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Pen Your Pride

Chapter 22: Together (Part One)

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The Beast stared at me for a moment before violently shaking its head, flinging Luc into the wall near the door. I flinched, wanting to rush to his side but I knew that if I did that, the thing would capitalize on my distraction and just tear us both to pieces. I knew I had to focus completely on it if I was going to draw attention away from those I cared about.

I stared it down and, for once, the creature didn't lash out indiscriminately. It knew that I was being smart this time, that it had to be careful. Dammit, I cursed to myself. I was counting on this thing to be stupid and blind with fury like before. It seemed like the more physical it became, the more it could actually think.

There was one upside to that; as it watched me, it's eyes widened and then narrowed, moving over me, waiting for something to happen. It was as if it was trying to do something to me that was no longer working-I assumed that it was trying to throw me around like a chew toy like it had in our previous encounters. But it wasn't happening: I remained rooted to my place, not willing to give upan inch of my ground. Maybe my theory was true-the more the spirit came into our world, the less it was able to function on that in- between plane. It was an actual creature now, not just a half-shadowed thing. It seemed to have lost powers as well as gained them.

Or maybe I was wrong, and maybe the only thing stopping it from crushing me was just the pure forced of my will, my lack of fear. Maybe that's what it took to defeat it-to face it head on, refusing to give into the fear that it bred.

Either way, I had no idea what to expect.

The thing took the first strike. It lashed out, its burning claws made of something like magma slicing through the air towards me. But being whole made it slower. I dodged to the side, and its talons just missed me-cutting into the wall behind me instead. They gouged deep into the already damaged drywall. It was slow, but it was still immensely powerful. I feared what it would mean if those made contact with my soft flesh and bone.

It paused for a moment and flicked its many eyes around the room for a moment before settling back on me-to my horror, four more pair burst into existence on its face, nestling next to the other four. Its mouth full of twisted, burning fangs split wide, stretching across the swirling mass of air, curving into a hideous grin like the Cheshire Cat's.

I realized suddenly that I had made a fatal mistake; when I had dodged to the side, I had gone the wrong way. Now the Beast was between Luc and me... and the Beast knew what that meant.

It turned its massive head towards the limp form of Luc and opened its massive mouth... ready to consume him at let me watch as it did.

"NO!" I screamed. My hands fumbled over the debris next to me, and I began to chuck whatever I could reach at the wavering form of the creature, hoping to distract it from its new task. Splinters of wood, chunks of metal, a twisted half of my laptop connected with the back of what I assumed was its head. It didn't even flinch.

I scraped the ground, desperate for something else to throw. My raw hand closed around a small pile of salt that had slipped out of the ritual's doll when I had been thrown against the wall. It made my burns sting, literally rubbing salt into my wounds. The idea didn't quite form in my mind, but I knew that this might do something- they purifying effects of the salt in the spell may carry over to real world encounters. Hoping for something, any kind of reaction, I picked up a handful and threw it at the back of the Beast's head.

That got its attention. When the salt hit the back of the beast, it sizzled like water being thrown on a fire. The beast screamed. It whipped its face back to me, and its expression was no longer playful... its was twisted in a malice that shook me to my core. I had really pissed it off this time.

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