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ABOUT AN HOUR later we lay on our cloaks, full of food and feeling calmer, almost satisfied. Audi and Lucky seemed happy enough with their meal of beans and dried meat and we knew we had enough food to last a few days which helped soothe some of our anxiety.

'What do we do next?' Loi asked.

We fell silent all considering then I spoke up. 'Shelter.'

'Let's explore,' suggested Sian.

Kassie sat up. 'We really need to find a town or city, our supplies aren't going to last that long.'

We got into an earnest discussion of survival when Audi gave a sudden low growl.

Huh?

I twisted to look at her then stiffened.

The dog crouched, staring out into the forest with a lowered head, body tense and ready. The fur around her shoulders and neck fluffed out mane like, with her tail low and stiff. Audi's tan muzzle wrinkled with a snarl before she gave a short angry warning bark. I stared, feeling my heart start to race then turned, looking for whatever she'd seen.

KASSIE CROUCHED, HANDS pressed to the grass while she slowly scanned the forest. Her heart pounded when Audi snarled again and she almost missed it, her eyes not deciphering the tall figure that stood back amongst a number of saplings; but her mind registered the shape.

Her neck stiffened and stomach felt like it plummeted to the ground. Barely daring to breathe she dragged her gaze back, silently praying she'd seen wrong. A breath hitched in her throat and everything stopped for an instant.

She gasped, pulling back and gestured with a harsh whisper. 'THERE!'

The others froze.

'Oh God, what is that?' Loi whispered.

SIAN SHOOK HER head, mute with shock. The creature didn't budge. It just stood there, observing them. It didn't look like anything she'd seen before, not even in movies; at least six feet tall with long limbs and brown green mottled skin, the creature had a horrid humanoid face with a hint of muzzle protruding and a heavy brow ridge.

The quiver and bow lay before her near the fire but she didn't have any desire to actually use them, just to grab them and get the hell out of there. She twisted to look at Cat who sat near her.

SIAN'S EYES WERE as wide as saucers when she looked my way.

Keeping my eyes on her I spoke softly, 'I think we should pack up. Quickly and quietly guys.'

They nodded and we shuffled around, stuffing everything into the packs, Kassie somehow ended up with a full one. The snap of twigs alerted us to another of those creatures quite a bit closer.

I could see this one more clearly and the sight made my blood run cold. The skin looked clammy like an amphibian and its hands were tipped with talon-like nails. I shuddered in disgust. It stayed there, silent and observing like the other one but you could sense their intent. A strange predatory energy seemed to resonate off them.

Audrey kept up her low angry growl, punctuated with the occasional sharp bark, eyes fixed on the first creature.

The weapons made sense now.

'Strap on your weapons,' I insisted and we set to getting them on.

Loi's long sword had a scabbard that could be worn across the back or on the hip. My sword scabbard did the same and Sian helped me get it on my back, lifting it up my arms while I rolled my shoulders to help get the straps in place, our gazes constantly watching those two creatures. Loi had hers on in a flash but then she'd worn them before. I hastily buckled the daggers onto my arms and Loi fastened the strap that ran from shoulder to shoulder.

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