Fall 3024 A.D.
Michael of the Air Clan continued tracking the zombies along the Spring Mountain Range. He'd managed to pick off the stragglers who fell behind. Trouble with the damn flesh eaters was that they must be dead before one got close to them, because a bite could change a life. One either became a zombie or died from the mutation of viruses the bastards carried. Michael watched the figures fall before shooting a tranquilizer arrow and approaching, until finally shooting each flesh eater in the head with his sidearm. He'd managed to eliminate half the horde using those very tactics.
When Michael came upon the remaining group, they seemed to be looking for something. He scanned and glimpsed a human girl lying a mere twenty feet in front of them. The flesh eaters didn't see her. Nor could they smell her. Along with their horrible sense of smell, zombies were horribly slow. They only managed to kill in hordes—groups large enough to get lucky. However, they weren't discriminatory. They ate anything, including immortals.
Michael treaded softly as he approached the figure. Was she sleeping? Unconscious? Dead? He prayed for the latter two. If she startled and awoke, any noise would be her last. Zombies might not see or smell, but they possessed fairly sensitive hearing.
Michael crept ahead, pausing in front of her. He bent down at the knees, his hands resting on his thighs. He lightly fingered a loose ebony tendril resting against her flushed cheek; the warmth of her skin permeated his own body. She was on fire. Michael glanced over his shoulder to make sure the zombies did not follow him. The flesh eaters were gone. He rose and strode to an outcrop of rocks, and at the elevated height, determined the zombies were no longer in the area, nor did he care to where they vanished. Michael darted back to his charge.
"Don't worry, my beauty. I know where we'll be safe." The dark-haired woman was his responsibility now.
* * * *
Nizhoni awoke to the sound of a crackling fire and the scent of wood burning. She wasn't in one of the Mojave huts. The aroma was different—more masculine. When she went forth on her vision quest, she hadn't expected her dreams to seem so real. The elders warned her how spirit guides would lead toward strange paths.
"Oh, good. You're awake. How do you feel?"
Nizhoni could only stare at him. No man was this beautiful. Even the once immortal Kuoto was not as breathtaking.
"Can you speak?" Chestnut hair fell over a furrowed brow, while moss-colored eyes studied her intently.
"Why are you here?" Nizhoni finally found her voice, though the hoarseness sounded as if she rarely used it.
"Let me get you some tea. I have some made."
Nizhoni briefly peeked at her surroundings. She was in a stark cabin with four walls and little else. A fire burned brightly against one wall. There was a bag on the floor and a bow with arrow lying on a table; next to the quiver sat a gun.
"Are you a hunter?" she asked boldly.
"Yes." He walked back to the bed with a metal cup in his hand.
"What are you hunting?" Butterflies turned over in her stomach.
"Immortals?" Nizhoni tried to still her voice.
"Not today." He smiled at her.
"Who are you, and what do you want with me?"
"My name is Michael. I want to help you. Are you wondering how you got here?"
"Flesh eaters surrounded you. I fear you were in no shape to fend them off. You had a terrible fever. Your temperature remained high for two full days and only just broke last night."
"So it's over." Nizhoni wondered how suddenly the changes in her body would appear. Days? Weeks? Hours? She wasn't sure.
"Were any animals nearby?" Perhaps if she knew what kind of animal had chosen her would give a clue as to how much time she had left.
"Other than the zombies? No."
Nizhoni wondered what creature guided this man to her. Had he followed her spirit guide? What would she become now that her change was over? Nizhoni held so many questions and had no one to answer them. She leaned back against the down pillows and released a sigh.
"May I ask your name?"
Nizhoni paused a moment.
"Do you remember it?" He leaned forward.
Nizhoni did not care to share too much information with Michael—the stranger. "What have you called me?"
He looked down, but not before the blood crept up his neck.
"What?" She was unable to keep the curious tone out of her voice.
"I've been calling you Beauty."
Nizhoni answered his compliment with a blush of her own.
"You are quite beautiful. The name seemed appropriate."
Nizhoni lifted her gaze toward him and replied, "Then it will do."
"When you remember your own, you'll have to share." He winked at her.
She simply nodded.
Michael's hand reached out and touched her face. Nizhoni raised her head as she pulled back from him. The sudden desire coursing through her body was compulsive.
"So you feel the connection too." He looked intently at her. "I thought perhaps the warmth was the fever, but when your temperature dropped hours ago I wondered if you were gifted. Are you?"
Nizhoni worried her lip. How to answer the stranger? She could turn at any moment, but knew not what spirit would take her.
"Sometimes gifts do not seem like such things, but they truly are." He covered her hand with his own.
Nizhoni likely seemed a simpleton with her head nodding.
"Perhaps you do not know what bequest you've been given?" He stared at the cup in his hands.
"Yes." She met his knowing emerald eyes.
"We will figure out what talents you have been granted together. What were you doing out among the flesh eaters and the immortals?"
"I was sent out to find my spirit guide." It was the truth. There was no need to tell him that she sought her protecting spirit. The animal that would allow her to take its form should she fall into danger.
"Spirits? Sometimes they pass on and can't be found."
"What do you mean?" Nizhoni thought him odd with the riddles he spoke in.
"I've dealt with spirits before."
"Oh?" She wondered yet again if Michael was guided to her.
"Yep. Good, bad and ugly." His features were full of life. "Damn gift for seeing them is near exhausting at times." He sounded aggrieved.
"Do you hunt the spirits?"
"Not at all. But they often hunt with me. Don't worry. I don't have any ghosties about today. Doc managed to stay back at the compound."
"Doc? He is your Medicine Man?"
He chuckled, "I guess you could say that."
Nizhoni released the breath she held. He might be unusual, her stranger, but he did watch over her. Perhaps the spirits guided him to her after all. Settling the thought in her mind, she stretched her arms over her head.
At Michael's sharp intake of breath, she looked down to find her breasts were bare. Despite the warmth of the room, her mocha nipples puckered under his heated gaze.
"Why did you remove my clothing?" She clutched the blanket up to her neck.
"I removed your clothes when your fever broke. You managed to soak them thoroughly. I washed them down by the creek. Your skins are drying over there."
She looked beyond him to find her clothes strung over a chair near the fire. When she looked back at him, his smile charmed her.
"I want them back."
"I'll give them back after they dry, okay?
She stuck her tongue out at him.
Michael laughed. "Here, drink your tea. I'm sure you are thirsty." He walked back to the table and lifted the gun. "Do you know how to use this?"
Nizhoni shook her head.
"The bow and arrows?"
"Since the age of seven," she responded, prideful.
"Okay. I'll leave the quiver. I'm going to get some dinner. Don't open the door. I won't knock. I have a key." And with those final words, the stranger left her alone.
Nizhoni heard the key turn in the lock. She ran over to the door. She listened, hearing his footsteps on fallen leaves. How did she know that? She pressed her nose against a crack in the door. She smelled the air—crisp, cool like a fall night. Nizhoni inhaled a deeper breath. The scent of her stranger permeated her. His skin was salt on the breeze. She continued to inhale his scent as the smell grew stronger and then suddenly disappeared, followed by his sharp cry.
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