's 2019 Horror Write-off:

Dreadshapen IV - Pale Imp

Submitted by Luna Wolf

Leaner ran with Zinci clasped to her front this time, limbs coiling around her torso like someone trying to hang onto a tree. Leaner used both of her arms to hold onto Zinci as well, even if it hurt. The jackalopes they managed to catch slapped against her back with every step. They ended up in this configuration by chance, out of haste, but it proved useful, as Zinci could look behind them this way.
“Dodge to the side!”
Leaner threw herself to the left. The spear-like tail shot past them and the creature flapped its wings to gain height again. Its wings were skeletal, yet it flew. It had the horned skull of a cow and the torso of a human with clawed arms it didn’t make use of. Only the long pointed tail that was the only part of its lower body, as it kept trying to skewer the two.

Leaner lost her footing in the sand and rolled down the dune. She managed to use the momentum of the descent to swing herself back on her feet, just in time to evade the next attack. The creature should’ve circled back around for another attempt by now. Zinci said nothing. She eased her grip on Leaner to scan the sky.
Leaner only stared towards the block of concrete at the foot of the dune. Safety. It’s why she didn’t notice the creature made an attempt from the front this time. The white tip of the tail only entered her view for a split second before it was already behind her. It missed her chest but cut a gash into her good arm down to the bone. Still, her eyes remained on the narrow entrance and the rain cover built over it, the only thing jutting out from the building. The creature attacked one last time from behind, not enough time to think of a trick, and Leaner jumped out of its way easily before dashing inside the complex.

The impaler did not give up that easily though, as it tried to weave its thin but massive body around the pillars holding up the roof over the entrance and strike blindly into the dark interior. While it thrashed, it must’ve hit one of the pillars too hard and the structure caved down on top of it. The tail twitched for a minute as it received some more dying signals of a crushed brain. Then it stood still. Zinci finally let go of Leaner.

Only faint rays of sunshine made it through the debris. The ground floor of this building had no windows, but Leaner had seen the upper floors have some. With the creature dead, they should be able to safely travel outside. Leaner hunched over as her stomach made another cry for sustenance. Leaner took the jackalopes off her back to see if they lost one. Their blood stained the back of her shirt, which did not have much of its original color left anymore. All five present. The darkness hid the contents of the building from view, but if they’re lucky, they could manage to make a fire and cook them.

“You grew up with mages, right? Picked up a light spell by chance?” Zinci asked.
“No. Those people were all done with magic. Your people don’t hate magic though, you ever picked something up?”
“No, they don’t teach you magic without being asked.”
“Anyone can learn it though, right?” Leaner held out a hand and tried to force something out of her palm. She wasn’t sure what muscle to flex to make magic happen, or what else she was supposed to do.
“Careful, both your arms are injured now!” Zinci carefully made Leaner lower her arm.
“It’s just a nick, I’m used to it.”
Zinci sighed. They both missed Nim, but neither said it.

“Here’s an idea.” Leaner coiled her tongue around Zinci’s wrist and used her hands to tie it into a knot to make sure she wouldn’t accidentally let go. “You search the left side of the room, I do the right. My tongue will check anything in between. Let’s find some stairs. Tug two times if you want me to come to you, three times if you need me to pull you towards me. In case you find a monster or something. I’ll try to not knock you into anything.”
“Did you have to say monster?”
“Don’t worry, you still have my protective chocolate.”

