Hello friends and fictional folk! Time for the fight! Hope I didn’t keep you all waiting too long. I’ll be heading to a writer’s conference this weekend to try and find an agent for my book. Wish me luck!
In the meantime, I hope you all enjoy this next issue of The Mythic Naga!
The hot air of the hybrid’s roar was so strong it buffeted Natalie’s hair like an industrial fan and sent spittle splattering all over her face. If she still had legs, she would have stumbled back and probably fallen on her but. Seeing as her body didn’t have either of these anymore it did something very different.
Natalie suddenly found herself at least three feet taller as the reactionary backwards motion rolled more of her tail underneath her torso. This resulted in her head now brushing up against the patchwork ceiling as she balanced on the bit of her tail still on the ground.
Now it was the hybrid’s turn to back away. The roar turned to a confused bark kind of sound.
Regaining some composure, the hybrid stretched itself as tall as it could and threw its arms out wide. Again it let out a powerful roar.
Something clicked into place in Natalie’s mind. She had accidentally done the most common method of self defense in the animal kingdom: make herself look bigger. And now the hybrid was responding in kind. They were each trying to intimidate the other into giving ground.
She wasn’t sure if this was a good idea, but she didn’t have any better ones.
Natalie threw her arms wide. She tried to roar back, but even as she opened her mouth, her throat clenched and the roar turned into a sharp hiss. She swore she could feel her teeth growing into fangs.
The bear-skunk-person raised their arms even higher, bared their teeth, and roared again.
She imagined that in the wild, stalemates like this could go on for a while. But they didn’t have a while, they needed to subdue this hybrid before the cops showed up, which was probably going to be sooner than later given the volume of the hybrid’s roars.
“Sssuper taser!” she yelled to Mr. Ross. “Anytime now!”
“Ah, yes,” he said, almost casually, as if he’d forgotten to tie his shoes.
The hybrid screeched and staggered back, convulsing as electricity coursed through their body.
Hey, this is actually pretty easy.
Natalie regretted that thought as soon as she had it.
Just like the one down in the sewers, this hybrid wasted no time in ripping out the bullet from the super taser. Instead of roaring and standing at full height, they crouched and bared their teeth with a deep growl.
The hybrid sprang forward, clawed arms raised over their head.
Natalie yelped as, in her haste to get away, she forgot about her precarious perch and tumbled backward. Luckily, her new body shape turned the fall into a roll that carried her away just in time to avoid the hybrid’s paws slamming into the ground where she’d been moments ago.
She spilled across the floor between Daniel and Mr. Ross who both quickly helped her up into what counted as standing for her now.
“Split up,” Mr. Ross commanded, gripping the super taser in both hands. “Use tight spaces to prevent him from building up wide, sweeping attacks.”
“How do you know they’re a he?” Daniel asked.
“An educated guess based on his naked body.”
“I’ll take you word for it,” Natalie said. “We don’t really have time to assk for preferred pronounsss right now.”
The hybrid charged forward, his lumbering form quickly building up speed.
Natalie turned and sped out of the room through the plastic curtains. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the boys doing the same in different directions. As she burst into the forest of metal and wood support beams, she wondered who the hybrid would follow. She worried that the professor and her friend wouldn’t stand much of a chance alone as normal humans.
Fortunately, and unfortunately, she got her answer as the skunk-bear came barreling after her through the curtains, roaring all the way.
She cursed and dodged as he slashed at her in their chase. His claws whistled through the air with each strike.
An idea popped into her brain as one swing cut a good inch of hair from one side of her head.
Natalie turned and waited for the next blow.
As it came, she waited until the last second before leaping out of the way, using the same fast-twitch, striking reflexes from her punches.
She knew she’d been just a second too slow as searing pain screamed from the end of her tail. A glance confirmed that she now had several long gashes had been gouged into the last foot or so of the appendage. It didn’t matter, this wouldn’t affect the plan.
