Praesidium’s Orphans (2019)

Dark Fantasy/Supernatural thriller/Action | Category: YA – A | Year started: 2019


Chapter 1: Wendigo

Blood dripped from Luca’s nose to his upper lip. He wiped evidence of his Desert Eagle’s recoil to a smudge and rolled his throbbing shoulder. Adjusting his stance, he peered into the darkness. Specialised contacts allowed for night vision and he scanned the grove and treetops for any sign of movement. Pistol still cocked, he strained to hear the slightest audio interruption as unnatural silence blanketed the forest.  

Move! Move your fucking legs. Luca, barely breathing, fought with his fear to do what he’d come to. He pushed forward, stepping carefully onto fallen branches to mute his footfalls. Damp underbrush helped cloak the noise he made, but Luca couldn’t completely mask the cracking shrieks of branches broken underfoot.

Crick! Craaack!

Luca winced, stopping to assess his options. “Can’t go on like this,” he mumbled to himself, glancing about. He un-cocked his weapon and returned it to its holster, eyes scanning the area nervously. He pressed the earbud lodged deep in his ear, checking to see if he could spot the others. “Any luck?” he whispered. Luca waited for his teammates on the hunt with him to respond.

Yeva sparked their communication line to life. “Nothing yet. Kai, anything where you are?”

“All quiet here,” Kai replied, “maybe it’s moved on.” 

Luca shook his head, “No, wendigo don’t leave unless they have what they came for—”

“And there’s a village right off the ready-to-eat menu waiting for them,” Yeva finished for him.

“What’s the plan then guys?” Kai asked.

“Luca saw it last, might be hiding nearby.”

Thanks Yeva. Her words disturbed him and Luca made a slow circle, checking his surroundings again. He craned his neck, stretching his sight as much as humanly possible for any unusual shapes hidden by the trees’ leaves.

“Yeva’s right,” Luca pulled his rifle from its sling at his back, making sure it was loaded. Satisfied, he positioned the rifle in his shoulder’s crook and set his sight for better aim. “Let’s regroup on the path near—”

Crack. Crick. Crack. Craaack.

Luca spun, eyes reaching as far as they could through closely grouped trees. His grip on his rifle tightened. A wave of rustling leaves caught his attention and he stiffened. Moments later it stopped and the woods fell to silence. The inky blackness of the starless night tickled his mind with wild thoughts, and he took a deep breath, staving off claustrophobia. 

“Everything good Luca?” Yeva’s voice startled Luca to reality.

“Hold on,” he managed, keeping his ears pricked. A minute passed in his head like ticking seconds, seconds rolling by like hours.

Crriiiiickkkk. Crack!

It’s coming. Luca’s head pounded with anticipation at the new disturbances. He didn’t move, his eyes locked to the spot he knew the wendigo would emerge from. The creature didn’t bother to muffle its approach, coming to his location in a brash display of destroyed vegetation.

“It’s headed my way,” Luca said, alerting the others. “Come now.” Luca clicked his communicator off and readjusted his gun. He took another deep breath, willing himself to loosen up. The wendigo’s charge, the build-up to the inevitable sent raised chilled flesh on his arms. Like the biggest, angriest boar coming to get me, he thought as the noise grew louder. Too fast, it’s coming too fast. His stomach clenched, sickening thuds from heart to gut increasing his adrenaline. Luca kept still, his training steadying him though everything within him screamed run.

The wendigo broke through the treeline, a hulking mass of deformed flesh. It stopped when it saw him, long arms hanging to bent knees swinging slightly. It looked at Luca, raised its oblong head and sniffed the air. With deliberate slowness, the wendigo lowered its head and stared at Luca with pus-filled eyes.

 “Oh, fuck,” Luca whispered, struggling with his resolve to stand firm. “Guys …?”

“I’m three minutes out, hang in,” Yeva shouted into his ear.

“Not far behind,” Kai backed up.

“Pretty sure the party’s about to start without you.” Luca kept his eyes trained on the wendigo as it started to close the gap between them. He took aim, keeping his arm steady, waiting for the right moment to press the trigger. Only one chance, their trainer Erin always said, miss that chance, you die.

“That’s it, a little closer,” he mumbled, watching the wendigo. “What the—? Luca frowned as the creature stopped. It stared at Luca with intent. A low growl rumbled from its throat and a nasty grin stretched across the decaying flesh of its face, but it didn’t move. Luca’s frown deepened, “What are you waiting for?” he shouted, “come get me.” Wendigos’ desire for living flesh overpowered reason, so this one’s ability to wait puzzled Luca.