They stepped out of the sparse light to find a way up. Leaner reasoned it would be the only thing reaching up to the ceiling. The first thing she found in the dark was a wait-high wall, a chair inside and a desk with box on top. The box had a glass panel in the front. It took Leaner a moment to conjure the image of an office cubicle. She had no idea what those were for, back in the day, she only found the world cubicle funny and that’s how she remembered it. Zinci made slower progress on her side. Leaner’s tongue bumped into nothing taller than the cubicles. Really, that appeared to be all this room contained. There didn’t even appear to be any walls sectioning this floor into multiple rooms. It was hard to tell how much further the room was going, but it felt like they should’ve hit the other end of it already. Finally, Leaner’s tongue got caught on something on eye level to her left. She climbed over a desk to inspect it. It tasted like concrete. It was a piece of the ceiling that collapsed. No light appeared to shine into the floor above either. It was a way up, but they would still need to find a stairwell to make it further up. Leaner walked around the piece still clinging to the ceiling on one end, so she could continue the search.
She paused for a moment though, for no particular reason. She heard breathing. The kind of breath of someone trying to hide their breathing but not knowing how to do so effectively.
Leaner tried to find the source. Yes, it came from a nook between the ceiling piece and the cubicle wall next to it. The breathing got faster and more muffled.
A survivor unsure of what these new visitors were? A monster with a trick up its sleeve? With both her arms injured and her tongue tethered to Zinci, she was in no position to fight, nevermind the darkness. But whatever it was, this being was aware of her. There would be no way to avoid a confrontation if it was evil. If she decided to ignore it, it could follow in the dark, wait for a chance to strike. Knowing where it hid, this could be the best chance they get at defeating it. Leaner quietly tugged Zinci towards her, so she could at least make use of her tongue. Zinci asked no questions as she arrived by Leaner, like she noticed something was going on. She undid the knot, figuring that’s why Leaner pulled her over. Leaner’s plan was to surprise attack and wrap her tongue around the creature, so she’d be able to tell its whereabouts. Maybe strangle it or break some bones. Hopefully it wouldn’t be as sturdy as the finger creature. Her tongue plunged into the nook to take hold of whatever hid there. She was prepared for a bad taste, but her expectation was surpassed. It didn’t taste foul like the cagehand but it was the worst kind of a bitter, chemical taste. Her muscles cramped up in disgust, but she kept her grip on the creature. It screamed through whatever it held over its mouth. Leaner figured she caught the creature’s neck, judging by the vibration as it screamed, It was soft. Like she could squeeze it in two if she tried. It did not fight back however, so she held off on that. Her tongue coiled more around the body, informing its shape. It was a humanoid torso, an arm sticking out one side but not the other. A head atop a scrawny neck. Leaner pulled it out of the hiding spot and let go of it, except for the torso, which was fortunately clothed and didn’t assault Leaner with the horrible taste.
“You’re not a monster are you?” she barked at it.
“Please don’t eat me! I taste horrible!”
“I’ve noticed that much. What the hell are you?” Leaner asked into the darkness.
“I’m an Ink! Really, I’m probably poisonous, I’ll kill you! Nuh-nuh-not saying that as a threat, just a warning!”
“I don’t think it’s a monster.” Zinci said. The Ink screamed at the revelation of another creature in the dark.
“Okay, calm down, we won’t eat you, we were just careful not knowing what you are.” Leaner explained. The Ink stopped screaming, but only because they tired out.
“Come on, get up, let’s get out of here.” Leaner pulled the Ink up.
“Ah, no, wait, I only have one leg right now!” they fell forward, hanging onto Leaner. Their hands got pricked by the jackalopes antlers.
“You- You have food? I can regenerate! Please let me have some!”
“Think we can trust this person, Zin?”
“I think we have to stick together as people while we’re here.”
“Thank you! Oh, I’m so grateful, I’ll make it up to you! You’re so kind!”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. My friend is an Umbrisan though, so let’s get out of the darkness before we eat anything.” Leaner placed the Ink sitting on a desk.
“That could be tough. This building has no stairs. I tried to blast a hole in the ceiling to get up, but I ended up blowing half my limbs off as well.”
“Wait, you did this? How?”
“Explosives. The entrance was guarded by that creature until it went after you. My plan was to get up to the windows and shoot it down, but I didn’t get far. You finally killed the thing but also blocked the way out in the process. Well, no, it did that itself, I’m not blaming you!”
“Wait, let’s go back to the explosives, where did you get those?”
“Stole them from the military. Also a bunch of guns, as much as I could carry. They’re in a bag somewhere, but I couldn’t find it since the explosion. Or my arm and leg for that matter. Uh, I don’t support the military though! I only joined so I could steal as much of their weaponry as possible! I’m not a bad person! Or try to be the least bad person I can be!”
“Yeah, yeah, shut up, we get it. Let’s find that bag in case we need it and see if we can get up.”
“Good idea. Since I can’t walk, I’ll stay here by the hole and yell if you need to find me again. You two go look for the bag. Don’t bother with my limbs though, they’ve gone bad by now.”
“Fine. I’ll take the jackalopes with me though.”
“Can’t blame you for not trusting me yet, just give me a chance to earn it. My name is Whittney Papiston by the way.”
“Nice to meet you.” Leaner said with intentional sarcastic undertone.
“Pleasure’s all mine! Ah, no, you can have some of the pleasure too, it’s fifty-fifty!”

Leaner and Zinci went to look for the bag, but did not split up this time. Leaner wanted to discuss their new companion.
“I don’t know about her, Zin, she’s kind of a weasel.”
“A what?”
“Like, she tries too hard to make us like her. I don’t trust her to have anyone’s but her own interest in mind.”
“Ah, come on, she thought we were going to kill her, naturally she’d be careful to not give us a reason to.”
“I don’t-”
“...Don’t what?”
“Nevermind. I think I found the bag.” Leaner felt the contents. Hard, metallic, cold. Some small, some long.
“Can you carry all that?”
“It’s fine. I just want to get out of here.”