Natalie skirted around skunk-bear-man, darting from one pillar to another as quickly as she could. Doing this, she literally started running circles around him. She wondered if it still counted as running if she had no legs.
Skunk-bear tried to swipe at her several, but she was either able to dodge out of the way or duck behind a support beam before he could make contact. Eventually, he stopped, turning his head this way and that to keep track of her, ears twitching and pivoting.
Seeing her opening as she circled behind him, she suddenly changed course and charged straight into the center, readying a punch for the back of his head.
Skunk-bear’s ear twitched and his long tail shot upright, almost looking like a shield for his flank. He hunched and Natalie realized a second too late what was happening.
Time slowed as a line of oily, golden liquid shot out from Skunk-bear’s rear end straight at her face.
Natalie screeched to a halt and bent herself nearly in half backwards, the spray arching just inches above her. If she’d not had the flexibility of a snake, she would have been hit full in the face.
She rolled out of the way just in time to avoid the liquid a second time as gravity took hold and it splashed onto the ground.
Then the smell hit her.
It was like a truck full of moldy cheese, sweaty gym socks, and dirty diapers had just crashed into a junk pile and exploded. The stench stung her nose and crawled down her throat, causing her to gag and her eyes to water. As she reeled away from the noxious liquid, Natalie breathed in through her mouth to try and escape the fumes.
That was a mistake.
As she sucked in air, it passed over the receptors on the roof of her mouth, and Natalie’s world became nothing stench. The truck of disgusting things now felt like it had driven straight down her throat and into her stomach. Her whole body seemed to wretch and she spewed the contents of her stomach all over the floor. Tears flowing and nose a faucet of snot, she desperately tried to stop dry heaving as the burning taste of vomit coated her throat and mouth, mixing with the skunk spray in the air.
She was almost thankful when something big and furry that she couldn’t see due to the tears in her eyes tackled her. It knocked the wind out her with the force and skill of a linebacker.
As she gasped in clear and shook free the tears, Natalie saw that it was the hybrid who had grabbed her and was now hauling her through the forest of support beams.
She pushed and twisted, but he had her in a vice grip.
Think Natalie! What would a snake do?
An idea popped in her head. Constrictors! She hadn’t tried any constrictor snake abilities. But, just to be safe, she needed a distraction.
Wiggling around, she cocked both fists back and unleashed a flurry of blows at the hybrid’s back, right between the shoulder blades.
Left, right, left, right, left, right. Her fists slammed into him like a machine gun.
Unfortunately, as she suspected, his fur was too thick for them to do more than annoy him into a stumble. That stumble though was all she needed.
Continuing her rapid-fire punches, she lashed out with her tail and wrapped it tight around one leg, locking it place.
Skunk-bear tried to keep moving, but Natalie could feel his heart beat through her scales—which was quite fast thanks to the fight. Instinctively, her coils tightened with each pulse until her muscles were like iron bars around the limb.
With a barking yelp, skunk-bear tripped and fell, crashing into the hard-packed, construction site dirt. Natalie managed to uncoil herself and leap away, using her tail like a spring, before she could be crushed beneath the bulk of her opponent.
As soon as she touched the ground, Natalie slithered away as fast as she could into the shadows of the unfinished building.
She didn’t stop fleeing until the only thing she could see of skunk-bear was his heat signature in her infrared vision. Ducking behind a support beam, she slumped against it to catch her breath.
Sweat was pouring down face. So much of her felt like it was burning. Her tail from the cut, her chest from the tackle, her knuckles from punching, and her lungs from the nonstop action all ached. Even her throat still stung from when she’d thrown up and she took a moment to spit the last bits of upchuck from her mouth. It didn’t help much, the acidic taste lingered.
And yet…Maybe it was the light-headedness, maybe it was the adrenaline, but she felt almost giddy. It was like the thrill of letting go of the bars in gymnastics to do a flip, but now with someone to compete against. Granted, that someone could punch her, but she could punch back.
If only her mother could see her now.
