassion. But Daniel could see, lingering just behind those eyes, a dark anger held at bay, barely.
“Have you told Natalie of this?” Mr. Ross asked. His tone was even and controlled.
Daniel shook his head. “I was going to. But I’m afraid she’ll hate me.”
“She will not if you tell her the whole truth.”
He froze. Telling her about the betrayal was daunting enough. But revealing that to her. No. He wasn’t ready. She’d think him a liar twice over.
“I can’t.” he said.
“You must. She won’t understand otherwise.”
“But what if—”
Mr. Ross held up a hand, cutting off further objection. “Natalie is a good person. We both know this. Whatever high school drama has attempted to twist her into was immediately undone by her transformation into Naga. Do you think that someone who is fighting so hard to protect the lives of creatures such as the hybrids would treat you like those boys Carson and Paul?”
Daniel shook his head dumbly. Laid out like that, all his worry seemed stupid. But old scars from the past held tight. Logically, he knew he had to tell her. Emotionally though…
A soft crack sounded behind them.
His blood ran cold. When was the last time either of them had glanced at Ahuizotl?
He turned just in time to see a hulking form leap out of the darkness. Fanged maw open and claws unsheathed. All of it headed straight for them.