Undraland, page 25
The machete was sticking out of the bear’s furry stomach, blood drooling and spurting out at the entry point, but he was not dying as quickly as we needed him to.
Jamie and I both lunged forward when the bear reared up on his hind legs again to howl at the pain, the moon, me, and the limited cards he’d been dealt.
Our fingers wrapped around the hilt, locking with the other’s, and we drove the blade into the belly of the beast until it would not go any further. There was fire in Jamie’s eyes, and terror in mine as we yanked out the machete and stumbled back to give the bear his space to die.
Like a drunken fool, the bear crashed down to all fours and swayed from side to side as he bled out on the rocky path. Jamie whispered a prayer of release for the soul that had been trapped inside the bear and forced to do such harm.
The bear breathed his last in a sweeping gust that came out almost a relieved sigh, and I looked away as Jamie checked to make sure he was dead. My shaking hands found Henry Mancini rousing on the floor. My knees buckled, and I fell next to him. I gathered him to me, checking his vitals as best I could in the dim red hue. “It’s okay, baby. It’s okay. I’ll fix it. I can be a good mommy, I swear!” Flashes of my fern taunted me, questioning my ability to nurture.
Henry Mancini responded by licking my fingers and whining pitifully. I clung to him as if he was my lifeline, begging him to forgive me for the horrible thing I’d just done to the bear.
After everything I’d been through, I had just taken a life. For better or worse, I was a murderer now.
Jamie made several noises of relief and discomfort, so I took my puppy with me to go check on him. The gashes were not deep enough to be deadly, but they would leave marks. I fished around in my green pack with fingers as dexterous as sausages and pulled out my first aid kit. “Let’s go outside of the cave so I can g-get a good look at your cuts.” I shivered from adrenaline, trying unsuccessfully to offer up a somewhat professional bedside manner.
He obeyed, but we both gave the bear a wide berth. Jamie yanked off his beige shirt and cast it to the ground.
“This is ruined, right?” I asked, picking up his tattered garment.
“Yeah.” He was breathing hard, his muscles tensed against the pain.
I balled up the torn shirt and used it as a compress to stop the bleeding. “Lay down. It won’t do to have you fall off the edge of the mountain right after saving us from that bear.”
Jamie complied, grimacing at the cold stone that kissed his back. “I didn’t save us. You did.”
“We both did,” I amended, checking his wound for signs of clotting. I dabbed the edges of the lesser marks with an iodine swab, frowning with frustration when rain droplets fell where I was examining him. “Is it raining?”
Jamie’s hand shook as it reached my face and wiped away tears I did not know were there. Seeing the evidence of my fear, I let out a solitary sob before I could stuff my emotions back down. “You almost died!” I cried as I flung my arms around his neck.
“Shh. It’s okay. I’ll be just fine, thanks to you.”
Henry Mancini attacked the wild animal for causing us such trauma, biting at his motionless leg.
Then a loud scream interrupted the quiet of the night. “No!”
Britta charged up the path, her emerald eyes wild with fright, braids swinging out behind her. When I released Jamie and sat back on my heels, the front of my shirt was covered in his blood.
“It’s okay!” I called out, hoping she would slow down and watch her step. “He’s alive, Britta.”
She would not accept my assessment until she confirmed it with her own two eyes.
The two finally let down their defenses and indulged in their very first public kiss. I was the only witness. Jamie pulled himself to sitting so he could wrap an arm around her. The way he looked at her made my heart lurch in my chest. There was adoration. There was tenderness. Most of all, there was pure love blooming between them. I stepped back and waved the others forward as they rounded the bend.
Any hope of putting on a brave front was shattered when Jens ran to me in a fashion similar to how Britta ran to Jamie. “No, Lucy! What happened to you? I’ll fix it! I’ll fix it!” He all but pushed me into the cave before I could correct his assumption that I was covered in my own blood. He backed me into the Were without realizing it was there in his frantic state. The bear’s black fur was hard to spot in the dark cave. “Get back!” he yelled, pulling out his machete.
