Creature Discomforts (Descendants)

 

CREATURE DISCOMFORTS

Descendants Novella 1

 

JENNY PETERSON

 

buzzTeen

Buzz Books USA

 

 

Copyright 2013 Jenny Peterson

Published by Buzz Books USA, an imprint of Athena Institute, LLC.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced by any mechanical, photographic or electronic process or in the form of a phonographic recording; nor may it be stored in a retrieval system, transmitted, or otherwise be copied for public or private use except for “fair use” as attributed quotations in reviews of the stories or the book.

All characters in this book are fictional. Any likeness to persons or situations in the stories
is entirely coincidental.

Editor’s note:
Creature Discomforts
is the third of three stories by Jenny Peterson in the Descendants paranormal series. Her first short story appeared in
Prom Dates to Die For
, followed by the second story in
Something Wicked
by Buzz Books.
Creature Discomforts
is the first of three digital novellas planned for the series. Novella 2,
Eat Your Heart Out
, will be released in spring 2014.

For interviews or guest posts, contact publicity at [email protected]
.

CHAPTER 1

Rachel slammed up against the rough bark of a pine tree, her dagger dripping black with demon blood, and wondered where the hell it all went wrong.

It was Thursday, right? Sunlight stabbed the surrounding mountains and thick Georgia forests and scratched against Rachel’s raw eyes. The last couple days of wholly unsuccessful hunting smeared together, but Rachel was fairly sure it was Thursday. Which meant she was missing Professor Rathbone’s Pre-Christian Myth seminar. Wonderful.

Not that now was the time to think about her college schedule. She focused on the humanoid beast lurching closer, its jagged teeth dripping with slime and gore, its cloudy eyes open wide. Rachel sliced her dagger through the air, and another wound ripped open on the demon’s torso. It roared and staggered back, sending a flock of birds scattering into the sky.

The
wendigo probed the new wound with ragged nails and blinked in confusion, and Rachel was forgotten for one blessed moment. The wendigo whimpered, and Rachel nearly reached out for it. The Corpus called it a predator—something to be killed on sight—but what was the writing of her demonology book compared to what she saw before her? This was a beast in pain, and even worse, a beast that couldn’t comprehend
why
it was that way. Rachel’s fingers inched closer to the age-blackened skin, hanging in ripples and folds off the gaunt form. Tar-thick ichor wept from the gash and dripped onto her hand, stinging where it touched her skin. She hissed and drew back, swiping her hand across her filthy pants. The wendigo’s head snapped up, and in those cloudy eyes Rachel saw hunger.


Rach, duck!”

Rachel dropped to her heels and swiveled away, her clothes catching on the pine bark. No need to be told twice. Yards away, Sid pulled the string of his bow taut. His eyes narrowed and his dark blond hair stuck to his forehead with sweat, but his hand was still. He aimed and let loose. An arrow screamed from the bow and lodged with a sickening squelch into the
wendigo’s back.

The
wendigo shrieked and wrenched its shoulders, scrambling for the arrow with its long, thin fingers. A terrible howl whined up its throat, its sinewy chest heaving until Rachel could make out every single rib pushing under the skin. Then it stilled for a moment, the slits where its nose had once been sniffing at the air, before crashing away through the underbrush. Its bare feet slapped against the rocky ground in a loping, animalistic run, and the wendigo disappeared.

Rachel collapsed against the tree, her breath lodged somewhere in the back of her throat. She looked up to see Sid’s hand held out in front of her. She grabbed it and let herself be hauled to her feet with a groan.

“I thought you’d killed this wendigo.” Sid’s voice was raspy with exhaustion, his gray eyes bleary. She wasn’t the only one feeling the effects of nearly two days non-stop hunting.

Rachel wiped blood from her dagger and eyed Sid. “I did. This must be another one.”

Sid’s eyebrows shot up. Tracking that first wendigo had been what’d brought Rachel’s fellow Descendant to Georgia from France in the first place.

“Don’t say a word,” Rachel snapped. “Let’s just put the damn thing out of its misery.”

Sid reached an arm behind his back, counting the arrows still left in his quiver. “Misery? That’s what the demon put those campers through. He’s a predator, and his
feelings
don’t come into play here.” Rachel didn’t have the strength to argue the finer points of what should and shouldn’t be killed by her kind. Sid took her silence for agreement and continued. Only he could argue after twenty-four hours without sleep in the field. “There’s no way this is the second wendigo in less than a year,” Sid grunted as he stretched his fingers across the fletching of his arrows. “Two wendigos in the same area. It just doesn’t happen.”

“Well, it has. I don’t know what else to tell you.” Rachel prodded at her aching muscles and imagined the hottest shower humanly possible. It definitely
was
peculiar to track two wendigos in the same area, but that totally wasn’t the point at the moment. Rachel rolled her shoulders with a grimace and squinted at Sid. “You’re the seasoned vet here, not me.”

