She awoke floating on the thickening mud, coated in it. Cara drug herself weakly to the firm earth at the edge, grateful to be alone. She was naked, slicked with mud, shaking with shock. Why wasn’t she dead?
She pressed her face to the earth, seeking comfort. Gritty dirt stuck to the mud, adding to her misery. It was almost sunset, and soon the temperature would fall. She had to get home.
A footstep scuffed the dirt, and she looked up, afraid, but hoping for help. She saw shoes and a pair of jean-clad knees.
“Well, look at this. We found one,” a man with an odd accent said with satisfaction. “I’ll just take care of this.” Moving fast, he looped a cord around her neck and pulled, choking off her cry.
She was going to die…again. Was the plan to kill her over and over? She couldn’t get the cord off. She was blacking out when there was a sudden jerk, and the pressure eased. She ripped the cord away, wheezing as two men fought next to her, their feet stomping perilously close. She struggled to crawl away, her body protesting bitterly.
That’s when the third man kicked her in the ribs, flipping her on her back. She cried out and tried to curl into a ball, but he planted a boot on her belly and plunged a dagger toward her heart.
A shadow fell over him and he shrieked as he flew back. He sailed through the air, and his assailant grabbed his shirt and pinned him to the rock. The man jerked and was still. Blood bubbled out his mouth as her savior let him go. The body remained pinned to the rock, stone spikes protruding through his body.
The victor looked at her. It was the chalk man, but a slightly improved version. This close, he was huge, nearly seven feet. While his skin was less crumbly, it still looked weathered, patchy and gray, like a gargoyle who’d seen a century or two, and his molting hair only aged him further. Eyes like copper chased bronze studied her, still bright with battle.
He was terrifying. Cara cringed and tried to look smaller. She wavered between wanting to cover herself and crawl away. She could see the first attacker’s body discarded on the ground, his head twisted at an unnatural angle.
The rock eater knelt beside her and she shrank away. She didn’t want those huge hands on her.