“It’s dead. Don’t worry.” He had a crazed look about him that made me want to speak very quietly and move with care around him. He had remnants of that same glitter under his nose again, but I was too discombobulated to ask him about it. “I’m fine, Jens. It’s not me. This blood’s from Jamie. He’s hurt.”
“Jamie?” Jens whirled around and saw his sister kissing Jamie on the ground and crying into his mouth. “Jamie!”
Nik, Foss and Tor came into view, followed by Charles and Uncle Rick, all showing various signs of being wounded in battle. They rushed as fast as they could without causing further injury to themselves, asking questions and well, pretty much just getting in the way.
I held up my trembling hands. “Okay, everyone. Get in the cave and take a seat.” I went to Jamie so I could examine his wound again. Henry Mancini yapped at Britta, who would not permit an iota of space between herself and her injured love. “Britt, you can stay, but you have to back up. I need to look at this.”
“Yes. Thank you. How can I help?”
I fished around in the first aid kit and took out my sewing kit from underneath the gauze, threading the needle carefully in the dark. There was no way to properly disinfect it, so I sprayed a little iodine on the tip and hoped for the best. “You can hold his hand and keep him quiet.”
Luckily, Britta obeyed, overlooking my rudeness.
“There’s only one cut too deep to heal on its own, so I have to sew it up. Just be very still. I’m not great at this.”
“I trust you,” Jamie said, his solemn tone akin to that of swearing an oath.
I wanted to vomit all over Jamie’s chest, but choked it down so I didn’t have to disinfect him all over again. He gazed upon Britta’s face as if it belonged to an angel, despite my tugging and piercing his skin.
I don’t know how I managed to finish suturing in a true line, but I did. I’d learned this particular skill practicing on oranges. Jamie’s skin was not the same. If I’d done it wrong on the orange, I just got a little juice on my hands. If I did it wrong on Jamie? Well, I tried not to picture the damage of infection or ripped stitches. I dropped my needle four times due to my hands shaking before the job was complete. Then I turned on the group, who were surprisingly amicable, awaiting further instruction or explanation. “Anyone else?”
Nik raised his hand like he was in class. “Could you look at my leg? I got nicked with an ax.”
Foss scoffed from his place in the corner of the cave. “Figures your one useful skill is sewing.”
I was a little unbalanced, so I didn’t acknowledge Foss had even spoken. I had just helped kill a bear. I didn’t want to picture the damage I could do to a Fossegrimen prick.
Nik did indeed get nicked. It was a deep gash to the left of his shin on his right leg. I started the process all over again, glad that there was not enough light to highlight my tears.
Nik managed a cocky smile. “I was hit by an ax so large, I don’t know how a Daydwarf managed to swing it.”
Tor grumbled at this. “Dwarves are made of strong stuff. If ya can swing an ax, so can we.”
“What happened was that I was running toward the portal with Britta and Foss. I almost was successful in taking out a legion of Daydwarf guards, but I had to slow down for Britta’s sake, you understand. I had to jump clear over a felled Daydwarf and knock another clean out. It’s a wonder I got sliced up. But that’s what happens when I can’t fight to my full ability.” He regaled me with about five more minutes of stories highlighting his heroics. I
I packed up my things with clumsy hands and moved into the cave. As soon as I tried to sit down, my stomach roiled, informing me it had reached its pain threshold. Jens was saying something, but I couldn’t hear it. I ran back out of the cave and vomited over the side of the mountain. It poured out of me from the very soles of my shoes, thrusting out violently onto the path below. I threw up so hard and for so long, I could think of nothing else. It was not until my body was empty of nutrition that I heard unhappiness coming from just a few feet away.
Jamie was loudly vomiting to my right over the side of the mountain as Britta and Jens held him.
“What happened?” Jens asked once we were all huddled together in the cave. Tor and Charles had gathered up stones and branches and put them in a circle down a ways from the cave to make a fire. Uncle Rick was quiet, occasionally sneaking glances at Jamie and I. Foss and Nik were busy slicing up the bear to make steaks for everyone to eat.