If only her mother could see her now.
“I’ve gone crazy,” she groaned, gripping her head with her hands.
She had to get out of here. She shouldn’t be doing any of this. She had to let someone else handle this.
He’ll die if you don’t stop him.
I’ll die if I try.
If you don’t, other people will also get hurt.
This isn’t safe. I’m not supposed to be here.
Neither is he. None of this was supposed to happen, but it did. Now what are you going to do about it?
I don’t know!
“Natalie,” a voice whispered.
She yelped and jerked, her tail whipping out in the direction of the voice. It made contact with a sharp smack. The voice cried out in pain.
Only then did she look over to see Daniel on the ground clutching the right side of his face.
“Danny!” she gasped and rushed over to his side. “Oh my god! I’m ssso sssorry! Are you okay?”
Daniel hissed in pain as he rolled over and sat up. He gingerly removed his hands from his face. Natalie winced.
Just beneath his right eye was a long, thin cut, the skin around it already starting to swell and bruise.
“Is it bad?” he asked, seeing the look on her face.
“I hope not,” she said, gently cupping his face in her hands to check the wound. His skin was hot beneath her scales and she could see the temperature in his face raise with her infrared sight. She hoped she hadn’t somehow poisoned him or something. “I’m ssso, ssso sssorry.”
“It’s ok. I shouldn’t have startled you…or gotten within tail range.”
“But, Danny, you’re bleeding.”
“I’m bleeding? Have you taken a look at your tail lately?”
“Daniel is right, Natalie,” Mr. Ross said, stepping out from behind a pillar. “The cut on your tail is a much more serious wound. Here, let me look at it.”
She stretched out her tail and he knelt to examine it. Pulling out a small canteen and a roll of gauze from inside his jacket, he carefully washed the cut before wrapping it tightly.
“There,” he said. “That should suffice for now, at least until we’ve finished here and I can administer proper first aid.”
“Do you always carry that kind sstuff around with you?” Natalie asked, flexing the tip of her tail back and forth to test the bandage. It held surprisingly well.
“On my person, no. But I do keep a survival kit in my car, just in case. I took this with me into the sewers as a precaution. Here,” he offered her the canteen. “Swish and spit one mouthful. Drink the second. That should help clear any remaining vomit.”
She took the canteen and followed his instructions. The water was nice and cool going down her throat. It helped soothe the burning so much that she greedily took another gulp before she could stop herself. Mr. Ross didn’t seem to mind.
“Now what?” she asked, handing her teacher back the canteen. “Plan A didn’t work, ssso what’ss Plan B?”
“Well,” Daniel said, tracing words in the ground with the straight end of his crowbar, “let’s take stock of what we know. The hybrid is one part skunk, one part bear, and one part honey badger. Also we know he’s physically male and obsessed with honey for some reason.”
“Doesn’t him being part bear and honey badger explain the honey thing?” Natalie asked. “And you ssaid sskunksss eat honey too. Sso mysstery ssolved.”
“Not necessarily,” Mr. Ross explained. “While it is true that all of those animals do eat honey occasionally, it isn’t as common an occurrence as media would lead you to believe. Even when those animals do raid bee hives, their main goal is actually the protein rich grubs, the honey is just a tasty bonus. Also, I suspect that this hybrid is also part wolverine.”
“Why?” Natalie and Daniel asked at the same time.
“Because, while bears and honey badgers can be ferocious fighters, they are rarely so eager to engage in combat as we have seen with him. Wolverines, on the other hand, are relentlessly territorially and will take on foes many times their own size without hesitation.”
Natalie laughed. “I’m many times sssmaller than his sssize.”
“True, but you did make yourself appear much larger by standing on your tail.”
“That was really cool, by the way,” Daniel said.
Natalie blushed. “Thankss, but that was actually an accident.”
Mr. Ross cleared his throat. “Anyway, it is likely that this obsession with honey that he exhibits is due to some similar obsession from before he was infused by the ark shards, twisted and enhanced by the instincts of multiple animals into a desire for something else.”