And it was true. Sid loved reminding her that he’d been a Descendant since age ten as opposed to Rachel inheriting less than a year ago at eighteen. He’d trained with his father since he was five and knew all the lore and history of Descendants and blah, blah, blah. All that training had made Sidney Martin incredibly annoying.

“Yes,” Sid agreed, “but don’t try to pretend you haven’t read your Corpus cover to cover. You know how rare it is to deal with even one wendigo.”

Rachel threw up her hands. “Maybe they’re dating!”

Sid fixed her with a look and started spouting off in French, but Rachel ignored him and stomped off down the careening path the wendigo had forged through the forest. Why were they still talking? They’d tracked the thing for more than a day before finally catching a glimpse of the creature. It was once human and had resorted to cannibalism and been twisted into the wretched thing they now hunted. It was slashed and stabbed and studded with arrows. It was time to finish the job and get back to Saint Etienne. Maybe if they hurried she’d make her three o’clock stats class. If it was Thursday, that is.

Rachel looked over her shoulder and caught Sid’s eyes. He rolled his in response but slung his bow back over his shoulder and sheathed two daggers at his hip.

The trees were thick and close, the underbrush a tangle of scrubby bushes and thorns that caught at their legs. Above, the mountains pressed in on them and the air tried to smother. But more than anything, Rachel noticed the quiet—no birds, no scurrying animals, no wind. It was utterly silent, like all of the Blue Ridge Mountains held its breath and hid from the abomination in its midst. Hairs at the back of Rachel’s neck arched up, and despite the heat she shivered.

They’d walked in silence maybe half a mile, the
wendigo’s path strewn with bent branches and torn leaves, when Sid grabbed Rachel’s arm and held her still. She cut a look his way and nodded when he pointed off into the hazy blue-green of the pines.

A growl rolled from the trees, low and throaty. Rachel tensed, her fingers at her dagger. Something darted through the screen of trees at their right then disappeared. Another growl, more a whine this time. Rachel spun. It’d come from behind them. She pressed her back against Sid’s, a dagger in one hand and a throwing knife in the other. Sid’s bow creaked as he nocked an arrow and pulled it back.

A shriek tore through the forest and bit at Rachel’s skin. She twisted and squinted sharply through the trees, but it’d sounded like it came from everywhere, bouncing off the mountains and whistling through the pines and echoing all around. Rachel’s heart hammered and her throat went dry.

“There!” Sid roared.

Rachel wrenched around just as the wendigo leapt from the trees directly above them. Its skeletal fingers spread wide, the dirty nails sharpened to points, and its milky eyes were wide with rage. Another bone-chilling shriek tore past its jagged, broken teeth, but Sid was ready. His bow twanged and an arrow shot away and burrowed into the creature’s chest. The wendigo hit the ground with a gurgle and a thud then exploded into sticky black ichor. Rachel jumped out of the way, the blood hissing and spitting as it seeped into the soil.

Sid stumbled back against a rock outcropping, a weak laugh bubbling out of him. Rachel sank onto the cool stone next to him,
adrenaline giving way to a fatigue so deep she could feel it down to her toes. She nudged Sid—more leaning against his shoulder than anything—and nodded at the last pool of ichor oozing into the ground, the last hint of the wendigo disappearing before their eyes.

“So you finally bagged a
wendigo,” she said. “Does that mean you’ll go home and stop following me around?”

Sid leaned back on his hands and grinned, his wide smile creasing his cheeks. “You’re not going to be rid of me that easily, Rachel Chase. Besides,” he added, quirking one eyebrow. “We all know you’d be devastated if I left.”

Rachel shook her head at Sid, but a smile crept across her lips and soon she was grinning as widely as the boy next to her.

CHAPTER 2

Rachel’s legs were lead by the time they hiked the three hours back to the truck. Sweat tracked down her back in little rivulets, and her eyes felt raw and swollen in her head. The hunger headache wasn’t helping matters much either.

The battered bench seat of the truck had never felt so soft, nor had the energy bar she devoured in two bites tasted so sweet. She dug into her bag and turned her phone back on. She’d been right about it being Thursday, but she was totally
not
right thinking she’d make it back in time for stats. Rachel let her head fall back against the seat and groaned.

“What’d we miss?” Sid asked, stowing his gear in the truck bed.

“Me salvaging any chance of scraping an A out of stats. And we both missed Rathbone’s lecture.”

Rachel flipped through her messages, her eyes darting across Kendra’s texts. “Though Kendra took notes for me, so there’s that I guess.” Her eyebrows creased together at Kendra’s last text. “Apparently some people came to talk about their missing friend?
A girl in Rathbone’s class with me, Sara Hernandez. Do you know her?”

Sid flopped onto the passenger seat and scrubbed his hands through his hair. He screwed up one side of his mouth, thinking. “Quiet, always turned assignments in on time.” Sid shrugged and looked at Rachel. “Cute smile, if I’m thinking of the right girl.” He shrugged again and reached across Rachel for the other energy bar in her bag.

“God above, Sid, you stink.” Rachel wrinkled her nose.

