Arturo didn’t know what to make of his current predicament — trapped inside the Gilded Flame lodge with those creatures prowling about. They’d arrived shortly after he had, affording him no time to search the grounds, and was sure he’d be discovered at any moment. Thus far he’d escaped notice but now his back was acting up, and he had no desire to engage one of the creatures in combat.

He allowed himself a moment to question whether venturing into the lodge alone had been in the best interest of his continued survival. He had to remind himself that while Esther was pursuing other leads, someone had to keep an eye on the fire cult.

One of the creatures slithered past his hiding place and into the next room. It was as tall as he was, maybe a little taller, and its skin glinted in the light like the wings of an insect. It had arms like a man, but instead of legs, from the waist down it had the body of a serpent. Lithe, fast-moving creatures they were — Arturo saw no simple means of escape.

Arturo held tightly onto a shard of petrified wood — a souvenir from one of his previous adventures — and kept it trained on the back of the creature’s head. It was around a corner from him, but he had a mostly clear shot if it turned and saw him. A mostly clear shot.

The creature didn’t turn. It didn’t move much at all, really, except to stick out its tongue periodically. Bizarre creature that it was.

He realized that if he could move across the hallway without alerting the thing to his presence, he could slip out the front and stood a fair chance of outrunning the beasts, assuming there weren’t more waiting outside.

Cautiously, Arturo rose from his hiding place, and kept the creature in his sight. He moved toward the door quickly and quietly, ignoring the complaints of his back until he was out in front of the lodge.

Relief flooded through him, and he swore loudly — loud enough that he soon heard movement coming from inside the lodge behind him, and he promptly took off, hobbling as fast as his legs would carry him.