Nightshade Page 62


SHAY LEANED AGAINST HIS FORD RANGER. He waved briefly when I loped up and then reached into the bed of his truck, pulling out a pair of ice axes, which he tied onto his back.

I shifted forms when I saw him trying to hide his smile. “What?”

“I was just thinking about the last time I was here,” he said, tightening the laces on his hiking boots. “I woke up in my truck. I thought I’d fallen asleep before I’d even managed to get a hike in and that the whole thing was a dream.”

I bent forward, stretching my back muscles. “Yeah, that was what I’d hoped would happen.”

“You knocked me out and then dragged me back here. Didn’t you?”

“I didn’t drag you,” I said. “I carried you.”

He laughed, shaking his head. “Well, thanks for that. Ready?”

Shay proved an adept climber, moving up the slope with steady grace as I bounded through the woods just ahead of him. Only once did we have to pause so he could strap crampons to his boots before we scaled a particularly icy face, which I launched myself up in two giant leaps. His pair of ice axes remained strapped across his back for the duration of our climb.

I darted in front of him as we approached the cave. My head dropped low to the ground and I paced back and forth. I couldn’t stop the plaintive whine that spilled from my throat.

Shay trudged up behind me. “It’s going to be okay, Calla.”

I shifted into human form, stomping the snow restlessly while staring at the cavern, a dark opening in the mountainside that looked too much like a gigantic mouth ready to swallow us.

“I’m not entirely convinced of that,” I said. “What if someone finds out we’ve been here?”

“How would that happen?” Shay asked.

“My scent, Shay,” I said. “Any Guardian who comes to the cave will know I’ve been inside.”

“But you said none of you can go in the cave,” he said. “I thought it was forbidden.”

“It is, but—”

“Do you want to go back?”

I looked at him and then at the cavern. As far as I knew, no Guardian had ever set a paw beyond its entrance. Why would that change now?

“So are we doing this or not?” Shay asked.

“We’re doing this,” I said, pushing away my doubts.

He shrugged off his pack and pulled out a headlamp. We moved slowly into the cave, the light from his lamp dimly illuminating the blackness. The tunnel seemed to lead straight back, but there was no indication that it ended.

When the light from the entrance was little more than a glimmer behind us, I froze. A strange scent hit me. I shifted into wolf form, testing the air again. It was there, distinct but unfamiliar, like a mixture of rotting wood and gasoline. I lowered my head and crept forward. Shay took a tentative step alongside me, sweeping the headlamp along the cavern floor. We both saw the bones at the same time. My hackles rose as I hunched closer to the ground.

Scattered across the cavern were the whitened remains of animals, mostly deer. I looked more closely at the piles of bones and shuddered. The immense skull of a bear grinned at me from one side of the tunnel.

“Calla.” I heard Shay’s fearful murmur just behind me at the same time that the scrabbling noise reached my ears.

My eyes darted around the space, but I couldn’t see anything moving in the blackness. The scratch of something hard on stone was getting closer. I whimpered and bristled. My eyes followed the light of Shay’s lamp as it moved back and forth along the tunnel floor.

I’d just taken another step forward when Shay’s cry of alarm pierced the tunnel. “Calla! Above you, move!”

I launched forward into the darkness, hearing something massive hit the floor of the tunnel behind me in the very space I’d stood just a moment before.

“Oh my God.” I heard Shay’s choked exclamation and I whirled around, snarling.

The brown recluse stared at me with three pairs of eyes that shone like pools of oil. Its long, thin legs were covered in silky, fine hairs and they quivered as the spider focused on its prey. I backed away, teeth bared, attempting to appear menacing despite my terror. The spider was enormous, almost the size of a horse.

Its abdomen pulsed as it watched me. I stalked from side to side, wanting to hold its attention. The spider skittered forward with startling speed. I felt the brush of one of its eight legs against my back as I barely darted out of its way. I circled, knowing that the arachnid was just behind me. I could hear the scraping of its limbs along the stone surface of the cavern. Heart pounding, I racked my brain for an attack plan. Wolves had no natural instincts about killing mutant insects. This creature bore no resemblance to the opponents I’d faced in the past.

I whirled to face the spider, having settled on an attempt to maim it until I found some way to strike a fatal blow. My abrupt about-face startled my attacker. Its first two legs reared up and I leapt, catching one of the limbs between my teeth and jerking hard. The spindly leg snapped in my jaws and I tore it away. When I hit the ground and faced it again, the six dark eyes glittered with agony. I stared at the immense beast, which twitched and quivered as it prepared to attack. Its silence was more terrifying than if it had been screaming at me.

The spider reared again, launching itself at me. I jumped to the side, but not quickly enough. I thrashed against the cold stone floor as the recluse pinned me down with two of its legs. I wrenched my neck, trying to fight back, snapping at its limbs and shuddering when the spider’s head descended toward my shoulder. The sound of my desperate struggle became a whimper when I saw its fangs. My jaws locked around one of its legs at the same moment the spider’s bite pierced my side.

A horrible thud was followed by a tearing sound and the squelch of gore. The spider bucked, releasing me, and I scrambled away. Pale, bluish liquid poured from large punctures Shay had made with his ice axes. With furious, determined strokes he brought the sharp spikes down on the spider’s unprotected back again and again. Maddened by pain, the recluse tried to turn on its attacker. I rushed forward and tore off another of its legs. The spider faltered. Its blue blood gushed along the cavern floor. The creature’s legs splayed and it collapsed. Shay ran to the front of its convulsing body, his jaw clenched as he brought the ice axes down between the spider’s center pair of eyes. The spider jerked one last time and then became still.

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