Polaris Skies: Ch 24

Polaris Skies: Legend of the Bai Book 3 by Chapel Orahamm, Mobile home in snow with green glow against storm clouds

TW: SA, Drugs, Abuse, Murder

Hogtied and gagged, Nat found himself on slimy concrete in a dark, freezing garage. The pain in his arms from having them pulled behind his back was excruciating, enough so that the ache across the bridge of his nose was lesser for it. The wounds in his shoulders had opened up again. He ground his teeth against the balled-up cloth shoved in his mouth, but it was to no avail. The place smelled of used motor oil, moulded cardboard, and rat faeces.


Yeah, dječak?

Do you know where we are?

How should I? When you went down, so did I.

Just thought I’d ask.

I’d tell you that the place is infested with raccoons. We’re downwind of an old sewage treatment plant. I smell diesel and metal, lots of metal, and not the stuff in here. We’re probably in a rough side of the town. Michael’s in the next room, and he has his coterie. He’s had them coming and going for a while now, but none of them has been able to find Cashia. Sounds like he was able to escape.

What’s your suggestion, wolf?

As you’re positioned now, dropping into my preferred form would be a disservice to us both.

So, wait here. Is that what you’re telling me?

That about sums up this picture.

Then what?

When they finally let you free of this compromised position, I’d say I’m taking over, and you can figure out how to clean up the mess. Sound good to you?

Sounds peachy. I don’t want to find finger bones in my faecal matter later. Got it?

I wouldn’t dream of it.


Nat knew he was lucky to be waking up alive. He had leapt in front of the door at Cashia’s escape to hold the men in the master bedroom. He latched onto one of the bird men’s arms. The man’s winged bulk blocked the others from pursuing Nat’s golden wolf. A muffled crunch was all he needed to hear, but the scream following it was sweet music to his ears when the man’s arm went limp. He right hooked the bird man’s chin and heard another lovely crack of bone as the man’s jaw fractured. The bird man stumbled back, tumbling several of the others behind him. Nat turned to pin Michael down. He could feel Sven pressing for control. “Leave the others out of it!” he remembered screaming at Michael. His head pounded at the recollection.

The unlocked French door to the master bedroom had swung open with the wind to crash against the plaster wall. He had flinched, distracted at the intensity of the noise. Sven had reached for the shift, but too late. Michael took a flying jab to his breastbone and a hard knee to the nose. Nat remembered nothing after. He was sure it was broken by the electric throb between his orbital bones and the pressure in his cheeks that ran behind his eyes. Even his teeth hurt.

Nat drifted in and out of sleep. The stiller he stayed, the less his arms hurt. His hands and feet were beginning to numb and tingle, though. He had initially tried rolling to a better position, but that had only achieved putting him on his side, which put more pressure on his shoulder wound and compressed his bruised sternum. He was not positive how many hours passed before Michael showed himself in that dank garage.

“Wake up, mutt.” Michael kicked him in the stomach, snickering at a grunt that greeted him. The flock of followers trailed in to congregate around the two. Michael knelt next to him. The birdman grabbed his hair, lifting him to be face-to-face. “I only have one thing I want to know, and you better have the answer I’m looking for, or else I’ve got a couple of guys here that’ll find a few creative ways to extract it.” Michael pushed at the rag in Nat’s mouth. Nat fought to suppress his gag reflex as he suffocated under Michael’s hatred. A cold chill ran down his spine, coming up with a thousand methods that Michael might allow to be employed on him. He fought to swallow as his mouth salivated and his stomach rolled, protesting the wrenching kick that had coated his throat with the taste of copper.

“Where. Is. Haniel?” Michael punctuated each word with a hard finger to Nat’s bruised breastbone. “I think that was simple enough for any dog to understand, don’t you guys?” Michael asked his companions as he pulled a knife from his pants pocket and flicked it open.

Nat shook his head and grunted around the gag. He followed the glint of the knife in the dim light flowing in from the garage door. A cold sweat broke out along the back of his neck and under his arms. At this point, he did not know where he was, let alone where Cashia had been able to get the group. Hopefully far away from this town. If he died keeping them away from Yeller, Hana, and his friends, it was going to be worth the agony.