Uncle Rick suggested we wait out the night in the cave. Everyone was exhausted, and Jamie and I were sick with some weird flu or something. Whatever it was, I hadn’t barfed that much in my whole life. Jens, Uncle Rick and Charles were conversing in hushed tones by the fire as the steaks cooked, stealing worried glances at Jamie and I that they shifted to encouraging ones when they saw us looking. I heard foreign words like “laplanding” being thrown around, but I was too beat to ask questions.
I had long since given up a tough façade of being able to muscle my way through the events of the day. My heart was heavy, my stomach was sick, and I was so weak from both that I lay on the floor of the cave to get an early start on a nap. Jamie was dragged in and laid next to me. My eyelids were weighted, but even through my near-delusional haze, I could tell Jamie was not doing well. He was white as a ghost, covered in sweat with dark circles under his eyes. His breath came out in shallow puffs that looked painful. I wanted to comfort him, but I could barely lift my stiff hand.
“We shouldn’t linger here. Eat what you can, and then we keep moving,” Foss ruled.
Jens shook his head, his messy black hair making him look a little crazy. “No. We can’t move them yet. They’re sick.”
Foss lowered his voice. “You know what this is, Jens. You know why they’re sick. Rest won’t help them.”
Jens stared at the partway gutted bear, dread plain on his face. “It’s just a flu. It’s just a flu. Totally normal on the Other Side. Rest. Rest and fluids. She’s fine. It’s just a flu.”
Foss chewed a mouthful of meat as he spoke, his tone grim. “Your charge won’t be the same after she transitions. Best say your goodbyes now.”
Jens quieted to a whisper. “It’s just a flu. It’s just a flu.”
Britta fretted over us with motherly affection I had not known in over a year. Cool compresses were placed on our foreheads, and she kissed my cheek as she sang a soft lullaby I had never heard. I wanted to weep at the pathetic state I’d deteriorated to in such a short time, but I could not muster up the energy required for that task. Everything was a task, so I gave in and was pulled under, grateful for the dark that swept me away.
Enjoy a free preview ofNøkken, book two in the Undraland series.
Haze, Halfy and Him
Tor’s booming voice infiltrated my delirium. “I know, but we have ta get moving. They’ll wise up and search the mountains fer us soon. How well do ya think they’ll fare then?” I could picture his red face and ratty dreadlocks as he spoke. We were on the mountain, still tucked in the cave after Jamie and I had killed a Werebear together. We were sick with some awful virus that I prayed would pass before I ralphed again. I had nothing left in my stomach, but the green around the gills feeling was still lending its oppressive vibe.
Jens argued, “But their fever’s not even broken yet! Moving them now? I don’t like it.”
“It don’t matter whatcha like. Lucy and Jamie’ll be easy targets when scavengers come fer this dead Werebear.”
Foss chimed in, “Which could be any moment, mind you. Take the prince, leave the rat. I’ll buy you a new one.”
“But what happened?” Britta demanded an answer. “She’s got a couple bruises, but that’s it.”
Charles sounded grim. His words delivered a weighty blow I was too much a foreigner to properly understand. “There’s no way she and Jamie could be exactly this sick out of nowhere at the same time.”
“If you want me to say it, I won’t. It’s impossible,” Jens ruled.
“There’s a dead Were right in front of your face, Jens.” Mace lowered his voice. “You know what this is. You just won’t admit it.”
“There’s nothing to admit! She’s a pacifist. There’s no way she could have killed that Were with Jamie. You don’t know her like I do.”
“Maybe you don’t know her as well as you think you do,” Mace countered, playing the antagonist. “It’s obvious to everyone but you that she laplanded with Jamie.”
Jens lashed out at Mace. “Hey, newbie. Why don’t you shut your trap and make yourself useful helping Britt and Alrik with the stretcher?”
I wanted to get up and join them to see what I’d missed, to tell Jens and Mace to stop fighting, but my body was uncooperative. I could crack one eye open, but that was all. The rest of me was totally useless.
