Victoria looked around her. A monstrous worm-like shadow struck out at both of them but dissolved when it neared the fire. "The shadows are still here. I don't think it worked."
"They returned. Slowly. As far as we know, this area is the only safe haven. Or perhaps the shadows follow us and only this part is tainted." The woman frowned. "The fire is neither as large nor as bright as it used to be."
"So what is this place? Is this all I get for dreams now? No crazy dreams of flying or skeletons chasing me in a hand cart while I roll down a hill of dead bodies?"
The woman's left eyebrow arched slightly. "A hill of dead bodies? I should think this was preferable to that kind of nonsense. We don't know what or where this is. Perhaps it is the afterlife or... Yes, I know. Yes, I'll tell her. One of us believes this is the shared subconsciousness of all the living and dead creatures."
"This? Seriously? And you think my skeleton dream was fucked up? So what're the shadows supposed to represent? Mankind's hope for a better future? Or never ending optimism? Bullshit." Victoria gestured at a shadowy face full of fangs and hatred hovering 10 feet away. "Give me flying unicorn puppies any day over that."
"The one... the one has reasons for the belief. We can see into the past and future. For a small amount of time. It whispers to us. The past is clear but the future... If this is our home and we live in the subconscious of all living creatures then perhaps we read their intentions and create a tapestry of a possible future. Sometimes what we see doesn't happen but often, it does. The future is open but if we hear the whispering of what someone intends - is that not the future? At least for that one person?"
Victoria thought this over. It made some sense on a certain level. "Knowing what a guy wants to do after he gets out of bed is not the same thing as seeing the future."
"You are correct. But if you know what everyone in his city plans to do as well, you start to build your pattern. An... an educated guess, you would call it. Useless for any long amount of time but superior for shorter times. And there are ways to see farther."
This got Victoria's interest. "How much farther? Could you see what my life will be like? How I will die? What ways are you talking about?"
"Blood and death. Blood magic is always stronger and death the strongest. It solidifies the pact and brings the favors of more powerful things."
Death, Victoria thought. I want none of that. "What powerful things?"
The woman thought for a moment. "We cannot remember our birth. As time passes, we forget the past but we have lived for a very, very long time. We have our own magic but we are part of you and you are the vessel that contains our strength. We are an elemental force. In the same way, there are things that live outside of the natural order and we have a pact with them. We can attract the attention of more powerful beings with a strong sacrifice."
Victoria thought back to her cross necklace and her upbringing. "Like God? Are you talking about God?"
The woman shook her head. "No, not like you think. There are... wait. You must wake up, girl. And when you do, remember. Stop the vehicle. You must remember. Stop the vehicle. Wake up now."
"Wait! But I don't...!"
The fire consumed her in a roar of fury.
Victoria woke to the heaviness of her new body in the back of the van. She blinked away her sleepiness as her snakes woke with her, hissing and sliding against each other.
"Sssssss... girl.... ssstoooop.... girl... ssssssstop.... vehicle.... sssstooooop..." They frantically whispered.
"Rob... Rob! Stop the van! Stop the...!" The WHOMP sound lifted the van from the ground and rattled her teeth. Beside her, the large white snake rose and hissed, baring its fangs.
"Mistress! Are you okay?! Mistress!" Rob had unbuckled his seat and was turning around to reach for Victoria. Because of this, he didn't see what Victoria could when she looked forward. A large, brown spherical shape was sitting in the middle of a smoking black crater, thirty feet in front of them.
Her snakes stood still on her head, watching. A car less than fifty feet in front of the thing was turned completely around, it's front wheel buckled under the car. The driver, a young man with short brown hair and a three day growth of a beard, got out of his car and leaned against his door for a moment. She could see him clearly with her new eyesight. The man turned to the thing in the road and took a shaky step toward it.
Victoria heard the start of a "Sssssssssssssss..." coming from her snakes, the sound getting steadily louder.