“No? So, you aren’t going to tell me?” Michael stood up and kicked him again. The white-haired man saw stars, his senses completely overwhelmed. Michael knelt next to Nat and slid the blade from wrist binding to elbow, leaving a thin trail of blood. Nat moaned at the shot of pain. “You see.” Michael continued up from the elbow to the edge of the shoulder. “If you’d told me where to rescue Hana, it wouldn’t have had to come to this. But…” the man giggled, a twisted smile plastered to his face. The red-feathered bird man’s eyes were glassy and overly dilated. His skin glistened clammy and pale, and he reeked of a metallic sweat. He dug the point of the knife into spots on either side of the gash, leaving behind a trail of pockmarks.

“Mark, Chuckles, Rob, Gil, head out and start the search again. We’re going on a dog hunt.” Michael’s toothy grin burned into Nat’s mind. “Peter, Ethan, Henry, James, stay here and see if you can get some answers out of this creature. Come join us when you’ve finished. Put the mutt down. I don’t want him touching my sister again,” Michael instructed the men with him, not deigning to do the deed himself. Four of the men and Michael left the garage. The other four crowded around Nat.

Nat’s harried glance caught one of the bird men holding a bat. Another doffed a beanie and pulled back his grimy hair into a high bun on his head, a sadistic gleam in his eyes. The one Nat had maimed had more rope. The last he didn’t see as a low kick spun him into a starburst-filled darkness. He hit against a metal support on a shelf behind him, his head bursting into a dazzling array of coloured lines and searing heat.

Nat slipped away as Sven took over to struggle in futility with the ropes. The human conscience was thrown back into the deep recesses of his mind where Nat found Tereza and the remaining parts of Sylvi wrapping him into a deep, warm cocoon of protection. He could still feel what happened, but he had separated from it in a way. He stood back and watched the maligned treatment, a blasé attitude chilling his thought process. He watched in indifference, noting the strange fervour that possessed the bird men in their destructive nature. Only in a few instances did he snap back to himself unwillingly. His nerve endings did not provide him with the luxury of complete disconnect.

A blow to his ribs sent sparks across his back, and a cobbled pressure captured his breath. Breathing in subsequently was near impossible. The bones were probably broken. Heavy boot treads ground into his fingers. His throat was swelling and raw. All the bones in his hips and lower back felt like they had been shot through with hellfire. He panicked as fingers slipped around his throat and tightened down.

Sven returned from the surface and added to the dogpile, protecting Nat from the terror as best he could. The wolf, appalled at the depravity of humans, took over enough to stop Nat’s heart for almost a full minute. It was long enough to convince the ruthless cult members that they had killed the white-haired man.

Nat lost his sense of time, lived in the abyss, unaware of how long Sven, Sylvi, and Tereza kept him under. He floated in the darkness, distantly aware of the throbbing, shooting pain that radiated through him. The wolves protested letting him come back out in that pitch-black garage into immediate pain.

They are gone, child. Tereza cooed, brushing against him when Nat was convinced he had slept for at least three days.

Call on your leader. You will need someone to come let you out. Sven instructed Nat when he tried to shy away from Tereza.

Nat, mentally numb, cringed away from the prospect of coming out. He was comfortable, wrapped in the care of the wolves, away from the deplorable nature of the world. His skin was ice and fire. His gut felt like he had drunk ground glass mixed with gasoline. His ribs and the small of his back cried out. He wanted so much to get up and leave the shell of his body behind. The wolves left him in his dark corner, not wanting to push him. An eternity passed in the darkness before Nat attempted to call on Deck.

Deck. Nat called, his voice not more than a thready, ragged whimper. He had never attempted such a long-distance link before and all he could fathom doing was sleeping. Splintering pain ran through the lobes of his brain. Nebulas and novas burst behind his eyes. A tight hot piano wire drove into his skull.

Deck reached back through their link hastily. Nat! Where are you?

I’m not sure Deck, but I need help. Fingers dragged Nat to drift. He wanted so badly to dissolve into the darkness and no longer feel, no longer think, no longer be.

We’ll find you. Just wait for us. Deck instructed.

Not all of you! Have Cashia watch the women. Michael is still looking for Hana. She’s under your protection. I don’t want her harmed because of her brother. Nat begged. He had to keep Yeller from seeing him like this. He …

What did they do to you, Nat? Deck asked, a tone of panic tinging his question.

