Crocotta’s Hackles Excerpt
That night, Lluava’s dreams took a new direction. The white that had suffused all her thoughts
now took on vibrant, lush colors. Everything around her was green. Was she in a forest? If so, it was
different from any she had seen before.
Trees sent filtered light through their canopy, but they were a strange, unknown variety. The
underbrush was thick and full of broad leaves longer than her arm. Tangled vines cascaded from above,
and flowers reminiscent of those in the capital’s garden bloomed in profusion.
One flower caught her eye, the only one she recognized: a black-andwhite striped beauty known in
Elysia as the Theri iris. The first time Varren gave her one, he said it reminded him of her dual form.
Afterward, he had given her one every night in a fresh bouquet.
Lluava moved closer. As she approached, the flower began to wither and dropped off the plant
before she could reach it. Almost tripping over a root, she realized that her clothes were stuck to her body
and a film of sweat was building. How hot was it? She couldn’t tell. The plant’s leaves begin to brown
What was happening? As Lluava reached toward the plant, tendrils sprang out at her like serpents
striking at prey. Suddenly a vine wrapped itself around her arm. She tried to untwist the thick botanical
rope as it looped around her ankle.
Vines don’t do this, she thought. They can’t grow that fast. Was she hallucinating? All at once,
she realized what it was: an anaconda! Immobilized by the snake’s ever-tightening grip, she heard a
sound reverberate through the forest. It was the pealing of laughter, rising and falling in waves.
“Issaura!” the voice called out, “Fight! Kill or die!” The laughter returned as the coils of the giant
snake contracted about her waist.
Lluava couldn’t breathe, much less defend herself. The air in her lungs was being squeezed out.
She was suffocating. Her gasps for air were drowned out by the unending laughter. Could she have
spoken, she would have screamed, “Stop laughing! Help me!”
Without air, Lluava’s thoughts were beginning to fog. Was this her end?
A hand grabbed her shoulder and ripped her free of the anaconda’s coils and the frightening
“Lluava, wake up!” Apex was shouting. He pulled her partially out of her tent, which had
collapsed during the night. “You’re okay.”
“I can’t sleep anymore.” She was exhausted. “I can’t take the dreams.”
“You’ll rest better once you have eaten,” Apex told her. “Look, our friend has returned.”
There on the ground were the lone caribou’s hoof prints. It must have decided to explore their
camp during the night. This meant it was nearby.
“Let’s go hunting!” said Apex.
Energized, Lluava sprang to her feet and reached for Issaura’s Claws, her weapons. “Way ahead
She slipped each golden Claw over her knuckles, smiling at her distorted reflection in the three
slightly curved blades. Lluava tested each, relaxing her hands so the claws retracted, then balling her
hands into fists around the grip, which caused the blades to spring erect. They felt so right, like razor-
sharp extensions of herself.
Ever since she had broken the arm-brace attachments Holly had made for her, Lluava had been
more cautious when she used the Claws. She was able to use them, but her old shoulder injury could be
aggravated by the strain of impact. Nonetheless, if her shoulder became dislocated again, she could reset
it. A good breakfast would be worth the pain.
Nearby, Apex pulled out Ullr’s Fangs. The twin Gladius swords looked as fierce as the
determination on the huntsman’s face. By his feet, Sköll stretched and yawned. It seemed that everyone
would take part in the hunt.
Several hours later, Apex spotted a brown shape treading off into the distance: their prey. Food
would be coming soon. Lluava salivated at the thought of fresh venison. They couldn’t let this animal
Following Apex’s command, the trio moved downwind and began to inch their way closer to the
unsuspecting creature. Though not heavy, it was surprisingly well fed, which meant it had a food source
nearby. More good news, Lluava thought happily. Maybe their luck was turning.
Lluava tested the air as the huntsman gave an unspoken command to Sköll. The wolf-mix bolted
toward the caribou. Suddenly, the young woman’s senses exploded.
“Stop him!” she shouted, but it was too late. Apex whistled, but the mongrel was solely focused
on its prey.
Exasperated, Lluava sank to the ground. “He’s chasing a Theriomorph.”