LIGHT BOUND

 

About

Callum Davis is a monster hunter. Well, more accurately, his partner Amelia is a monster hunter; Callum just runs support. He’s a photomancer—a mage who controls light—and his magical abilities are about as useful as a bright flashlight. But when a monster surge near the Denver Free City leads to the kidnapping of a powerful animal mage and Amelia is put out of commission, Callum is the one stuck mounting a rescue. The deeper he gets pulled into the mystery of the kidnapping, the more he uncovers a dangerous conspiracy threatening the entire city. As the worst monster surge in decades continues to rise, Callum must learn to embrace all of his abilities, even the ones he sees as useless, to stop the kidnappers and save the mage. If he can’t, it’s not only his job at risk, but his life—and the lives of everyone in the Denver Free City.

I am currently seeking publication for Light Bound, and so only the first two chapters are available on this website.

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Chapter Select

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

 

Chapter 1

Stars filled my vision.

That wasn’t a good sign, considering there was a barn roof between me and my view of the night sky. I squeezed the bridge of my nose and squinted to clear my vision. Being dazed in a room with an angry Feral was a good way to get eaten.

Thankfully, the one that had just about knocked the sense out of me looked as bad off as I was. It had burst through the wall beside the barn door, past where Amelia had set up her gun, and slammed into me hard enough to take us both to the ground. I then smacked it in the head with the grip of my pistol, knocking it off and giving us both a moment to stagger to our feet. It was shaking its jowls as my vision cleared, probably trying to do the same thing I was.

Then it turned towards me and snarled, the sound a disturbing mix of canine growl and reptilian hiss. It was a nasty thing, humanoid, about the size of a Great Dane but with too-long arms ending in jagged claws and skin that sloughed around like waterlogged weeds. Most people called them grimelings, which was sort of a catch-all term for nocturnal Ferals that were big enough to eat livestock. I raised my gun and pulled the trigger. It gave a dejected click.

Shit. Amelia kept telling me I needed to count my bullets. One day I’d listen.

“Cal,” she called from outside the barn, her voice followed by the staccato rattle of her rifle. The sound was clearer now that there was a gaping hole in the wall it could travel through.  “You okay in there?”

My partner was the combat specialist of our team; she had been a soldier with the Western American Union and was good with just about every weapon she could hold in her hands. I, on the other hand, ran support. My magic wasn’t really the kind that hurt things.

“Fine,” I called back. I could ask her to come help, but from the sounds of things, she had her hands full out there. If she could handle the whole pack minus one, then I could handle that one. I just wished I had a few seconds to reload my gun.

“Focus, my Host,” said the voice in my head. “Your advantage is not in your weapons. It is in your wit.” Majesty gave me a reassuring nod. At least, that was how my brain translated it; without a physical form, she couldn’t actually make gestures, but my mind had long ago learned how to humanize the emotions she shared with me.

I took a breath to steady myself, extending my hand toward the now-recovered grimeling. This was why Amelia wanted me along for this job, after all. Majesty’s presence spread across my body as her magic flowed through me, and I felt contentment. I didn’t know what it felt like to her when I used her magic, but to me, it felt like stretching out a muscle that had been aching for use along with a dash of warmth, like drinking hot chocolate on a cold day.

Heat gathered around my extended hand. The hanging lightbulbs in the barn grew dim as I gathered their light, forming it into marble-sized orbs that danced around my forearm. The grimeling stilled, mesmerized.

When a spirit inhabits the body of an animal, it becomes a Feral, twisting and warping it to suit the spirit’s essence. They become monstrously powerful and, sometimes, capable of magic. Not grimelings, though; this thing was probably several generations removed from whatever spirit first warped its ancestors, and something along its twisted biological line had given it the fascination with light of a moth. That becomes a problem when a group of them stumble across your farm in the middle of the night—which is when Amelia and I come in handy—but it makes them pretty susceptible to photomancy.

“That’s right,” I said as I inched closer, the grimeling’s head bobbing rhythmically. “Watch the pretty lights. I won’t hurt you.” That last bit was a lie, of course. My other hand was reaching for the combat blade I had sheathed on my back. The thirty-inch sword looked like the lovechild of a gladius and a machete, and its single-edged blade made sure I didn’t wind up cutting myself swinging it around.

That last bit was important. I skipped blade training with Amelia more often than I attended. It just didn’t come up enough; Amelia was usually too good at killing things to let them slip through to me. At least I could keep the grimeling mesmerized with my magic right up until I skewered it.

