Hello friends and fictional folk! Here’s another update. Don’t have much to say for this one. We’re up to 40,000 words! About two-thirds of the average length of a novel! I hope everyone is still enjoying it and please make sure to keep circulating those links, I could really use the supplemental income from Wattpad or Tapas.
Natalie rushed forward and scooped her friend up into a bear hug, though she was careful not to squeeze too hard. She had to be careful when hugging someone. Being part constrictor made heartfelt reunions a tad tricky.
She felt Jaimie stiffen in her grip. When it was clear that she wasn’t being attacked, she returned the hug with full force.
Natalie’s heart soared. It felt so good to know her friend was alright. Now she didn’t have to be alone for hours in the lair. They could team up to fight other hybrids and watch each other’s backs. Training would be so much easier with another enhanced human. Daniel was great, but neither he nor Mr. Ross could really keep up with her now that she had gotten a hang of her new physiology. Now, with Jaimie, she had someone she could really tell all her troubles to as a hybrid and as a girl in the same social circle. It would be like having a roommate!
Pulling back, she held her friend at arm’s length and looked her over. Jaimie looked tired. She also seemed much more withdrawn than Natalie remembered, but that might have just been because she had been staying hidden for almost a week. Luckily, she didn’t look hurt, just a bit unkempt, her fur sticking up at odd angles in places and speckled with dirt.
“I’ve been ssso worried about you,” Natalie said. “How have you been? Where have you been?”
Jaimie smiled, shrugging. “Levi Park mostly. It’s near city limits, so staying hidden is easy. A bunch of us live there.”
Natalie’s felt her smile waver. A bunch? How many hybrids was a bunch? Were they one of the factions? It seemed likely. There had only been twelve people behind the school when the ark orb exploded. She had fought two of them before tonight, and two more just moments ago. Counting herself and Ahuizotl, that made six so far. That was half of the entire hybrid population, as far as she knew. And if there were multiple factions, that meant the split couldn’t be very big.
Even with only two factions, the teams would be small. At most, if Cockatrice and White Wings had been part of a faction, that might put it at four versus four if split evenly. That count unfortunately included Jaimie, since she had just admitted to living with “a bunch” of other hybrids. Natalie hoped her friend hadn’t gotten herself involved with dangerous people.
“How did you recognize me?” Jaimie asked. “I don’t really look like…well, like me, you know?”
“The ssame way you knew it was me,” Natalie said, pushing thoughts of the factions aside for the moment. Right now, she was glad to have her friend back. “We’ve had to relearn how to ssee ourselves in our own reflection, sso now we know what to look for in other people who were changed. Your eyes and voice were what tipped me off.”
She nodded. “Makes sense. Your voice was a big hint to me too. I think your hair might have helped? Your roots are showing and you’re the only person I know with black hair dyed blonde.”
Natalie combed her fingers through her hair. It did feel a bit longer. She hadn’t really taken the time to care for it, even with the new lair. It just didn’t seem worth the effort with everything going on.
“I should probably give myself a trim,” she mused out loud. “It’ll get in the way of fighting other hybrids if I let it get too long. Plus I am getting terrible split ends.”
“Wait,” Jaimie said, frowning, “what did you say you’re fighting?”
“Hybridss. You know, like you, me, and all the other people caught in the explosion.”
“That’s what you’re calling us?”
She shrugged. “It’ss the best name we could come up with. We are basically human-animal hybridss.”
“That is true. It definitely sounds better than what Patrick’s been calling us.”
Natalie groaned. “Really? He’ss part of the group in Levi Park?”
“Yeah, I mean,” Jaimie rubbed at her arms. “He’s kind of the one who brought us all together there. Gave us a safe place to stay.”
“You know I don’t trust him. Right?”
“I know, I know. But we had nowhere else to go. Besides, he’s right. It isn’t safe for us to be seen by normal people.”
Natalie pinched the bridge of her nose. The problem was, she couldn’t argue with Patrick’s logic. It was the same line of reasoning that she followed. She worried though, that perhaps that type of thinking could lead to more than one conclusion. Not all of them good.
“Ssso what does he have you call yourselvess?” she asked.
“He says we’re the ‘Evolved Ones,’” Jaimie said.
Natalie snorted. “That’ss dumb.”
“I know, right! That isn’t how evolution works. But I don’t think he’d appreciate having his girlfriend correct him in front of everyone else. Besides, we’re staying with him, so the least we can do is let him name us.”
“Well, you don’t have to sstay with him anymore,” Natalie said, taking her hand. “Come with me. My place isn’t much, but we could fight bad guys together as a team.”
For a moment, she saw something like excitement flash in Jaimie’s eyes. It quickly faded.
“I can’t,” she said.
“Why not?” Natalie asked.