I’m not going to die…maybe. Please, get me out of here. I’m in a house garage. About one car width. Older than the bungalow. Sven said out near a place that smells of diesel and metal. Let the wolves loose and keep to the shadows. They should find me quickly enough. The birds are flying. Nat cautioned as his conscience flickered and dimmed. He eased into the embrace of the wolves once more and blacked out.

Deck and the group had found a secluded cave in a state park outside of the city. With the massive amount of trees in the area, they hoped to keep themselves hidden from Michael and his goons. “Michael’s started his search for us. Cashia, you keep the women safe here in the cave. Benj and I will go retrieve Nat,” Deck instructed.

“Deck, I was the one who left Nat, I should be the one to go get him,” Yeller protested.

“As it is right now, you’re the best choice for protecting the women if Michael does show up. Both you and Cashia are heavy hitters. Even Benj knowing Mhuy Thai can’t put up a decent fight against more than two people at once,” Deck told him.

“I’m not even trained in anything,” Yeller quipped.

“Yeah, but you haven’t been on the receiving end of one of your punches.” Deck rubbed at his jaw in memory of a right hook that he sort of deserved. Yeller looked at him uncertainly but stayed back with the women when Deck and Benj left.

“Deck, why’d we leave Yeller? It would have been better for him and me to have gone to retrieve Nat,” Benj asked when they had gotten far enough from the cave to evade the wolves’ hearing.

“Nat’s protecting Yeller from something. I can only guess what. His wolves aren’t even letting me see what he saw. We have to go get him,” Deck told him.

Benj, his skin crawling, allowed Heinrich to break free and morph into the wolf with Deck following suit. Dietrich and Heinrich raced back to Esterwood and began hunting down Nat’s scent.

It took them the better part of an hour to find Michael and Nat’s scent mingled with eight other bird men. The creatures had kept to the ground and left their smell all over. Dietrich and Heinrich were lucky to have found a solid trail along the sidewalks. They hopped over a creek at the end of a cul de sac and followed it through a trashed low rent neighbourhood. It took them two hours of back and forth through that decrepit section of town before they found a junked house with a locked garage that reeked of Michael and bird men.

“Benj, stay out here and keep an eye to the sky. I didn’t see any of the guys, but they could be around here using Nat as a trap,” Deck instructed his friend.

Nat! Deck called out on their mental line. A black disconnected void greeted him. Deck eased in through the front door, finding the living room and kitchen trashed, but empty. Freshly emptied food cans and shattered beer bottles left a coating of sharp glass and metal fragments lodged in the carpet. Deck tread carefully when he spotted a set of used syringes. The length of the living room grew as he carefully made his way to the kitchen. He sniffed around the hallway that led to the back bedrooms, then turned back until he found Nat’s persistent trace of pine and earth. He followed the scent through the laundry room to the door that he could only guess was going to be the garage. He tested the handle and found it gave. With a click and a screech, the door swung in to reveal a pitch-black ravine, a pair of steep cement stairs dropping into the cold space.

“Nat?” Deck called. Waiting, his eyes adjusted, discerning shapes within the garage. He almost stumbled on the first tread at the sight of blood splattered white hair scattered across the grimy floor. He hated looking further as the pit of his stomach dropped. His heart shattered as he traced the rest of the heap connected to the mat. The man lay on his side, hogtied with a thick rope and gagged with duct tape, shoelace cord wrapped tightly around digits, arm and leg joints, and lower. A bat, pipes, and a crowbar lay about him, cast away when the bird men had finished beating on him. His hair lay limply across his face, barely hiding the swelling from the broken nose.

Deck jumped past the stairs and rushed to his friend. “Nat? Nat? Wake up!” Deck screamed, ripping away the duct tape and pulling out the dirty rag. Through the swelling, Nat barely opened up bloodshot eyes that had lost all their life. He coughed, inhaling sharply at his newfound freedom.

“Are you okay?” Deck asked as he fumbled with the knots that tied Nat’s hands and legs.

It hurt to do more than close his eyes. A shiver ran through his arms, a constant tick as a chicken lodged in his rib cage. Nat, once freed from the ropes and laces shifted, surrendering to Sven and laid for a time on the floor, waiting for the sensation to abate. Sven waited for the tingle of blood flow in his appendages to stop resembling needles. Ten minutes passed before the shaking stopped and the weight lifted from his brain.