I had just managed to get the blade free from its scabbard when a second grimeling tumbled into view, crashing through one of the stalls behind me. I jumped, my concentration broken, and my lights fizzled. There was a brief pause, and then both grimelings looked up at me and snarled. I cursed, backing away. I needed to get them both in front of me where I could deal with them together and where hopefully they’d be stumbling over each other. These things hadn’t shown a whole lot of coordinated teamwork so far.

The first grimeling lunged and I swept my blade at it in a clumsy parry, deflecting its claws and sending painful vibrations shooting up my arm. I winced. A solid hit from one of these things would be the end of me.

I swore that, if I survived this, I’d never miss another practice with Amelia.

I took a shuffling step back as the second grimeling barreled into the first, knocking it aside with a growl and gnashing teeth before springing off the ground and slamming right into my chest. I exhaled before I hit the ground—getting your breath knocked out in a fight is a great way to die—and managed to get my forearm between its mouth and my throat.

Its teeth scraped against my polymer bracers. My armor was the cheap, off-the-shelf kind, but without leverage, the grimeling couldn’t do much more than scrape the hardened plastic. Still, that left me on the ground with one arm occupied and another grimeling roaming around somewhere.

This was going great. 

Amelia’s gun stopped barking outside and she cursed loudly. How many of these things were there?

The other grimeling’s head peeked around its companion’s back as it started to circle me. Its bulbous black eyes locked onto me hungrily.

Big, nasty, light-sensitive eyes.

With a grunt, I released the magic that had been building inside of me in a wave of blinding light. If I had been, say, a Pyromancer, that would have been the end of it. But my magic amounts to about twelve professional-grade spotlights, so I made the best of it, shoving the grimeling off of me as the two of them recoiled in shock and pain from the sudden flash.

If I learned to scream really, really loud, I could be my own flashbang.

While the closest Feral was clawing frantically at its eyes, I scrambled to my feet and skewered it with the sword up to the hilt, the blade poking several inches out its back. It convulsed as I tried to pull the sword free, but it was stuck fast. I’d have to shove my boot against the thing to get my sword out of it, and there was no way I’d be able to do that with its buddy about to claw at my back. With a grunt I let go of the sword and the grimeling fell awkwardly to the ground, still spasming.

The second one had recovered from my flash, so I braced myself and hit it with another burst of light. That spell was never as effective the second time, so I took my chance and dashed away, the grimeling still reeling behind me. I looked around the barn desperately, trying to find anything I could use to fend the creature off. Just a few steps away, there was an old shovel leaning against a wall underneath a tool rack. I ran for it, the sound of the grimeling’s clawed feet scraping across the floor growing unnervingly close. I grabbed the shovel and swung, not even bothering to look before I struck.

The flat side of the spade hit the creature mid-leap with enough force to send it crashing into the wall beside me. I grunted as the shock of the blow rattled me, but I recovered well before the grimeling did and finished the thing off while it was down.

I let out a breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding, then walked over to collect my sword.

I had my boot planted on the dead grimeling and was still tugging on my sword when Amelia walked in, completely unharmed. She looked like an action movie hero, her chest covered in an armored vest, her muscled arms bare and smudged dramatically with dirt and sweat as she checked her rifle. I, on the other hand, was scratched and bruised and looked very much the part of the comedic relief as I yanked desperately on my sword.

“You alright?” Amelia asked, looking around the barn.

“Just fine,” I said, grunting as I struggled with my sword.

She took a few steps closer. “You need any—?”

“Nope, I’ve got it, thanks.” I shifted my weight to try to get better leverage on it, but the damn blade wouldn’t budge.

“I believe there is a story about this, Callum,” Majesty said, “only it involved a stone instead of a creature, and the sword’s owner was actually able to pull it free.” When she spoke, it was like she was talking through an expensive set of headphones that had somehow phased two inches into my head. I’m sure it would be unnerving to those who hadn’t been possessed as a small child, but I was as comfortable talking to Majesty as I was talking to anyone else. Moreso, usually. There was a power and a warmth that came with her presence, and her voice had all the reassurance of a queen telling her subjects she would take care of everything.

“Thank you, Majesty,” I said, “your tales are an inspiration as always.”

“Oh, which one is she talking about this time?” Amelia asked, then paused. “Wait, no, don’t tell me; King Arthur. Sword in the stone. Am I right?”

“Your companion is most insightful.” My Guest sounded pleased.

“If you like her so much, why didn’t you possess her instead?” I asked Majesty, but Amelia answered first.