Leaner yelled out for Whittney and followed her voice back. Leaner lifted their luggage up, then Zinci and Whittney, then pulled herself up.
“I should have two more bombs in the bag. If we decide to blow another hole in the ceiling, lets make sure we have enough room to retreat. I underestimated the blast range the first time.”
Leaner figured there’d be no point to look for stairs anymore. Whittney explained how to attach the bomb and how to operate the detonator. They back all the way up to the wall before pressing the button. The impact vibrated through the room and glass, chair and plastic scattered across the room. As well as sunlight. Faint but visible. Leaner picked up Whittney and the bag of weapons, leaving the jackalopes to Zinci.

As they stepped into the light, Leaner could finally see Whittney. Of all the natives of this land, she looked the most like a human, other than being pale as snow, with a sickly blue glimmer to it. She was looking up the hole, before facing Leaner, revealing her arm and leg weren’t the only parts blown off. The scarred flesh looked more like a smeared painting than burnt skin. Her teeth were pointed but not like Leaner’s. The back of her eye socket was black, even with the light shining in. Leaner lifted her out of view, onto the illuminated floor

The third floor was the same array of cubicles, providing wood and paper to make a fire with the help of a flare from the bag. They placed it next to a window, hoping the smoke would escape that way. They opened the windows opposite to it, to create a draft. The wind blew stronger up here.
“I need three about three jackalopes to regenerate my arm and leg.” Whittney said.
“You get two. You can do without two arms for now.”
“That’s- that’s okay.”
Leaner wasn’t sure if she could eat three, she just wanted to test how Whittney reacted to rejection. Once she was full, she may have the rest. Zinci sunbathed under a window.

“You know how to fire a gun?” Leaner asked.
“The handguns. Never held the bigger ones, I deserted almost immediately.”
“Why did you desert?”
“I didn’t want to die for this government. Or kill anyone for it either.”
Whittney took a jackalope before it was fully cooked and tore into it. Leaner waited for hers to be done.
“So you can regenerate by eating food?” Leaner looked at the stump under Whittney’s knee, revealing the black flesh inside. No bone.
“Yeah. Our body structure is essentially very simple and easy to regrow. We’re like those little octopi that can regrow their tentacles, though we aren’t that flexible. Else we wouldn’t have the stability to stand upright I guess.”
“Are you related to humans?”
“Not that I know of. But it is curious how alike we look, right?” Whittney smiled. Her leg was only missing the foot at this point. She placed the second jackalope over the fire as Leaner removed her first one to eat.
With Leaner’s mouth full, Zinci decided to continue the conversation. “So, you decided to dick over the military, steal some guns and then travelled all the way down here?”
“Yeah. I figured human society would be my best bet. We are allied in the war, which I don’t agree with, but they’d be least likely to kill me on sight, you know?”
Leaner interjected between bites: “How do you get killed, if you can regenerate anyway?”
“Pop the brain, naturally.”
“Good to know.”
“Don’t be mean, Leaner.” Zin slapped her back.
“That’s right, you never told me your names. So you’re Leaner. And you’re Zin?”
“How did you two meet?”
“Got caught by slavers.” Leaner answered.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I think slavery is bad.”
“Cool of you.”
Leaner liked seeing Whittney squirm, but Zinci didn’t seem to. “Look, you’ve shown enough that you aren’t like that. Just trust us to know.”
“Okay. Thank you.” Whittney ate her second jackalope. Her foot reappeared and her arm now at least had an elbow again.
“You’re just gonna leave your face like that?” Leaner asked.
“Oh, this? This isn’t from the explosion. Don’t worry about it.”
“Can’t you regenerate it?”
“I said don’t worry about it.”
That was the first time Whittney took a hard stance on something. It caught Leaner by surprise.
“I think we should spend the night here.” Zinci said.
Leaner finished her second jackalope. She could honestly go for a third, but decided to give it to Whittney. That new look in her eyes wasn’t fun to look at. She said thanks but didn’t change expression. They closed the windows once the fire was burnt out, so no flying beast could enter. Zinci slept where she had been lying. Leaner laid down next to her. Whittney wanted to sleep a distance away from then. It wasn’t that she didn’t like them, she just didn’t do well sleeping close to people. She noticed the look in Leaner’s eyes and assured her, her teasing had nothing to do with the sorrow in her eyes. That was more like her.

While her consciousness was dancing between sleep and awareness, Leaner noticed Zinci closed the distance between them and rolled onto her side to face her, eyes half-open.
“Why aren’t you sleeping yet?” Leaner mumbled.
“Can’t stop thinking.”
“About what?”
Leaner felt like she got punched in the gut, but without any pain or discomfort. “What are you saying?”
“Would you mind staying with me once we’re out of here?”
“Not at all.”
“How are your arms?”
“Should be all healed by tomorrow.”
“You’re amazing.”
“You should go sleep already. We don’t know where we’ll wake up tomorrow.”
Zinci leaned forward and kissed Leaner’s lips. Only for a moment. Whittney’s awful taste was fully washed out of her mouth.
“Stole your soul.” Zinci smiled and fell asleep right after.