Hey there friends and fictional folk! Looks like we’ll be in quarantine for a good month or two more. So get comfy, grab a snack, and get ready for this exciting update to The Mythic Naga!
Daniel screamed but didn’t let himself freeze up. He tackled Mr. Ross out of the way. The log they’d been hiding behind broke in half with a sound like a gunshot as Ahuizotl crashed through the damp wood.
He scrambled to his feet, Mr. Ross rolling out of the tackle and up into a ready crouch in one smooth motion. Ahuizotl was already charging at them again, wielding half of the broken tree in one hand.
Daniel ducked under a swing that would have taken his head off. Her arms were thick enough to nearly match her improvised baseball bat. He skirted around one side to avoid getting trampled and saw Mr. Ross do the same on her other side. They drew and aimed their supertasers.
“Freeze,” he yelled as Ahuizotl skidded to a stop and turned for another.
To his surprise, she actually did pause. A mocking smile formed on her snout. He noticed that she kept the tongs behind her back in one hand. The broken trunk she’d swung at him held out in front acting as both sword and shield.
Why wasn’t she using the tongs as a weapon? Surely the heavy metal would do more damage than her claws or even that tree-club.
“You think I’m afraid of those things,” she sneered. “I know they’re not lethal.”
“Maybe not,” Mr. Ross said, “but they still hurt quite a lot.”
“And how well do they work on wood?”
Suddenly the broken tree she’d been holding took up half his line of sight as it sailed through the air toward them.
Before he had a chance to duck, Daniel heard a rustle of leaves and felt a rush of air at his side.
Natalie appeared between them and the tree in a blur of green. Her fist shot forward with blinding speed and the wooden missile burst into a shower of damp splinter.
Daniel could have kissed her he was so relieved. But Ahuizotl was already charging, strange tongs held out like lance.
Natalie slipped to the side, dodging the thrust and wrapping herself around Ahuizotl’s arms in one motion. Daniel dove out of the way as the momentum of the battling hybrids carried them forward in a snarling, thrashing tangle.
He regained his footing to find the two combatants separated and hissing at each other like gigantic cats. Natalie had raised herself to nearly ten feet tall, balancing on a small coil of tail. Daniel swore he could see her teeth growing into fangs as she lashed out her forked tongue. Ahuizotl also had her mouth open wide, displaying her maw full of razor-sharp canines. All her hair was raised, flaring out from her body. Even the strange axolotl frills were splayed out, twitching angrily.
Daniel glanced apprehensively at the tongs in Ahuizotl’s hands. They had no idea what those things did. If the fight escalated to a full-on brawl, Natalie could end up seriously injured. He raised the supertaser and took aim.
A blur of orange and green burst from the bushes to his side. What looked like a huge fox in a green shirt and black shorts sped toward the battle. Daniel almost shot the hybrid to protect Natalie. Then he realized that they were charging Ahuizotl.
The fox-person zipped across the ground on all fours. They leapt into the air and smacked Ahuizotl in the face with a glowing tail. Then they scampered out of arms reach while the other hybrid was still stunned.
Daniel blinked. Sure enough. The tip of fox-hybrid’s tail was glowing with a flickering yellow-green light.
He didn’t have much time to process their appearance as another hybrid was already sailing out of the trees. This new one looked like a monkey mixed with some kind of water creature. They took advantage of Ahuizotl’s surprise to do a double front flip, kick off her head, and do a triple backflip out of reach.
Oh! Daniel suddenly realized. This is what she meant by “we.”
Natalie and her new allies had Ahuizotl surrounded and Daniel could see that she knew it. He could see her beady eyes darting between them all. She even bothered to look his way and he couldn’t stop the smirk that crept onto his face at the fear in her eyes. Maybe it was cruel, but it was nice to have the upper hand in a battle for once.
That confidence turned to worry as Ahuizotl’s gaze on him became one of anger instead of fear. She leapt toward him.
But Natalie was too quick, slamming her tail into Ahuizotl’s gut and knocking her back.
Then the battle began in earnest. Natalie and the other hybrids swarmed Ahuizotl. But Ahuizotl clearly wasn’t going down easy. While Daniel could see Natalie, the fox-hybrid, and the monkey-hybrid holding back to avoid permanently damaging their opponent, Ahuizotl fought back in full force. For every three punches they landed, she left deep scratches. Every hold met with snapping jaws.
