The Breaking - By Marcus Pelegrimas


Smoky Hill River, Kansas

Fifteen miles west of Cedar Bluff State Park

It had been just over three weeks since the Nymar declared war on all Skinners. They’d targeted the hunters they knew, burnt them from their homes and coaxed them into open combat. Apart from thinning the Skinner ranks, they’d introduced the Shadow Spore into the modern world and blamed the Skinners for the deaths of dozens of police officers in a crossfire spanning most of the United States. Things settled down a bit after authorities stumbled upon a Skinner raid in Denver and arrested a man believed to be one of the main perpetrators in all of those cop killings. That man was Cole Warnecki, and ever since he was put behind bars, a spokesman for the police had shown up in several random interviews declaring the carnage over.

That spokesman’s narrow, smiling face had been broadcast on every major network, assuring the country that blood was no longer being spilled and the authorities had everything well in hand. Even the few humans who recognized Kawosa’s face were unable to resist being drawn in by the calming words spoken by one known as the First Deceiver. Some Skinners, however, couldn’t be pacified like the rest of the viewing public. For them, just keeping their heads above water was a struggle. Even if they knew Cole Warnecki had been framed by the Nymar, the hunt never stopped.

The stomping grounds of the Skinner known as Jessup were in the mountain ranges of Montana, but the territory he protected branched out to cover several states in each direction. The last year had been filled with commotion that put too many Skinners into the ground. Since then he’d done his part to pick up the slack by hitting the road and keeping his eyes open for anything that might need killing. Upon arriving in Ness City, Jessup only had to spark a conversation in a few local diners to hear stories about a pack of wolves that were known to fly, bark at the moon, run like the wind, and bite through solid steel. Even after making allowances for excited exaggeration, Jessup was confident he’d found something worth his time. At the very least, he could add a few Half Breed pelts and teeth to his collection. Most of the attacks supposedly happened north of town in the flatlands on either side of the Smoky Hill River, so the Skinner tipped his hat to the ones who’d told the stories, paid for his meat loaf, climbed into his Ford F150 and headed north.

The scars on his hands started to burn after less than an hour of driving. Three miles down the road, when the trail started to cool, Jessup pulled to a stop and climbed down from the driver’s seat before he lost it completely. Most werewolves didn’t bother with roads, and he knew that chasing after the things on four wheels didn’t do a lick of good anyway. A pack of werewolves could outrun, outmaneuver, and overturn any vehicle falling short of a tank. More than likely they’d already sniffed him out anyway, and were circling in close enough to take their first run at him.

As soon as his boots touched the ground, Jessup walked around the truck and pulled down the tailgate. His field kit was kept in a green canvas duffel bag covered in stenciled lettering and dirt picked up from opposite ends of the globe. Pockets were stitched into the inside walls to carry items he’d either need quickly or didn’t want to mix with the rest of his supplies. He pulled out an old mayonnaise jar filled with a thick black jelly that became even murkier when he shook it up. After filling his lungs with a generous portion of air that smelled of burnt leaves, he held his breath and twisted open the jar. Even after bracing himself for the stench, Jessup had to force back his gag reflex once the pungent aroma of blood, spoiled meat, and shapeshifter pheromones drifted into his nostrils.

Although the basic ingredients were the same, every Skinner had their own twist on the recipe for werewolf bait. Jessup’s included a few additions to hit the creatures’ sense of hunger as well as their instinctual attraction to certain substances. Not wasting time with cleanliness, he dipped his fingers into the jar and spattered the potent concoction on the tall grass around him while walking slowly away from the road and whistling to himself.

After all the bickering