“Trust me, Cal,” Amelia said, “if Majesty had met me first, she would have.”


—--


The farmer and her family were so grateful for our help getting rid of the grimelings that they offered a pretty generous tip—which we had to refuse, of course. Our company, Brave Frontier, was pretty strict about their no-tip policy; it was too easy for armed mercenaries to demand extra from their clients as a “tip”, and violations against company policy were punished by immediate dismissal. Still, nothing said we couldn’t accept a crate of apples each. I made a mean cobbler.

“That was pretty good work you did back there, Cal.”

“I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or not.”

Her eyes softened a little. “No, no, I mean it. You drew them into our trap at the barn, and you even took down two of them yourself.”

I scoffed. “And you handled, what, the other seven? You’re a badass, and I could be replaced by a powerful flashlight.”

Majesty huffed in my mind, but Amelia shook her head. “You know a flashlight wouldn’t have worked as well as your powers did. Besides, I know you have my back. That’s important.” She paused. “And if you still feel like pouting, maybe you can do something about it and start coming to practice with me?”

I remembered my mid-combat vow and groaned. She was right; the next time I needed to fight for my life, I might not be able to fake my way through it. Still, I usually came out of sparring with Amelia more sore and banged up than I did from any of our actual jobs.

“Fine,” I said. “First thing Monday morning.”

“Cal, it’s Tuesday. We start tomorrow.”

Any clever retort I may have had was cut short by the crackle of our radio. We were mercenaries, not cops—Denver Free City had replaced those with investigative social workers years ago—but we still got the occasional emergency call. We knew anything from Dispatch would be urgent, not to mention the hefty bonus those emergency jobs came with. Plus, Dispatch’s voice sounded like chocolate and butter had a baby and that baby became a jazz singer.

“All available teams, we’ve got a Code Chimera at Rocky Mountain National Park,” he said. “Nearby teams, please respond.”

Code Chimera meant multiple Ferals of different species. That was rare, given how territorial Ferals usually were, and it was also very dangerous. Ferals mutated too quickly from one generation to the next to make any proper classification possible, particularly when they interbred between species, and so fully preparing for them in the field was tricky. Preparing for a fight with several different species was just about impossible.

“Dispatch, this is Wells,” Amelia answered. “We’re fifteen miles out and on our way. You know I can’t say no to that voice.”

“Copy that, Amelia,” Dispatch said.

“Looks like you might be the closest team. Be careful until backup arrives.”

“We’re always careful. Out.”

“Little detour, huh?” I said.

“Looks like it.”

I had been really looking forward to a beer and a book in the bath after the fight with the grimelings, but a Chimera situation also meant people were in immediate danger from monsters, and monster hunting was our job.

“Alright,” I said, “let’s hurry.” 

Something like anticipation stirred from Majesty.

 

Chapter 2

The Denver Free City was one of the eight free cities straddling the border between the Western American Union and the Great Plains Federation. It wasn’t that there was a lot of tension between the two—definitely not as much as there was between the GPF and the USA over on the east coast—but the nations decided way back when that it would be better to have a buffer zone than a rigid border. That left a handful of cities, like Denver, Santa Fe, and a few others, without a federal government. You could write a book on the pros and cons of that, and several people had, but one result was that there were a whole lot more Ferals in free territory since there wasn’t any organized military to keep them in check. I’d been to the WAU a few times, and cities west of Utah didn’t even have walls.

But nothing out there could ever beat the beauty of a Colorado untouched by pipelines and urban sprawl for a century. Even at night, driving out to Rocky Mountain National Park was enough to keep Amelia and me in quiet awe.

It was after midnight when we pulled into the ranger station. The rangers got their start back when the USA was still one big nation, and when the split happened and the park became free territory, they just sort of stuck around. Their job now was mostly to keep the worst of the Ferals in check. A few of them did contract work for Brave Frontier every now and then, particularly when tracking was involved, so I’d met some on occasion. They weren’t the sort of people who called for help often.

The Range Rover bumped lightly over the uneven road as the ranger compound came into view. It sat at the edge of a thick forest, the kind that the more gruesome fairy tales take place in—and for good reason. Spirits may not have made themselves known until the Breach back at the end of the nineteenth century, but they’d been around for way longer than that, and plenty of scholars believed that a lot of ancient mythologies weren’t quite so fictional after all.

My own Guest, for example, claimed to have been a goddess once, a very long time ago. She would never tell me which one, but I had a hunch.