Daniel stepped forward to help, but an arm halted his approach. He looked up to see Mr. Ross shaking his head. Glancing back at the fight, he saw that his teacher was right. The roiling melee had become a storm. Even a glancing blow from one of these hybrids could cause serious damage. It didn’t even have to be on purpose. An accidental swing of Natalie’s tail could give him a concussion just as surely as a swipe from Ahuizotl’s massive paws. He couldn’t even risk firing the supertaser into that mess. Any shot was more likely to hit an ally than the enemy.
This was not a fight for humans.
He could do nothing except watch as Natalie and the fox-hybrid each grabbed one of Ahuizotl’s arms and held them down. The monkey-hybrid leapt onto her head and began raining weak but rapid punches at her face.
Ahuizotl roared and pitched forward. But she did not fall. Instead she slammed her head, and subsequently money-hybrid’s head, down at Natalie’s face. Their three foreheads collided with a sickening crack and Natalie relaxed her grip. Ahuizotl used this time to wrench her arm free. She grabbed fox-hybrid by the neck and tore her off the other arm, then tossed them and Natalie against a nearby tree.
Both arms now free, she reached up and grabbed monkey hybrid with one hand, pulling them off her head.
Daniel raised his supertaser with Mr. Ross and fired.
Ahuizotl held out monkey-hybrid’s body like a shield. The bullets connected with their small form and they convulsed as a double dose of electricity shot through their body.
Before Daniel or Mr. Ross could fire again, Ahuizotl raised the tongs in her other hand and plunged them into monkey-hybrid’s chest.
A scream died on Daniel’s lips.
The monkey-hybrid’s body was glowing.
More than glowing, it had turned translucent. As if all their skin, bones, and organs had been replaced with some kind of clear, shining jelly. And in the center of that jelly, where the monkey-hybrid’s chest should be, Daniel could see what looked like two shards of broken pottery covered in pictographs.
Ahuizotl closed the tongs—which themselves had begun to glow—around one of the shards. The pictographs began to pulse with a faint light as she pulled the shard free. As she did, monkey-hybrid’s body changed. Their legs and arms vanished, disappearing into the body as the surface of the jelly form showed a tinge of patterned, yellow skin. A thin snout formed where there had once been a mouth and the tail lengthened until it took up half of the body’s mass.
There, hanging from Ahuizotl’s grip, was a giant seahorse where monkey-hybrid’s body had once been, still shining and gelatinous.
Daniel stared. His jaw had gone slack and his brain was still trying to process what it had just seen.
Fox-hybrid screamed and attacked, tail burning bright.
Ahuizotl knocked them aside with an almost casual swing. Then she plunged the shard into her own chest.
The change was subtle and took only a second. Daniel saw her tail lengthen and grow into a prehensile form. Her fingers grew at least an extra inch and her toes shifted until her feet had become a second set of clawed hands.
“Finally,” she grunted, stretching as the transformation finished. She turned to Natalie with a smirk. Daniel might have been imagining it, but he swore he saw a spark of something manic in those eyes. “Thank you for bringing that one here. I haven’t felt complete without that shard.”
Natalie’s face morphed from one of awe to one of rage.
“I’LL KILL YOU!” she roared, rising to her full height and rearing back to strike.
“You should be concerned with taking care of him,” Ahuizotl said, tossing the once-monkey-hybrid-turned-seahorse at her feet. His jelly-like form was slowly beginning to solidify into skin like a time-lapsed video of a scab growing over a cut. He was twitching and gasping like a fish out of water.
Natalie froze, glancing at Sam’s flopping form. His lungs must have been replaced by gills when the monkey shard was removed. Anger at Ahuizotl forgotten, she rushed to his side. Looking him over, she could still see what must have been the seahorse shard buried in his chest. But his skin was growing back quickly and if she didn’t do something soon he wouldn’t be able to breathe. A crazy thought popped into her mind.
Not knowing if it would work, she plunged her hand into his still glowing ribcage.