The creature’s grin widened, spreading over brown and broken rotten teeth. The growl deepened and it cocked its head. Looking to a spot behind him. Luca’s breathing shallowed. Only now could he hear this new approach. He’d been so focused on the creature in front of him, he hadn’t noticed another skulking towards his rear.

There are two of them, he realised, heart trying to box its way out of his chest. Luca turned, spying the other wendigo. Smaller than the other, it still towered well over six feet, decaying as rapidly as its companion. Luca stepped back, turning to his flank. With no way to tell which would attack first, he switched his aim between targets, sweat beading his forehead despite the cool of the night.

“Almost there Luca,” Yeva assured. Luca didn’t get to answer as the wendigos, making up his mind for him, took simultaneous leaps at him.

Luca aimed at his first attacker and pressed the trigger. It released a silver-tipped .700 Nitro Express bullet capable of felling large game.

“Umph!” The force threw him back and he fell, gripping the weapon so hard his fingers ached. The wendigo landed not far from where he had and as the aroma of decaying corpse reached him, Luca stifled his gag. Not allowing himself time to think about pain, he jumped up to face the other. The wendigo’s leap drew it close and moving faster than Luca could it gripped him by shoulder. Bony fingers dug into Luca’s flesh and he groaned, dropping his rifle.

The wendigo sneered as it dragged Luca closer to its face, greying, rotting skin hanging by bloody threads. Emaciated fingers crawled around his neck and squeezed, and for split seconds Luca’s mind flushed of helpful thoughts. The wendigo’s mouth opened, widening till its jaw unhinged to the point where it could chomp through bone, cartilage and flesh with ease.

Catching himself as the wendigo prepared to bite into his neck, Luca pulled a spelled dagger from its sheath. His shotgun arm still trembled from exertion as he tried to raise and plunge it into the creature’s ribcage.

Bang!

The wendigo’s hold on Luca weakened and it closed its mouth, turning in the direction of the shot. Luca used the distraction, driving the knife deep into the wendigo’s side. It bellowed, lurching towards Luca as dark magic burned at its insides.

“Get down Luca!” Yeva shouted.

Luca dropped to the ground, scrambling back and away from the wendigo. He still hadn’t spotted his teammate but heard her hatchets whizz through the air towards the target. They found their marks, one digging deep into the oblong skull while the other lodged itself in the creature’s chest. The wendigo looked down, thick, black blood dribbling from its wounds and mouth. It fell to its knees, before face-planting in the damp bush.

  Yeva slid into the spot next to him. “You okay?”

Luca breathed out, relieved, “I’m good, arm’s fucked from that rifle though,” he said, pointing to the dropped weapon.

“First time using it, shouldn’t have had it on this run,” Kai said, coming up behind them. He reached to give them both hands up. “Sorry, got a bit turned around.”

“You’re always the last man in Kai, nothing new,” Luca said, punching his arm, then winced remembering his pain.

Yeva stepped on the wendigo, her boot sinking into the rotten flesh. “Wasn’t there only supposed to be one of these things?” she asked, pulling her hatchets from the body.

Luca shrugged, “That’s what Erin said before sending us out,” he picked up the rifle, gingerly adjusting it in its sling. “Guess she changed her mind.”

Yeva laughed, “As if she hasn’t almost had us killed enough times already.”

Kai walked over to the other body, looking down at it thoughtfully. “Last year as wardens in training,” he nudged it with his boot, “Have to expect the unexpected.”

Luca bent down, using his good arm to grab the leg of the wendigo closest. “Maybe it’ll get easier,” he said, chuckling lightly. “Grab a leg Yeva, let’s get it with the other one.”

She reached down to help him, “At least you know how dumb you sound.”

“Nothing wrong with a little optimism,” Luca replied, grunting as they dragged the body over to its dead companion. “Got the stuff right Kai?”

Kai nodded, opening the pouch at his waist to reveal a vial of dark blue sand. He opened the vial, whispering, “Evanescet.” On the word Kai bent close to the bodies, carefully pouring the contents of the vial over the piled wendigo corpses. “That should do it,” he said, standing.

The three of them watched as the vicious wendigos reduced to dark ash, fading into the dirt.


Thanks for reading this first chapter excerpt of Praesidium’s Orphans!

This story is for older YA – A readers and is set in The Wardens Universe. Other stories available on my site in this universe include The Wardens Series Seasons 1 and 2, and Erin’s Origins (a MG prequel story). You can begin The Wardens Series with S01E01: Skins.


As you dive deeper into The Wardens Universe, and other stories on Pages Unforgotten, support me and my writing with a PayPal gift :).


For more info, questions, or comments, share below or contact me :).

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