Amelia pulled up to the spike-tipped wooden gate and waited, hands on the wheel, as a few very big guns pointed down at us. A ranger came out a few moments later and knocked on the window.

“We’re with Brave Frontier,” she said as she rolled it down. “We got a call about a Chimera situation.”

“Identification?”

“Sure,” she said, handing ours over.

“What’s going on, anyway?”

“A ranger station got attacked,” he said gruffly, checking over our badges. “Ferals got through the walls. Lost a couple people.” He nodded and handed the badges back over. “Go on through.”

Amelia and I shared a look as we pulled into the ranger compound. The outposts wouldn’t have the same defenses this place had, but they’d have strong, well-built wooden walls and plenty of big guns watching them. Ferals who got through those would have to be either bigger, tougher, or smarter than most, and were probably all three. The car ride over had helped me recover most of the energy I’d spent fighting the grimelings, but I was hardly a blaster. I wasn’t sure where a photomancer would even fit into a fight like this. The best I could probably do was light up the battlefield, and it wasn’t like the rangers didn’t have electricity.

The interior of the ranger compound looked like the headquarters of a small guerilla army. Watchtowers with sniper’s nests ringed the wall and six sturdy log buildings were spaced evenly throughout, each of which could probably survive an attack from a horde of nasty Ferals on its own. I’d never been inside the compound before, but this place had been deliberately designed for professional monster hunters. Mercenaries like Amelia and me may protect Denver from Feral attacks, but our job would be a hell of a lot harder without the rangers keeping the worst of them at bay.

We parked on a dirt patch next to half a dozen ATVs and hopped out, heading for the main building at the center of the compound. Despite the late hour, the place was bustling with rangers, all of whom moved with purpose—whether it was because of the attack or this was just a normal night for them, I had no idea. I got the feeling they stayed in their khaki uniforms and kept their many weapons on them all the time, anyway.

“My Host,” Majesty said, her voice startling me, “why do we not use our powers here, instead of the city? If these hunters prowl the night for terrors, could we not gain much glory by illuminating their way?”

“I don’t think someone can just become a ranger, Majesty,” I answered. Amelia didn’t even look my way—by now, she was used to me talking to the voice in my head. It wasn’t the first time I wished someone else could hear the other side of those conversations, too. “Besides, I don’t know the first thing about wilderness survival. Do you?”

“I have never been forced into such a situation, no. The hunters would surely compensate for our lack of knowledge of such base tasks in exchange for our vaulted services, however.” She paused. “Present me before their chieftain. I shall proclaim us a living god, and with our light, we shall-”

I groaned. “We’ve been over this. First, they all know what Guests are. They probably have a few mages themselves, and probably with powers more useful to them than controlling light. Second, and I know you hate it when I bring this up, but there is such a thing as-”

The distaste in Majesty’s scoff was palpable. “Yes, you have shown me these ‘flashlights’. Crude, barbaric things. You present a stone dagger before a master swordsmith and expect her to be impressed, Callum. We can do so much more.”

I shook my head. I had never gotten Majesty classified, so I wasn’t sure just how powerful she was, but measuring the brightness of the lights I made didn’t seem particularly important to me. She was at least a Class 3, given that Class 2s could only impart animalistic urges on their Hosts and Class 1s couldn’t communicate at all. And it was theorized that only Class 4 and 5 Guests had been able to enter the world before the Breach; I believed her when she said she used to be an ancient goddess, given her haughtiness about the whole affair, so for all I knew she could have been a Class 5. I just wasn’t sure it mattered.

Photomancy was relatively rare, which was about the only thing it had going for it, as far as I was concerned.

We entered the main building just in time for me to not present myself as a living god. It looked like a command center from an old World War II movie mixed with a hunting lodge: oversized radios lined the walls next to mounted trophies, hunting weapons, and black-and-white photos of turn-of-the-century soldiers. Rangers rushed back and forth with maps and probably plenty of other kinds of documents. It made sense, I guess; they probably didn’t have access to the Internet up here.

At the center of the room, standing in front of an impressively-lifelike 3D model of what I assumed was the entire park, was an older Black woman with short cropped hair speaking in low tones to two other rangers next to her. She wore the hide of something that had probably been a bear before it had gone Feral over her khaki uniform, a tactical handaxe at her right hip,  and a revolver at her left. The nearby rangers’ deference to her marked her as the one in charge. She gestured us over without taking her eyes off one spot on the model.