Dietrich took over. The lead wolf nuzzled Sven’s jaw gently. “Are you all right, old friend?” Dietrich asked.

“I can’t believe humans,” Sven sighed with exhaustion.

“What’s broken?” Dietrich helped Sven find his feet.

“His pride, and his spirit. Man’s got guts, and high pain tolerance. Took his body quite a while to go down. The wound in my left shoulder has opened up again, and I’ve got a few nasty cuts. You saw the big one on my arm and all those punctures. Michael’s malicious contribution. Think I may have a few cracked ribs. A couple fingers are jammed. Crowbar to the leg hurts like fuck. Head feels weird. Probably hairline fracture. One of the guys strangled him. My throat is swollen. I’m sore as hell,” Sven mumbled as he pulled himself off the cold cement and limped to the stairs leading out of the garage. He had never expected such a short distance to resemble the likes of a mountain. “Shoulder feels like shrapnel. I thought it was bad when we were practically destroyed,” he confessed.

“We should get you washed before going back to Cashia and the women,” Dietrich whispered to him. Sven sullenly nodded. He wanted to crawl away and lick his wounds. Dietrich led Sven out the front door, where they found Heinrich standing sentinel.

“Heinrich,” Sven greeted.

Heinrich sniffed at him, aghast. “What happened to you?” he continued sniffing.

“Something that should never have happened. I got cocky and let them get the better of me,” Sven admitted.

“I’m not sure if it’s going to be Yeller or Cashia that’s going to kill them,” Dietrich whispered to Heinrich.

“I don’t care which one; I’m helping,” Heinrich whispered back fiercely, his hackles rising. To see the second in command treated in such a horrifying way was opprobrious. To see Nat abused was to invoke lupus per mortem.

They took their time finding their way back to the state park where Cashia, Sibor, Anastasia, and Hana waited. Dietrich and Heinrich helped Sven into a river, allowing him time to wash the smell of the humans off of him. Sufficiently frozen, Sven followed them to the cave that the group was hiding in, hoping that the stench had left him.

Yeller greeted them at the entrance. “Dietrich, Heinrich?” Yeller asked, worried, before his eyes settled with relief on Sven’s limping form. Though Sven’s dunk in the river had helped to wash away quite a bit of blood from his wounds, his beautiful white fur was dyed a light pink down his left front leg. “Sven?” Yeller approached him cautiously.

Even for all his bathing, Cashia’s senses still picked up on the smell of the bird men’s violations. If you had picked up on the bird men in the bedroom before we got in there, then we wouldn’t be here! Yeller screamed at Cashia as the information flooded his brain with razors. Cashia took over, throwing Yeller into the back of his mind, his wolf shape taking over. Cashia! Yeller bellowed at the wolf. Cashia ignored his host and approached Sven carefully. He rubbed against him, being as unobtrusive as possible. Yeller sat back and waited, absorbing as much information from Cashia as possible.

“Is he stable? Are you?” Cashia asked Sven, coming to the end of his inspection. Dietrich and Heinrich moved in to form a tight circle.

Dietrich answered. “I found him in a garage in a rundown house, hogtied and gagged. You can already tell what they did to him,” Dietrich glanced at Cashia.

Cashia? The wolf bowed to the fury growing in his host. Yeller fought to get control of his body. “Sven, I don’t care if your mate’s host’s brother is the one doing this. The man is going to suffer,” Cashia bristled.

“Allow me the privilege of joining you,” Heinrich growled.

“Same,” agreed Dietrich with a belligerent snort.

“Gladly.” Cashia shook, rubbing against Sven once more. “Thank you for protecting Tereza from this,” he whispered to Sven.

“She kept the man’s mind safe, but his body has been sorely used, and we all felt it,” Sven confided.

“The women will all know if they see you like this,” Dietrich forewarned Sven.

Sven laid down outside the cave mouth, exhausted. His ribs were killing him. He had not felt this level of death since before they had left the Siberian wastes for eastern Europe. Even in the camp, when he had been annihilated into a memory chain, the scientists had experimented, but they had never reached that level of depravity. “They will find out now or later and have the same opinion.” Sven rested his head on his paws.

“Can I speak with Nat?” Yeller asked. He had struggled past Cashia and taken back his body.

Sven glanced up in surprise. “You can be quite strong-willed, can’t you, dječak?”