The man took three more steps before stopping. The thing was moving. Unrolling itself like a gigantic pill bug. Only, pill bugs didn't have arms or legs. Its face was hideous, a flat wide nose above a mouth with jagged, wrecked teeth. She could see a yellow flickering glow behind those teeth. Its eyes were wide and oval shaped, pupils a bright red color. Its skin was a dark, earthy brown but its back was a light shade of brown and covered in segmented plates. It was holding a three tined stick in its right hand - almost like a trident except the haft was barely long enough for its hand. In its left hand it held a short rod of some kind. It wore a simple loin cloth and the only marking she could see on it was a nine pointed star painted in black on its chest. It was well over ten feet tall of pure muscle.
It turned to face the man. The man's eyes were wide and, as she watched, he wet himself. His mouth was working but he wasn't trying to talk.
"What... what is that thing?" Victoria asked. Rob was beside her, trying to get her attention to ask if she was all right.
Suddenly there came a loud rumbling noise as if two huge rocks were rubbing and breaking against each other. The thing was talking. It looked back at Rob's van and then turned to face the nameless man again. With a single shake of his right hand, the haft of his trident lengthened, slamming into the ground with a loud crack.
The rumbling breaking noise came again and the man went to his knees in terror. The creature reached back his right hand and flung the trident horizontally at the man. It speared him in the chest, driving him straight back against his car. Victoria could hear the screech of metal as the trident embedded into the car's engine block. The man hung limply back against his car.
Slowly, the creature walked to the man's car and put his foot on the man's face.
Rob finally turned to the front and saw the creature for the first time. "M... m.... mistress.... what is that thing?"
With a yank of his right hand, the thing pulled his trident free. The man's body fell limply to the ground when the monster took his foot off of him. It turned to face the van and smiled. A line of molten drool dripped from the side of its mouth.
Victoria was stunned. "What... what..."
"Sssssssssss... Trassssssk..." Her snakes told her. "Girl... run... run... girl... go... mussssst... go..."
Time slowed for Victoria.
Run? She told herself. That thing just threw that stick thing through a freakin' car! It could throw it again before Rob could even get to the driver's seat. And even if Rob got there first, we'd have to turn around and try to drive away and this is a stupid ass cargo van. It could walk to us before we got anywhere. Okay, think. Think. It's here for me. It has to be. There's only me and Rob and this poor woman. Snake. Whatever. It has to be here for me.
The Trask started walking towards the van, slowly as if in no hurry.
"Rob." Victoria said. "Rob! Listen to me. I'm going to get out and distract it. I want you to... No! Listen! I want you to turn the van around and head back to the last exit. Find the nearest town. I'll come back for you. Go!"
For once, her body listened to her and her tail uncoiled properly under her. She pushed her way to the doors and opened them, sliding out onto the road. Thankfully, there was nobody on the road behind them.
"M... Victoria! No! Come back! I can... I can... we can make it!"
Victoria slammed the doors shut and turned to face the abomination in front of her.
"Sssssstupid... girl... sssssstupid... girl... diiieeee... you'll... ssstupid... diieeee... Trassssssssk..." One of the snakes beat at her forehead and she swatted it away.
"Either be useful or shut the hell up." She told them. She could hear the van's engine starting back up and the gears shifting into reverse. At least he does follow orders, she thought. In front of her, the Trask slammed the rod in its left hand into the dirt beside the road. It took another step toward her.
"Okay. Okay, we have this. Just... just turn it to stone. Like that guy. However you did it. Do it again."
"Ssssssssssss... usssssselessssssss... work.... won't.... ussssselessssssss... work..." The told her, swarming in fear.
"Just fucking do it!" She screamed.
"Sssssssssssssss....!" The snakes roared at her.
She felt the familiar pulse as the creature raised its massive forearm in front of its eyes. She waited nervously for something to happen. And waited. Finally, the creature lowered his arm and looked at the stick planted into the ground. Victoria followed his eyes. It looked like a bamboo stick - segmented and green mixed with a shade of brown. Except for the top segment. The top segment was a dark gray. The color of stone. As she watched, the top part cracked and fell, shattering on the asphalt.
The Trask roared with laughter and beat his hands against his chest.
"Why... why didn't that work?" Victoria asked. She felt like a cold hand was gripping her spine and twisting.
"Enchanted... sssspelled... absssorbsssss... sssssssso.... enchanted... tired... work... ssssspelled... won't... work... tired... sssssoon... dead... ssssoon..."