Natalie remembered the circle of students smoking cigarettes outside the school.
“It’sss an addiction,” she said, putting together the pieces.
“Is it one we can use to our advantage?” Daniel asked. “Maybe as a lure or something?”
“Perhaps,” Mr. Ross mused. “But we will need a plan of attack for what to do once the lure works. His fangs and claws make it too dangerous to strike from the front.”
“And the sskunk sspray makess the back jusst as dangerousss,” Natalie said, her nose wrinkling just from the memory of the smell. “Pluss, hiss fur is way too thick for my punchesss to do any good.”
She held up her scuffed knuckles as proof.
“That’s likely due to both bears and honey badgers having notoriously thick coats and hides,” Mr. Ross said, reaching into his coat again. “Here, I have something that can protect your hands.”
He drew out a pair of black, fingerless gloves and helped her slip them on. Natalie flexed her fingers. The gloves would give her knuckles protection while leaving her fingers flexible enough to use their new full range of movement.
“Thankss,” she said.
“You are welcome, my dear. Now as for the skunk spray, if everything is scaled to human proportion that means that he should only have a few more ejections left for the day.”
“So if we can get him to empty his musk glands,” Daniel said, “then he’ll have one less thing he can use against you.”
“Um, no,” Natalie said flatly. “I’m not going to be ssskunk-bear sspray bait, thank you very much. That ssstuff was awful enough jusst being near it. I don’t want to actually get hit by it.”
“You may not have to.”
“You were able to trip him up by wrapping around his leg, right?”
A sly grin spread across Daniel’s face. “Well then, what if you were to do the same to his gut, where the musk glands’ bladder probably is?”
Realization dawned in Natalie’s mind.
“You want me to sssqueeze the ssspray out of him?” she asked, aghast.
“It could work,” Mr. Ross mused.
“Yeah, or it could get me killed, or him killed, or all of usss killed. What if I end up crushing a lung or ssomething? Sssqueezing a fart out of ssomeone doessn’t work if they clench up, like sssay when they’re trying to fight off a sssnake person.”
“That’s where he comes in,” Daniel said, pointing to Mr. Ross.
“Me, my boy?” their teacher asked.
“Yes. If you shoot him with the super taser, it’ll make his muscles go haywire, including the ones controlling the musk glands. Then, Natalie squeezes and forces him to shoot out all of his spray.”
“Hold on,” Natalie said, raising her hands in a T-shape “time out” symbol. “Beyond the nasstinesss of ssqueezing sstuff out of Sskunk-bear—yess that’ss what I’m calling him for now—how do we know the sssuper taser won’t shock me too?”
“Because, that isn’t how it works,” Mr. Ross explained. “Electricity always chooses the path of least resistance. Thus the ‘super taser,’ as the two of you have dubbed it, will only affect the living being it is attached to. You will be perfectly safe.”
“From the electriccity,” she muttered. Then aloud she asked, “And what do we do after all hiss ssspray is gone? I’ll sstill have to deal with hiss teeth and clawsss and nearly impenetrable fur.”
“If you keep squeezing him without getting any tighter, then he should suffocate into unconsciousness,” Daniel pointed out.
Natalie groaned. The problem was that what he was saying made sense. Plus she didn’t have any better ideas. Oh, and also they were probably running out of time before people started calling the cops, if they hadn’t already.
“Alright,” she sighed. “Let’sss do thiss.”
It didn’t take long after working out the specifics of the plan to relocate the honey out of Skunk bear’s lair. With Daniel and Mr. Ross carrying the bottles and Natalie acting as lookout, they were able to move it all to a spot with more shadows for the three of them to hide in. Skunk-bear remained distracted with trying to find Natalie long enough for them to pull this off, but it still made her sweat watching him stomp back to his lair.