“I left him back there to fend for himself. I should have stayed and fought. At the very least, allow me to apologise to him,” Yeller pleaded with the wolf.

“He pushed you out and ordered Cashia to take over because he didn’t want to see this happen to you. I’m not sure if you understand this, dijete, but Nat hasn’t come out since Tereza, Sylvi, and I buried his mind. I don’t know when he’ll come back out. He’s shattered. If this had happened to you, he would never forgive himself,” Sven confided quietly.

“Let me try,” Yeller demanded.

Sven regarded the man. Tall, and framed in muscle, it seemed strange to watch his shoulders tremble. Sven sighed and delved into Nat’s mind, searching for his conscience. Where are you, mali? Come out, come out. Sven called to him. He could only wish that he could communicate with Tereza at a time like this. He went looking for her and Sylvi, to find them wrapped around the man’s conscience. He nudged past her to find Nat curled into a fetal ball, tears dripping from closed eyes. Sven rubbed against the man, trying to get his attention. Nat, you have to come out. Sven tried to command.

You’ve taken over fine Sven, keep going. Nat whispered, fighting a wave of pressure and painful wires stripping his brain into tiny cubes.

Yeller wants to apologise. Sven laid down next to him.

What’s there to apologise for? I got too cocky and got caught. It wasn’t his fault. Nat mumbled.

Then why won’t you come out? Sven asked, knowing all too well the reasons.

I…I can’t… Nat couldn’t finish the sentence.

You can’t have him seeing you like this. Sven supplied. If it was possible, Nat curled further into himself.

Sven came back to face Yeller. “He says there’s nothing for you to apologise for, that it’s okay,” Sven told him.

“Then why can’t I see him?” Yeller pressed.

“He’s dealing with some things,” Sven answered.

Yeller, knowing that Sven was protecting Nat, and dealing with his own problem, didn’t press the matter. He approached the wolf and sat down next to him. Dietrich and Heinrich glanced at each other sceptically, not entirely sure what the blond human was doing. Yeller reached out tentatively. Sven looked at him warily. Slowly, ever so slowly, Yeller lay his hand on Sven’s head and rubbed his ears gently. Sven sat for a moment, uncertain of the relaxing, strange sensation he was experiencing. Soon he was drifting. He laid his head on Yeller’s lap and allowed himself a sigh. “You really are a nice person,” Sven mumbled, as his eyes closed. Dietrich and Heinrich left the two alone and wandered into the cave.

“You found Sven?” Sibor asked, rubbing noses with Heinrich and Dietrich, smelling the scent of the city on them. Heinrich and Dietrich rubbed her back. Heinrich responded to her question, “Yeah, we got him back. He’s outside with Yeller and Cashia.”

“Is he okay?” Anastasia asked Dietrich.

“His pride is shot, and he’s got some bruising,” Dietrich responded.

Hana was sitting against the cave wall, watching the wolves. “Where’s Michael?”

Dietrich turned to cast a glare on the woman. He slunk over to pace around her. “If I told you we ate him, what would you say?”

She gasped, her cheeks paling. “What did he do?”

Dietrich blinked. “You don’t seem too upset about me having made a meal of your kinfolk.”

“You wouldn’t have attacked him unless you had to,” she stated.

“You are overly forgiving,” he told her.

“The way he treated you all back at the cliff, I can only assume that he did something similarly distasteful. Nat’s wounds have yet to heal from him.” She barred her teeth in distaste.

“I always thought you humans kept to some creed of blood is thicker than water.” Dietrich continued with his pacing. Sven’s choice in hosts for his mate unsettled him.

“He’s too strange for who he was when I knew him before the war. He wouldn’t have hurt my friends. He would have come looking for me. He’s not himself anymore. I don’t know him.” She pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. “We aren’t blood. Just a test tube neighbor.”

Dietrich pondered her for a time. “I didn’t eat him. I don’t eat creatures who are strung out high as a kite.”

She looked up, and the shortest flash of relief spread across her face before returning to the sullen mask she had been wearing. “I don’t know what his contributions were to Nat’s situation, but four of the birds did attack him that I could identify,” Dietrich informed her.

“Is he going to be okay?” she asked.

“Yeller’s trying to get him to talk now. So, we’re going to give them all the space they want. Michael has disappeared from our radar as of the moment, but he’s bound to be in the area looking for us. So, I need for you, if you still wish to be part of this group, to stay in here, protected, safe and out of the way. That was Nat’s wish when I went looking for him, that we protect you,” he told her. She nodded quietly. Dietrich gave a small bow and left her to go sit down with Heinrich and the others.