She gave a small sigh of relief as her hand passed through his skin as easily as the tongs had. Natalie had expected it to feel like sticking her hand in a bowl full of jelly, but as she sank her hand through layers of muscle, bone, and sinew, the little resistance she felt was more like pushing her arm into warm, thin syrup. There wasn’t much time to dwell on that though. She was more worried about what might happen if she still had her hand in his chest cavity when his skin finished reforming. Would they get fused together? Would there be a giant hole left in his chest? She didn’t want to find out.
Reaching the shard, she wrapped her fingers around it. A quaking sensation started in her hand and traveled up her arm. Sometimes, as a chore, her dad would have her use the weed whacker to take out hard to reach plants that the mower couldn’t cut. This felt like trying to hold that weed whacker but turned up to a hundred. Soon her hold body was shaking uncontrollably. It felt as if every individual atom of her being was experiencing its own personal earthquake.
She tried to scream, but the sound came out warbled and distorted into a thing of a thousand pitches.
Her mind and body begged her to let go, but behind the disorientation and the buzzing in her head she could feel something else. Somehow, she knew how to shift the shard to make it do what she wanted. She knew how to turn Sam into a full seahorse with a human brain or into a full human with seahorse instincts. A simple twist was all it would take to completely alter his body from top to bottom.
The problem was getting her body to respond through the shaking. Her muscles were having trouble figuring out which way was up, much less follow simple instructions. And she was running out of time. She could see the skin about to close up.
Desperate not to panic, Natalie focused on giving Sam his lungs back. It was surprisingly simple. A small nudge of the shard and he’d be able to breathe in air or water just fine. With great effort, she pushed the shard into the correct position, let go, and tore her hand free of Sam’s chest.
Daniel watched, amazed, as Natalie pulled her arm free of seahorse-hybrid’s chest just in time and collapsed to the grass, shaking from head to tail. He hadn’t been able to see much of what she had done. All he had seen was her stick her hand in seahorse-hybrid’s sternum and grab the remaining shard. Then her body had fuzzed at the edges, like a camera going out of focus. Her scream before pulling her hand back was one of the worst things he’d ever heard. It was as if she’d been turned into a robot, shoved underwater, and electrified all at the same time.
He didn’t even know what it was she had tried to do. Had all that pain accomplished anything?
Then he heard seahorse-hybrid gasp a deep breath of air and he understood.
She gave him lungs.
He couldn’t help but smile. She was amazing.
“Interesting,” Ahuizotl remarked, her tone almost casual.
Daniel had jumped. He’d forgotten she was still there.
She dropped the tongs onto the soft earth. “Have fun with those. I found them back where it all began. They’ve only got two charges left, so use them wisely.”
She turned to leave, but fox-hybrid staggered over to block her path. Daniel and Mr. Ross raised their supertasers. Ahuizotl regarded them all coolly.
“I think you all have bigger fish to fry,” she said, fixing her gaze on fox-hybrid. “Your boyfriend, for instance, should be here soon.”
As if on cue, a column of water erupted from the lake as something emerged from its depths.
Daniel stumbled back from the shore. How weird could this night get?
Ahuizotl leapt into the trees. Mr. Ross fired several shots after her, but each missed. She was soon lost to the forest.
In the dark, Daniel couldn’t quite see what it was that loomed above them from the water. All he could make out was that it was big and coming down straight for Natalie.
He screamed her name, but she didn’t respond. After the magical emergency surgery, she was still struggling to pick herself up.
Daniel didn’t think. He bolted across the short distance and slammed his shoulder into her. Natalie’s snake body was bigger and heavier than his own human one, but he had the element of surprise. It was just enough to shove her out of the way as the thing from the lake wrapped around where she’d been just moments ago. Unfortunately, that meant it was now wrapped around him.
The thing—he could only imagine it was some sort of tentacle—coiled about him in a vice-like grip that crushed the air out of his lungs. Then it pulled him toward the lake
Daniel tried to hold his breath, but there was no breath left to hold. He was dragged below the surface so fast that hitting the lake felt like getting punched in the face. Water flooded his lungs as he gasped for air. Darkness closed around him. The last thing he saw before slipping into unconsciousness was the light of the moon filtering down in silver beams.
I’m sorry, Natalie. I’m sorry for being a coward.