Watching his heat signature, she saw him pull back the plastic curtains, step into the room, pause, and then throw back his head. The roar, filled with a rage and desperation Natalie had never thought possible, echoed through the construction site a moment later followed by the pounding footfalls of a pissed off hybrid coming their way. His heat signature grew larger and larger in her infrared vision.
“Here he comess,” she whispered to her teammates, though she doubted she had to as she could feel his approach rumbling through the ground.
A second later, Skunk-bear emerged from the darkness into human visibility. He was frothing mad, literally, spittle foaming around his bared fangs. Natalie wondered briefly if this is what it would look like if he got rabies.
Please don’t have rabies, she begged.
As Skunk-bear charged toward the stack of honey bottles and jars, Mr. Ross stepped out from behind a support beam. He leveled the super taser, aimed carefully, and fired.
The shot rang out and Skunk-bear froze in his charge, convulsing as the electricity coursed through his body. He reached for the bullet stuck to his skin.
That was when Natalie struck. Leaping out from behind her own pillar, she grabbed Skunk-bear and wrapped him in her coils, tail encircling his gut and arms coiling around his to keep them in place.
He tried to shake her off, but the taser bullet impeded his movements. She impeded them more by squeezing her tail tightly.
For a terrible moment, nothing happened.
Then a sound like the world’s loudest, longest, wettest fart ripped its way out of Skunk-bear’s backside. A stream of not just skunk spray, but other bodily fluids poured out of the hybrid, pooling in putrid mess on the floor.
The horrible, acrid stench rose again to attack her senses, along with a few other terrible smells, but Natalie was prepared this time. She had taken a spare roll of gauze from Mr. Ross and wrapped it around her nose and mouth. It wasn’t a perfect defense, but it blocked out the worst of the fumes.
She squeezed for all she was worth as Skunk-bear convulsed beneath her scales until, finally, stuff stopped spewing out of him.
Finally, she sighed mentally, now I just need too—
Her train of thought was derailed as Skunk-bear lurched to the side and slammed into a support beam back first, which was where Natalie’s torso was pressed. Pain shot through her body, knocking the wind out of her, and loosening her grip on her opponent.
Powerful claws gripped her shoulders and tore her free from Skunk-bear’s back. Natalie suddenly found herself sailing through the air head-over-tail. Her reintroduction with Mother Earth was a heavy one, but she managed to turn her fall into a roll and lessen the impact.
When the world had stopped spinning around her, she was on her back gazing up at the night sky. With a start, she realized that if she could see the sky then she wasn’t inside the unfinished building anymore, and that meant people would be able to see her. She pushed herself up onto her tail, ignoring the head rush from standing so quickly.
She turned to dash back inside amongst the scaffolding but stopped short when she saw Skunk-bear emerge from the shadows, lumbering his way toward her. He wasn’t convulsing anymore, which meant he’d ripped out the taser bullet.
Glancing behind his furry form, she saw Daniel and Mr. Ross, their respective weapons raised to strike from behind. She met their gaze and shook her head. Bad enough that the public might see her and Skunk-bear, she didn’t want them to be spotted too. Plus, she had to keep the hybrid’s attention on herself. She could take the hits, mostly. They couldn’t.
Natalie crouched, readying herself for combat.
A flash of light illuminated the whole scene for a split second, sending dots dancing across her vision.
She spun to see one of the last people she expected or wanted to see right now. Holding an expensive camera and looking as if he only just realized the flash was still on was the quarterback for the Central City West Side High School football team, and her crush since Freshman year, Thomas Laville.
Short blond hair, clear blue eyes, with a face and body fit for a renaissance sculpture. He was the heartthrob of nearly every girl and many guys (single or not) in school. Natalie was no exception. She’d been smitten the moment she laid eyes on him working out on the football field while the cheerleaders were having try outs. She had even managed to talk to him a few times.
What was he doing here?
Her thoughts were interrupted as Skunk-bear roared and charged.
But this time, the charge wasn’t aimed at her.
He was barreling full speed at Thomas.