Yeller, running a hand along Sven’s ears, hummed an old ballad that Erosion had written a year or two ago, but had never put onto their general playlist.

My love has eyes the colour of grass in spring,

and will some day wear a golden ring,

we will walk into the woods,

to admire where the world once stood,

May we see each other, always happy,

may we be blessed to always laugh,

and never cry

He lay down, his body curled protectively around Sven’s head, his back to the cave. He found himself talking to Nat, even though Sven still presented as the wolf. He reflected on the moments in school that he had depended on Nat’s persistent balance and frame of mind when the other students would tease. He spoke of the times they had walked by the canal and gone crawfishing and when Nat had shown up to listen to his first band practice. He chuckled about the food fights and the wrestling matches. He lauded the white-haired man’s continuous patience and willingness to put his friends first.

“I am so sorry for leaving you back there, Nat. I should have never left. If I had only tried harder, I could have kept Cashia from taking over. I promise, nothing like this will ever happen to you again.” The power mark on his chest warmed. It was the feeling of a small smile, or relaxation, of comfort. “Nat?” Yeller asked as Sven shifted back into Nat’s body.

“It looks like you finally drew him out,” Sven told him before relinquishing his hold and turning it over to Nat.

Nat lay quietly on the dirt for a time, resting under Yeller’s caressing hand. Tears dripped from his clenched, swollen eyes. Yeller curled around him protectively. “Nat?” Yeller whispered, trying to look into his face. His power mark was practically burning at this point, but not at an unbearable pain. “It’s okay,” he hushed, holding Nat’s quaking shoulders. “It’s going to be okay,” he reassured.

Nat, in a trembling voice, tried to speak. “I’m sorry, Yeller. I…please, I didn’t mean to make you worry,” he sobbed.

“You were looking out for all of us like you always do,” Yeller reassured him.

“I’m so sorry,” he kept repeating.

Yeller pulled Nat tighter to him. He sat up and shuffled Nat into his lap, hugging him, letting him cry. “Shh, there’s nothing for you to be sorry about, Nat.”

“Ruben, siad…siad…” Nat hiccupped

Tá a fhios agam,” Yeller hugged him tighter.

Nat squirmed in Yeller’s hold, his ribs and hips screaming at him. “Go nimhneach, Ruben,” he tried to get a look at himself.

Yeller eased his hold on Nat to look him over. Black and blue marks speckled the white-haired man from shoulders to toes. Ugly red welts marred his arms and back. “Ifreann na fola, Nat.” Yeller touched a rather nasty fist-sized bruise on the man’s ribs. He noted the thick and thin lines that striped his joints with raw bleeding wounds. He took it all in as his heart broke. His love had been violated, beaten, broken, choked. They had about castrated him.

Nat retracted from the prodding fingers. “I think it’s cracked.” He pressed his hand over the bruise on his rib, the first kick Michael had landed on him.

“Your nose sure is. This is going to hurt, so hold still.” Yeller reached up to Nat’s face, placing his thumbs on either side of his nose. Nat flinched at the shot of pain but forced himself to hold still. Yeller shifted the break, the bone-crunching under his fingers as he pushed it back into place. “Can you breathe deeply?” Yeller asked, turning his concern to Nat’s ribs.

Nat took a deep breath, and a myriad of other pains all flashed. He rolled into himself. “That wasn’t a good idea.”

“Here, let me get a look at you.” Yeller moved him from his lap. Nat hissed as he tried to find a comfortable sitting position. He found sitting on his knees, his hands grasping at the cold ground, to not cause so much pain.

“You okay?” Yeller placed a steadying hand on Nat’s back and chest, wary of the variety of markings that made him look like a dalmatian. “Jeez,” Yeller said in hushed revulsion and awe now that he saw his back. “I’m amazed you got out of there alive,” he said.

“Sven stopped my heart for me when one of the guys choked me. I’m lucky they left after thinking I was dead and didn’t burn the place down or something,” Nat responded, melancholic. He hurt in so many places. Another batch of tears worked their way out from behind his eyes. “Tereza, Sylvi, Sven, they kept me from feeling the brunt of it,” Nat whimpered, trying to put the pieces together.

