Beneath a tree in Virginia, we mourned our dead.
I had joined up with a unit of Indian sharpshooters and scouts, hunting down skinwalkers who had traveled from the Territories to eat the dead and feast on the wounded.
We had been unsure of the numbers we might face, but we had felt certain that thirty of us would be enough. These men were hunters and warriors, not a single untried man among us. For this reason alone, I believe, we survived. Had there been any in our number who had been possessed of self-doubt or fear, then I would not be recording this.
We were ambushed in a place that did not seem made for such an attack. The area was open, the day clear and bright. When our enemy attacked, it was in their skinwalker forms, and not with man-made weapons.
A trio of horses, appearing as though they were spooked, charged toward us, and we separated to allow the animals through. Yet as we did so, dozens of other skinwalkers attacked. They arrived in the form of birds and dogs, transforming as they ran, shifting shapes so rapidly that it was often difficult to fire with any sort of accuracy.
And no sooner did we recognize the threat than they were among us.
We were fighting with knives and hatchets, the butts of pistols and rifles used as clubs. Men were slain by tooth and claw, heads crushed by hooves and eyes torn out by talons and beaks.
Not knowing what time the attack began, we could give no idea as to how long we fought, though it seemed far too long.
When the battle ended, the remaining skinwalkers fled, and there were not many of them.
Yet neither were there many of us.
Fifteen were dead. Fully half our number. Everyone was wounded, to greater or lesser degrees. Even I had suffered my share of injuries.
We buried our dead where they fell, unable to carry them home. In silence, we gathered beneath a nearby tree and made camp for the night. There was little more we could do.
As we tended our wounded, I cleaned my Colts and hoped the skinwalkers would be foolish enough to return.
They were not.
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