"Again. Hit him again. Just... just hit him again. Hey! Wake up and hit him again!"
Her snakes rallied and stood at attention. The Trask raised his left arm over his eyes. The pulse fired again and, again, nothing happened to the monster in front of her. The snakes fell limply to her shoulders, spent of their energy.
Victoria yelled in frustration and gathered her strength to throw herself at this creature. Just before she leapt, the cargo van swept past her, its engine roaring.
The Trask lowered its left arm again, a smile firmly in place. The smile faltered when it noticed the cargo van just a few feet away. It jerked its right arm to try and raise the trident before the cargo van slammed into the right side of its body.
Victoria found herself wondering if the situation would ever make its way into a math book - if nearly three tons of metal, plastic and rubber going over sixty miles per hour hit some crazy ass monster, plot the ascent, descent and distance...
She watched the front of the van crumple as it fell onto its side and slid on the ground next to the road, shattering the planted pole. The Trask spun and fell several feet away, blood spraying the air.
Now, she told herself. It has to be now. She ran for it - her brain translating the motion into something her tail could use. She was on the creature in seconds. The last few feet of her tail wrapped around the thick wrist of his right hand and she jerked, thrilling in the sound of bones breaking. She couldn't knee him in the balls but she reached down and grabbed his crotch, pulling up with her claws. The thing howled as something tore and she felt hot liquid on her hand.
She did not notice the huge fist of his left hand until it was a few inches from her face. The next thing she knew she was on her side and she could taste blood in her mouth. Her tongue flicked out several times touching her nose and her chin and tasting the air.
The Task was on its feet, reaching for his trident with his left hand. Blood and something else was dripping down its leg. She temporarily saw three of him and worried it could copy itself until she blinked and saw just one of him again. She coiled herself and launched at him, her arms held to her sides and her claws out. The monster pivoted on his foot and struck at her torso. She felt the tip of the trident dig into one of her scales before she was thrown to the side. Without thinking, her tail lashed at and struck against him. She heard the thing grunt and fall to its knees.
Victoria landed ungracefully in the dirt, sliding several feet before catching herself. Without thought, her tail whipped around and brought her to an upright position, bunching itself for another leap. Unfortunately, the Trask expected this and she screamed as the trident sunk into the thick muscles of her stomach. Her snakes hissed in pain. She heard the rumbling laughter coming from the monster.
Waves of pain ran up her spine and twisted her stomach into knots. Bright red blood was flowing down the black scales of her tail. The Trask was walking her way at an easy pace. Every time she moved even slightly she felt hot lances of pain shoot throughout her body. Victoria grabbed the shaft closest to the head of the weapon. The pain was incredible and she almost blacked out.
I can do this, she thought. I can do this. I have to do this. If I don't, I'm dead. And then he'll probably eat me. Do I want to end up as some monster's shit? No, I don't. I can do this. I can do this.
Taking a deep breath and letting it out, Victoria began hyperventilating. Her forearms and biceps bulged as she tensed. In one quick pull, the trident came out, showering her with blood and torn flesh. She was pretty sure she caught a glimpse of her intestines as well. She had intended to break the weapon in half but the pain made her forget and she vomited instead.
When she pulled her head up, he was there.
His fist caught her full in the face this time and she heard something break before a flare of pain branched up her face and behind her eyes. She staggered, her hand clutching her nose. She was having trouble with her vision and all she could taste was blood - her blood. And then he was on her again, his hand shot out flat to jab into the same place the trident punctured. Victoria screamed as a burst of white stars on black flooded her eyesight. Again and again the creature stabbed her with his hands until she thought she would pass out from the pain.
"Fugging ENOUGH!" Victoria screamed, blood running down her face. Argh, she thought. I can't even cuss properly! Fuck this thing!
Her tail wrapped around the creature, covering it from neck to legs. The Trask's arm was out for another jab but was caught in her grasp. He was glaring at her so she spit her blood in his face. Where the blood landed, it began slowly steaming on his face and eating the skin. His mouth twitched as if to yell but he held it back.