“I will thank them for that later,” Yeller whispered, wishing he could hug Nat, but facing the reality that it would hurt too much. “I’m going to go in the cave and get your clothes. Are you okay if I leave you alone?” Yeller got up to leave. Nat nodded, still unable to take his eyes off of the dirt and frost on the ground.

Yeller dashed into the cave, pulling his pants and shirt on that had fallen off at the entrance when Cashia had taken over. The group looked up at him expectantly. “It’s – it’ll be all right,” Yeller tried to soothe as he rummaged through the packs for Nat’s clothes.

“You know they -” Deck went to say.

Yeller snapped, “Yeah, I know. Cashia didn’t hide it.”

“Are you going to be okay?” Zola asked her cousin.

Yeller stopped rummaging, having only come up with Nat’s coat so far. “No,” he answered her bluntly. Zola rose from where she sat and walked over to Yeller. He allowed her to fold him into a hug, her head shy of his chin. He held her for a moment, letting her comfort him. He was seething underneath.

“Is Nat going to be okay?” Hana whispered.

“His punctures reopened. He’s bleeding from several rope wounds and a knife. He’s got probably three cracked ribs. He’ll be lucky if he hasn’t got any internal organ damage. The bruises look like someone came at him with a bat. He was used by at least four of Michael’s horde. Not sure if he can ever have children or will want to even try after that. I don’t think he’s going to be physically okay for a while, and I don’t blame him if he isn’t mentally okay for a long time,” Yeller snipped at her coldly. She swallowed, her face turning ashen. “There’s a special place in hell that I am more than willing to personally deliver Michael too. The sooner the better,” Yeller added. His power mark burned. He turned to find a pair of brilliant emerald eyes staring at him. A scuffling at the cave mouth made everyone else turn to the pale man holding himself against the entrance.

“How long have you been standing there?” Sun Hee squeaked as she swallowed the vision that was Nat’s perfect white skin marred with so many wounds and bruises.

“Long enough to tell Yeller he’s not allowed to go personally delivering anyone to hell. Send ‘em. Someone else can be the messenger.” Nat slid down the side of the cave, too in pain to stand any longer.

“Why does it always have to be you? Jeez, Nat, the hell?” Benj asked as he came over with a medical pack that they had put together from the bungalow they had abandoned. The marks were so many levels worse up close. “I can’t believe you even made it back here,” he said as he traced the long ugly red bruises that revealed where his ribs had cracked.

“Sven took most of the brunt. I’ve only had to walk a couple of steps.” Nat tried to smile past his split lip. He was still struggling to breathe. He thought going wolf hurt; trying to lift his arms to his chest was making him regret taking on the transformation back to his human self.

Benj proceeded through the medical supplies, trying to find something to wrap Nat’s ribs with. Pulling out a massive roll of binding elastic, he went to start wrapping.

Deck stopped him. “You shouldn’t wrap it, Benj,” Deck stalled Benj, instead pulling out a bottle of naproxen and handing a pill to Nat to dry swallow.

“Yeah?” Benj raised an eyebrow.

“If he can’t keep breathing deeply enough, he can get pneumonia, and with the cold, it’ll be a higher risk,” he informed Benj.

“All right.” Benj replaced the roll.

“We might, if we have to get out of here and cover too much ground, wrap it then, but it’s not a good idea,” Deck mentioned. Benj nodded. “It’ll take you a good six weeks for them to knit back,” Deck told Nat. “It’ll be probably another two weeks after for the pain to stop,” he added.

“Can we stay here for the day, then?” Nat asked, too tired to even contemplate six weeks.

“Yeah, we can stay here for the night,” Deck agreed.

“What about Michael and the other eight? They’re still looking for us,” Hana squeaked.

“We’ll do shifts for the evening to watch for them. If they don’t show up – let’s hope they don’t – then we’ll see if we can move Nat, and we’ll make for the next town. If we can help him get there, we have to make our way down to Florida,” Deck answered her. “If we can get out of this state, I bet Michael would stop following us,” he added.

He had not anticipated Michael stalking them for as long as he had. The bird man seemed psychotic enough to continue trying to catch them, though. After what had happened to Nat, he knew that they had to stay as a group and not wander very far alone at any time. Nat was lucky to have come out of that garage alive, and they all knew it.

Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.

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