Jaimie opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted as a howling shriek pierced the air. Natalie spun and saw another hybrid hurtling through the air toward her.
This one had a body somewhere between a human and a monkey covered in fine, black fur. A long fin ran down the length of his spine all the way to the tail, which had striped scales instead of hair. He wore a red tank top and blue gym shorts, which she guessed had a hole cut in the back for his tail.
With lightning speed, Natalie’s hand shot forward and grabbed the attacking hybrid by the throat. He was small compared to the others she had faced so far, barely more than five feet tall. It was easy to hold him up as her grip tightened.
“Wait!” Jaimie shouted, grabbing her arm. “Stop! Please, let him go!”
Natalie met her best friend’s eyes. She saw fear, but not of the attacking hybrid. Jaimie was afraid of her.
She let him go. He dropped to the ground, landing on his feet but coughing and staggering. Jaimie kneeled beside him and checked on his throat.
Natalie felt like her heart might tear itself in two. She had never seen Jaimie so afraid, she never wanted to again, especially not when it came to her. Yet that face she made was one of experience, one that knew how to beg. Her friend had been forced to feel that way before. That was unforgivable.
“I-I’m sssorry,” Natalie stammered.
“It’s ok,” Jaimie said, though she was staying focused on the other hybrid. “You don’t know Sam. He wasn’t supposed to follow me.”
“I thought you might need help,” the hybrid, Sam, croaked out. He sounded young. “Cockatrice and White Knight would have hurt you if they caught you sneaking out without Patrick’s permission.”
Anger boiled in Natalie’s gut. Not only were Cockatrice and his accomplice, White Knight, part of Patrick’s group and attempted kidnappers, but they were also allowed to hurt anyone from the group caught outside the park without Patrick saying it was alright. She had been suspicious of her best friend’s boyfriend from the start, but this confirmed her suspicions.
She took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. This was going to need a clear head to sort out.
“Natalie,” Jaimie said, meeting her eyes again, “this is Sam. I babysit him sometimes. Well, I used to. Sam, this is Natalie. She’s the friend I brought with me on the day the explosion happened.”
“Sorry, I attacked you,” Sam apologized, holding his hand out to shake. “I thought you might be about to attack Jaimie. Patrick says not to trust anyone not in the family.”
Family, huh? She thought. Nice bit of propaganda.
“It’sss ok,” Natalie said, taking his hand. “I probably would have done the same thing if I were you. How old are you?”
Sam stood up as straight as his part-monkey body would allow and puffed out his chest.
“I’m thirteen-years-old next month,” he said proudly.
I was right, he is young. Why was he smoking behind the school?
She gave Jaimie a raised eyebrow.
“Patrick came over when I was babysitting one night,” her friend said. She shifted from foot to foot. “They got along well, and Patrick said that if Sam wanted to hang out with him more, he could join the rest of us behind the school after last bell.”
Of course, he had.
As a rule, Natalie didn’t like to judge people on first impressions. But Patrick had quickly proven to be just as slimy as she had first pegged him to be. She was willing to look past that he smoked. That was fine. Not healthy, but nothing to judge someone’s character on. Dragging a pre-teen into the habit and punishing Jaimie when she didn’t follow his rules? That was not fine.
She hoped he had been fused with something gross, like a slug. Then she could hit him with a saltshaker for threatening Jaimie.
“What kind of animalsss did you get mixed with, Ssam?” Natalie asked, forcing a smile on her face despite the rage burning inside her.
Sam looked himself over as if he hadn’t really given much thought to that.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “Definitely some kind of monkey. Maybe a seahorse too? I know I can breathe underwater!”
“That’s awesome! Did Patrick give you a cool nickname like he did with Cockatrice and White Knight?”
“I was able to get Patrick to let Sam and me pick our own nicknames,” Jaimie said. She lit up the end of her tail. “I’m Fairy Fire.”
“And I’m Sea Monkey!” Sam announced, striking a pose with hands on his hips. It was hard for Natalie to stay mad with him around, even when she thought of how Patrick was manipulating them.
“Thosse are great names,” she said, and she meant it. She really liked those names, and she hoped she could get them away from Patrick so they could be part of her team. It was getting exhausting to be a superhero alone and she wanted to get these two away from him. Something occurred to her. “Wait, if Patrick only ssent out Cockatrice and White Knight, what were you ssneaking out to do, Jaimie?”
The blush on her friend’s face would have been difficult to see with all the bright red fur, but Natalie had infrared vision. She could see the heat rising to her cheeks like bubbles in a lava lamp.
“Promise to keep it a secret and not make fun of me?” Jaimie asked.
“Of course,” Natalie said. “I promise.”
Jaimie was shifting her weight back and forth again.
“Let me show you,” she said.