Sid sniffed at his armpit and then went back to his food. Black
wendigo blood smeared across the sleeve of his tee, and his own blood bloomed across a rip in the thigh of his dark pants. His face looked as dirty as Rachel’s felt. Sid swallowed the last bite of the bar and pointedly stared at Rachel’s soiled clothes and sweat-stringy brown hair.

“Really?” He said, all innocence. “Because you smell like a field of lavender. We should be talking about this
wendigo. I kind of think you didn’t really kill the one last October.”

“I kind of think you should shut up.”

Rachel was slowly easing the truck down the forgotten mountain road when Sid spoke up. “Okay, so two wendigos. We’ll have to figure that one out.” His voice softened and he poked at Rachel’s arm. “And I can get you lecture notes from Rathbone.”

Rachel didn’t take her eyes off the rutted road. “That’s not the same as being there and taking them myself.”

Something tight coiled inside Rachel, a hard ball of worry that hurt when she tried to swallow. Another class missed. She couldn’t keep going like this, chasing demons all over the place at the expense of her grades.

“Come on,
Rach. It’ll be fine. I’ve already basically taken this course at university, let me help you. That’s the whole point of being a teaching assistant.”

Rachel swallowed hard. The lump tightened and grew, and Rachel gripped at the steering wheel. “I told you, it’s not the same. And it wouldn’t matter if you
never
set foot in Rathbone’s lecture hall to actually, you know, be his TA; he loves you.”

“It’s my astonishing good looks,” Sid said, obviously trying to lighten the mood. Rachel didn’t bite.

“Don’t make fun,” she said. “I have a B-in that class. Do you know the last time I got less than a B in one of my classes? Advanced bio freshman year. Of high school.”

Rachel darted a look at Sid and flinched to see how seriously he stared at her. She looked back at the road feeling strangely exposed. “Rachel, you’re a Descendant,” he said, voice low. “There were thirty original families marked to inherit. Now there are only twelve. Twelve families with the sight who can protect humans and civilian demons from predators like that
wendigo. You can’t expect that to not affect you.”

The tightness in her chest relaxed just the tiniest bit, but it didn’t disappear. Rachel didn’t know if it ever would. Sid was right—what she was, what she had become the moment she turned eighteen, was something she could never escape. But she didn’t want it to rule her life and the plans she’d always had for her future. The tightness slipped into her belly and churned like sour milk. She didn’t want to wake up one morning and not recognize what she’d become.

The dirt road ended at blacktop, and Rachel pushed her foot down. The miles fell away as they twisted and turned, leaving the remote heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains behind for the small towns that unfurled along the ribbon of highway. An hour in, they flew past a sign announcing Saint Etienne University was thirty miles away.

“So,” Rachel ventured. She didn’t like the silence that had fallen between them. “Are you going on the dive with Kendra this weekend?”

Beside her, Sid squirmed in his seat. “Ah, uh, actually,” he stammered. “Well, no.”

Rachel’s brows knit together. Sid had proclaimed the whole reason he decided to stay on in Georgia instead of heading back to France was Kendra’s unique position. It wasn’t
often, after all, that one made friends with a half-mermaid and therefore gained access to the elusive merpeople. Not that it’d been much access so far. Kendra hadn’t even known she was a half-mermaid until the night Rachel inherited and saw her best friend’s hidden gills for the first time. Kendra had been down to the mercity a handful of times since, but neither Rachel nor Sid had ever been admitted.

“Why aren’t you going out to Breaker Cove with her? Even if you can’t dive, you can maybe see something from the surface.”

More squirming from the Sid side of the cab. Rachel’s frown deepened. Sid wasn’t one who ever seemed embarrassed about anything. He took his time swigging from the water bottle. “Ah, I actually promised Beth Ann I’d go to a charity event with her Saturday night.”

And there it was. Beth Ann Page. Sid
should
be embarrassed of his girlfriend. Rachel bristled, her nostrils flaring. If you looked up the word “opposite” in the dictionary, it’d just be a side-by-side photo of Rachel and Beth Ann. Rachel stared at her dirt-caked nails and could just hear Beth Ann’s breathy twang admonishing her. Her own bubblegum pink manicure would, of course, be perfect.


Rach, if you just gave her a chance, I’m sure you’d …” Sid trailed off. Apparently even he couldn’t pretend the two girls would like each other. “We’re attending a
charity
event. Someone who believes in so many causes can’t be that horrible, you have to admit.”

A rueful laugh escaped Rachel. “What is it this time?
Hairdryers for the Homeless? Or maybe she’s bringing to light the plight of babies forced to wear off-the-rack?”

Sid slumped down in his seat and crossed his arms over his chest, his jaw working. Rachel peered at him and sighed. “Fine,” she relented. “You’re right. I’m sure Beth Ann is a lovely girl.”

Rachel grimaced at her terrible attempt at a lie and focused back on the tarmac. They rode the rest of the way in awkward silence, and Rachel’s shoulders didn’t relax until the stone clock tower and red brick halls of Saint Etienne appeared out of the forest.

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