I’m sure there was more talk happening, but I couldn’t understand a lick of it as my brain floated in and out of consciousness. The next thing I registered was being picked up and laid somewhere cold and sweaty and hairy - Jamie. There was a faint notion that I was somehow floating with him on a stretcher of some sort, but I was too out of my body to investigate further.
After that, I have no idea how much time passed or what happened. All I could hope was that Jens was nearby to keep my useless body from further harm.
Daylight felt warm on my skin after the… night? Week? Month? I’d been cold. I turned over on my side and snuggled into the growing warmth next to me, wrapping my arms and legs through it contentedly.
I inhaled the scent of oatmeal cookies.
Ah, Jens. My guardian garden gnome I hadn’t actually known all that long. Now, despite the arguing, I was growing attached to him in a way I was not quite ready to examine. I missed sleeping next to him, even though we’d only done that once.
I nuzzled his neck with my nose and planted a kiss on a sensitive spot I knew would make him tingle. Before we could get into another fight, I wanted to enjoy the peace of his protection.
“Uh, Lucy? What are you doing?”
“I missed you, Jens.” I murmured sleepily.
“Did you, now?”
His teasing voice was a sweet sound to the nothing I’d been processing for this elongated period of time. It sounded far away, but still somehow near, like I was hearing him through water. As my senses began coming back to me, I realized that his voice was coming from somewhere behind me.
My eyes flew open, and I found that the warmth I was kissing was not Jens, but Jamie.
I should’ve known. Jens smelled like a warm sugar cookie, not an oatmeal raisin.
I fumbled backwards on the bed in confusion. I tried to jerk myself up, but my muscles were out of practice. I groaned when my neck cracked without my permission. “What the… Where am I?” Before I could get an answer, I started coughing. My throat felt tight and parched from disuse.
An arm banded around my back and inched me slowly upwards. A hand was put to my dry lips and I was instructed to drink. I wrapped my lips around the heel of someone’s hand and drank more than was possible. After I had my fill, I dipped my face in the little pool to bring life and lucidity further toward my senses. “W-What happened?”
I opened my eyes and saw Charles Mace, my newly discovered brother in front of me. His hand was wet from feeding the water to me using his many magics I still did not understand. His long fingers brushed the b
“You laplanded with Jamie,” Mace explained, his face etched with relief. “You’ve both been out for three days.”
The only voice I wanted to hear in that moment whispered in my ear, “Shh. You don’t need to worry about anything right now. Just chill and let yourself wake up.”
I was leaned up against his chest, and the comfort of that was indescribable. My eyes began to focus again, and I saw that we were in some sort of thatched-roof hut with a mud floor. Mid-afternoon light crept in through the half-open doorway. Other than the straw bed and a large steel basin bathtub, there was nothing else in the hut. “Are we in… Where is this? Haiti?” I guessed, moving my fingers around to build up my circulation.
Jens shook his head and inched me up further so I could breathe better. “Nope. Still in Undraland. We’re in Nightdwarf territory. Most of their civilization is underground. They lent us this aboveground house until you and Jamie get better.”
“Jamie?” I glanced down next to me and saw Jamie’s motionless form. He had a bit of color back and was breathing steadily now, thank goodness. I buried my forehead in my palm to cover my shame. “Oh! I thought he was you! I kissed his neck. Now it’s all awkward. Could we not tell him I did that?”
Jens chuckled, shaking my torso gently with the motion. “You don’t have to worry. Your Tomten prince’s still out. I know you dream about me constantly.”
“Oh, shut up.” I rolled my shoulders and finally had the wherewithal to sit up on my own. I looked down at my bare legs and grimaced. I was not dressed in my clothes, but in a bag-like itchy dress that fell to my shins. “Why am I always waking up in a dress?”
Jens grinned, rubbing circles in my back. “Don’t worry. I had Tor clean you up and dress you while you were out. I know how smitten you are with Jamie, what with you kissing his neck and all, so we gave you matching outfits.”