Great, she thought. Just fucking great. I'm like the queen mother alien from the fucking Aliens movies. How will I ever convince a guy to let me go down on him now? The absurdity of the thought made her laugh as she swayed from the pain. She thought she could hear a small 'crick' noise and hoped it was her nose fixing itself. What would people think of her if her nose was crooked? She thought. Oh wait, they would run screaming in terror because she was a fucking snake woman.
She squeezed. She pictured herself wrapping her legs around him and watched the coils of her tail rub against each other as they tightened. She couldn't feel them very well but she felt the pressure building and the muscles tightening.
Her nose still really hurt and she felt her tongue flick out to touch the tip of it. She'd learned that trying to stop her tongue from doing its own thing was like trying to stop her heart from beating - impossible. The only thing good bit of news was it didn't do it while she was talking.
"Hey, so, does this hurt?" She asked the creature. "Because my stomach still hurts. And it feels like my face is on fire. So I was just hoping you felt some of this. Although... I can talk now so maybe my nose is on the mend. Still fucking hurts, though." The creature was making a low quiet rumble in the back of its throat but she couldn't tell if it was in pain or not. Smoke curled from the corner of its mouth. As she tightened her grip she heard a small crack and the creature's grumbling paused for a moment. She smiled.
"Oh, good. I think I heard something break." She could feel it starting to struggle a bit and it felt like it was moving its right arm again. Damn. Her own stomach and nose were still bleeding. How did it rate faster healing than her? Now it was reaching the left hand around to grip her tail. It caught one of her scales with its fingers and worked two fingernails under the edge of it before she grabbed the arm with both hands.
"No fucking way, monster. Let me see that." The Trask's arm was too thick for her to get a full grip on but she held on tight and made a sudden jerking movement with her hip. "Fuck!" She yelled. Her stomach was bleeding worse now and she felt like she tore the same muscles fresh again. When she dropped the creature's arm it hung loose against her so at least she had that.
The rumbling noise from the creature was louder now and it was trying to jerk itself in her grip. She was about to laugh at it until she started flailing around with it. Oh, yeah, physics. She thought. Now where...? Oh, there we go. Victoria dragged the creature behind her as she made her way to a large rock away from the road. The thing's movements made it difficult to take a straight path but not impossible. On one hand she was pleased she was getting better at moving but on the other hand she was slithering. Not walking. Not crawling. Slithering.
It took a few moments to find a way to grip the rock properly. Thankfully, her claws could actually chip the rock and she was able to make a strong grip. Now her tail was thrashing side to side wildly.
Victoria hugged the rock tightly and winced at the rough surface against her large nipples. Maybe she should start wearing a shirt again. She turned to look back at the creature. This is going to really hurt, she told herself. If you pass out, you lose. It will kill you. And then Rob, if he's not dead already. Or maybe it won't kill you and it'll torture you instead. There's a lot of you to cut up before it gets to your really important bits.
She turned back to the rock and closed her eyes. The large muscles in her shoulders and arms bulged. "Here we go." She whispered.
It took her five tries to figure out the proper movement. On the sixth try, her tail arched high above her head and slammed down against the earth with a noise like a bag of rocks crashing against the ground. She almost passed out. Her grip temporarily loosened on the rock and her head spun from the pain in her stomach and the lesser pain in her tail.
"Again." She said. Her tail flipped the other way and slammed again, sending a huge plume of dirt, dust and rocks flying. The pain was slightly more tolerable but she vomited up on the rock and her arm. She realized at this point that blood and vomit did not taste well together.
"And again." She whispered. Her breathing was coming fast and ragged. She tightened her tail around the Trask and slammed him again and again, back and forth against the hard ground. She lost count of how many times she did this but her blood and puke covered the rock and when she opened her eyes she could barely see. There were long, deep gouges in the rock where her claws slowly lost their purchase.
She paused and took stock while her vision returned. Her face felt much better but just thinking of her stomach made her want to hurl. On the bright side, the thing wasn't moving anymore.
"Oh, what's the matter, big guy? Where'd your hand go? Oh, there it is, in that cactus. How'd it get there, you think?" She was panting but still alive. She concentrated on trying to bring the thing closer to her body and eventually, her tail worked it out and the massive knot containing the creature stood before her. She was disappointed to see it still breathing but happy to see that one eye was gone and several teeth were missing.