“You must be the mercs from Brave Frontier,” she said, acknowledging us with a nod as we approached. She spoke with the practical curtness of someone who didn’t have time for hellos. “I’m Iris Elliot, commander of the Rocky Mountain Rangers. I’m glad you’re here. I assume more will be arriving shortly?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Amelia said, her army habits immediately taking over in the face of an authority figure. “We were closest, but Dispatch put out a Code Chimera. I’m sure more teams will get here soon.”

“Good.” She turned back to the model of the park and pointed to what I assumed was a ranger outpost. It was hard to get a good sense of scale, but it looked miles away from where we stood. “We lost the Bear Lake outpost to a Feral attack just over half an hour ago. In the last eight minutes, Kawuneeche and Wild Basin have also come under attack. We’re sending more people to help, but there’s a lot of tough ground through thick woods between us.”

“Is it normal for Ferals to attack so many places at once like this?” I asked.

Elliot shook her head. “I’ve never seen it. Any attack on an outpost is rare; the Ferals normally stick to the deep woods, and we’re usually able to disrupt any gathering before it gets out of control. This was sudden.”

“Sounds like there’s more going on here,” I said.

Amelia nodded. “Agreed, but let’s avert the crisis before we theorize too much.” She turned back to Elliot. “Where do you need us?”

“Right now, we’re putting together a team to head south to Wild Basin. I’m waiting on two more patrols to get back with their ATVs, and then I’ll send you two out with them. Can either of you drive an ATV?”

Before I could probably make a fool of myself by asking how hard it could be, an alarm klaxon rang out through the compound, followed by the staccato of gunfire. The rangers around us immediately sprang into action, grabbing guns, axes, spears, and a myriad of other killing devices before racing out the doors.

Elliot gave a few terse orders then turned back to us. “Change of plans. You’re on the west wall. Good hunting.”


—--


Organized chaos wasn’t a term I ever really understood until I watched the ranger compound prepare to defend itself. Some terrible beast screeched through the night sky overhead and several very large somethings were trying to break through the outer walls by slamming into them, but the rangers’ response was practiced and deliberate. Teams of four rushed from one crisis to the next, and if they weren’t actively fighting, they were communicating in terse code so succinct I couldn’t understand it. There was a wildness to their actions, a surprise that came from fighting in their own home, but they knew what they were doing.

Amelia and I headed for the western wall at a cautious jog. We’d both learned from experience that literally running into danger was rarely the smartest course of action, regardless of how urgent things seemed to be, and so we made sure we stayed aware of any possible claws that felt like grabbing us from the dark. Nothing did—it was always a good sign when the danger stayed outside the walls—and half a minute after we’d left Elliot’s side, we were on a ladder heading up to the top of the wall.

On the top of the palisade, the rangers had built a walkway that ran the perimeter of the compound, and as soon as we made it up, it became obvious that that was where most of the action was taking place. Where rangers weren’t fighting off the smaller Ferals that had already scaled the walls, they were shooting rifles into the darkness below. There couldn’t have been more than thirty rangers in the compound, and the numbers were rapidly beginning to stack against them. Ten feet to our right, a man screamed as he plummeted off the wall and into the compound, tackled by what looked like a grey mountain lion with a plume of spikes running down its spine.

Amelia and I looked at each other. She’d been in a lot more fights than I had, and that single look showed me that this was going to be a rough one.

“Quickly, Callum,” Majesty said, her voice urgent in my head. “Upon the battlefield, we are the beacon. Expel the dark.”

I knew what she wanted me to do. Manipulating light was nearly effortless—I could steal the light from a well-lit room and focus it into what I needed it to be without even working up a sweat.

Creating light, however, was different. If you want to start a fire and you've already got a lighter, your job’s going to be pretty easy. But if all you have is your bare hands, making even a tiny flame is exhausting work, and so it was when I had to create light out of darkness.

I held my hand up, palm towards the sky, and concentrated as much of Majesty’s essence there as I could. I felt the heat grow from the tips of my fingers as light bloomed forth, small at first, but soon it began to outshine all the other lights in the compound. Amelia saw what I was doing and rallied the closest rangers around me.

No matter how many flashlights they had or how well trained they were, humans would always be at a disadvantage to monsters when fighting in the dark. Ferals’ eyes just worked differently, and if they didn’t rely on their sight, then their other senses were acute enough to make up for it.

Of course, the opposite was generally true, too, and I was nothing if not a magical lightswitch.

