They broke into a run, slipping along the bank until they reached the fork in the ravine. Drew cut right, heading for the wide expanse of meadow below what used to be the arboretum and central campus. The sun was slowly slipping lower in the sky, obscured by gray clouds that grew heavier as the day wore on. It was getting darker, almost looking like twilight despite the fact that it was the middle of the afternoon.
He could see Marin, maybe a hundred yards away, scrambling back to her feet. Hazy figures surrounded her, half her size, looking as if they were made of fog and smoke.
“Shit,” Rory cursed. “Are those what they look like? I’ve never been able to see them before.”
Looks like only six of them, but something’s allowing them to manifest more strongly…but not completely. Drew swallowed bile. One of the diminutive figures lunged at Marin and she recoiled as if she’d been burned. But completely enough. Damn. “Take the left side, I’ll take the right.”
“What’re we going to do?”
“Get her the hell out of trouble. Go!” He didn’t bother to wait and see if Rory was following; Drew just began to run, taking the right side and hoping Rory would head left, so they’d flank the grays and Marin. Drew wasn’t sure how they were going to shake the little buggers loose, but he hoped that they’d come up with a plan sometime before they were all in deeper trouble.
Marin yelped again as one of the creatures touched her. She jerked back, eyes going wide. Drew could feel her fear spiking. The creatures seemed to grow stronger, more solid as they struck at her.
Are they feeding on her fear, or just on her? Drew didn’t have time to overthink any theories. He barreled through the ring of grays, which hissed and recoiled as he blew past them. Grabbing for Marin’s arm, he took a bare moment to count how many of them there were, realizing to his horror that more were coming from the left, across the marshy meadow. Damn. We’re in trouble. We don’t even know that we can get past them, get through them. Getting a hand on Marin’s arm, he yanked the younger woman toward him. Her hand was like ice and she was shivering as he pulled her against his chest.
“So cold,” she mumbled through chattering teeth.
Drew looked around them. The grays were closing, hissing angrily at him for his interference. He could feel their mischief turn to malice in a heartbeat. Marin shrunk against his chest, shivering more violently, dark eyes wide. Drew couldn’t feel the cold that she clearly felt, but the way she was trying to scramble up him to get away from them told him that just busting through and running wasn’t going to be an option. He was running out of choices. How do we fight these things?
One of them lunged. Drew cursed and struck out with a fist. His hand passed right through the creature and it seemed to laugh at him.
And then, Rory came barreling into the fray, howling some sort of battle cry from either a bygone era or a fantasy novel. Rory dropped a shoulder and tucked his head down, striking one of the grays with the force of a charging linebacker. Drew half expected it to just laugh at him, too, the way he’d been laughed at.
The gray screamed and dissipated into mist and smoke.
Drew sucked in a breath. Rory was wreathed in a faint red-orange glow, almost invisible to his eye. What is that?
Rory looked at Drew for about half a second before he punched another of the grays in the face. The creature recoiled, stumbling back, hissing at Rory as whitish smoke oozed from its mouth like blood or sputum, dissipating before it ever hit the ground. “Don’t just stand there,” he roared at the older man, “get her the hell out of here and I’ll catch up. Go!”
How the hell does he know how to do that? One of the grays lunged toward he and Marin again. Marin struck blindly with a foot, crying out again as she made impact with the gray, frost coating the heel of her tennis shoe. Drew jerked her back again, holding her upright. It took him another ten seconds to get his wits together. “Cut us a path!”
Rory kicked one of the grays between the legs. It stumbled backwards, into one of its fellows. They both toppled, taking a moment to hiss again at the three friends before starting to rise. “Will that do?” Rory shouted.
Drew hoisted Marin up for the second time in three days, threw her over his shoulder, and ran like his life depended on it. He could feel the grays trying to give chase but heard the distinctive sound of Rory’s four-inch pocket knife snapping open.
“Don’t think so, you bastards,” Rory growled.
“Drew, put me down! We have to help him!”
“He’s doing more against them right now than we ever could,” Drew snapped as he hauled ass back toward the narrows of the ravine. “He’ll catch up.”
Marin groaned. She was still chilled to Drew’s touch, but he wasn’t going to be able to carry her for much longer. He slowed and risked a glance back as they crossed into the ravine proper.
Rory was running toward them now, waving them onward. “Keep going!” The grays weren’t giving chase, but it looked like they might have been regrouping.
Drew set Marin on her feet, grasping her arm. “Run.”
He didn’t have to tell her twice. At the sight of Rory following, she was off like a shot, headed for the spot further up the ravine where they could climb back up. The three splashed through the creek, heedless of water and mud, scrambling as quickly as they could.
They have to stop chasing us at some point. They’ve got to. We just have to get back to camp. We outnumber them. Don’t we?
He kept running.
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