Majesty’s power coursed through me as I pulled it into the palm of my outstretched hands, light pouring from my fingers in an ever-widening umbrella above me. I heard hisses and screeches around me as my magic washed over the light-sensitive Ferals and I cranked up the intensity, gritting my teeth as the brightness of my spell grew from daylight to tanning booth and beyond.

I drew in a ragged breath and looked around. I had created a surreal bubble of brilliant light across the compound, turning it into a spotlit stage in the dark theater of the forest around us. The Ferals that had made it above or through the walls recoiled as their eyes fought to adjust, and the rangers, with their spears and axes and rifles, took brutal advantage of their hesitation. Soon, they had been driven from the walls entirely.

At least, most of them had been. The silhouette of some monstrous thing flitted through the darkness beyond my magic and I squinted to make it out, straining to push enough magic into my spell to get a good look at it.

My light illuminated its beaked face just in time for it to soar out of the night on leathery wings and slam into me, my shoulder exploding in pain.

The shock sent a wave of heat spidering through my body, enough to break my concentration and send the world around me back into darkness. Something rushed past me, scratching up my face as it did, and I realized it was a tree; the Feral had grabbed me, its claw still dug into my shoulder, and I was hurtling through the air high enough to see through the top of the forest canopy.

That was very, very bad. I screamed.

Majesty said something to me, but between the wind rushing past, the pain from the claw digging into my shoulder, and the overwhelming panic, I couldn’t make out what it was. Instead, I drew as much energy into my hand as I could and let loose a flash of light towards the flying Feral’s face. It looked like a bolt of lightning had cut through the forest.

My stomach lurched as the thing screeched and panicked, turning its steady flight into a frenzied tumble and roll that crashed us both through the thickest part of the canopy and down towards the ground. 

That was also bad, particularly if I was on the bottom when we crashed.

I barely registered the fact that I was, apparently, still screaming as I fumbled with the Beretta tucked into the holster at my hip. It was a small miracle that I didn’t drop it. I also wasn’t the best shot at the calmest of times, but given that whatever was carrying me was big enough to fill my entire vision with leathery skin and long, gnarled feathers, there wasn’t much chance I was going to miss. 

I had time to fire six bullets into the Feral’s gut before it bucked hard enough to make my vision blur and the gun tumble from my hand.

It screeched again, a sound that quickly transitioned into a wet gurgle, and went limp, nearly dropping me as its grip slackened. Instead I grabbed its claw, tucked my legs up, and kicked, leveraging myself as high onto the thing’s body as I could get. We were still twenty feet off the ground and falling fast, so I was hardly going to have time to get a saddle on this thing, but if I could at least get its body between me and the ground, I might stand a chance.

The Feral’s limp wing clipped a tree and jolted downward, sending the whole thing into a roll and nearly catapulting me straight off the side. But I was higher up on its body now, so I pressed myself in, tucked my head down, and held on as tight as I could, trying not to think about how much give this thing’s flesh had and what it might look like in the light.

We finally hit the ground with a burst of snaps as the creature’s body crashed through a wall of twigs and saplings. The impact was enough to bounce the Feral into another roll, which launched me forwards and up, past the dead bird-monster and, at last, onto the ground and into a painful tumble.

A thicket finally stopped my momentum. There were enough branches in it to tear through my clothes and cut me all to hell, but the soft bits at least stopped me from splattering like a melon.

That, at least, was good.

The dirt that we’d launched into the air with our collision settled and the last few sticks finished snapping, and then there was nothing, the forest filled with a silence startled at what I could only assume was the fact that I had survived. I exhaled, my throat raw from the wind and the screaming, and took stock of my body.

Arms? Cut up but movable; check. Legs? Ow, something was definitely sprained, but nothing felt broken; check. Fingers and toes all responded, though it felt like my left ring finger might still have a stick stuck in it; still check. And while I was probably going to have a real nasty case of whiplash, I could turn my head from side to side without anything going wrong.

Holy hell. I’d made it.

“My Host?” Majesty said, her voice carefully probing. “My connection to your physical condition is tenuous. Are you well?”

“Well might be pushing it,” I said, my voice raspy and dry, “but I think I’ll live.”

“That is good.” She paused. “You did well in the battle, Callum. We shall work on the finer points later, but that was a superb start.”

I smiled and it hurt; I definitely cut my lip at some point during my graceful descent. “Thanks, Majesty. Now, uh, do you think we could be a beacon one more time tonight? I’m hoping enough of the rangers survived the fight to come find us before some other Feral decides we’re an easy snack.”

“I believe we can manage that, my Host.”