"They're gone!" Willow cried as she flitted through the destroyed camp, helplessly checking on everything she could get her hands on. "Everything is still here, it's just all destroyed! They must have fled in a hurry, I don't see any trace of the others at all. What the hell would have caused so much destruction?"

"A creature of death," Wendy intoned, kicking over a torn scrap of sleeping mat and holding out her hand for Abigail to grab.

"Stop it! Don't say that!" Wilson snapped, instantly feeling ashamed once he caught Wendy's shocked expression. He didn't back down, however. "Just... don't. We don't know if they're dead. They likely just ran away. No blood, no b-bodies, no evidence they were even here when whatever this was blew through."

Abigail made a soft cooing noise, but Wendy didn't make a sound, still staring straight at Wilson with a flat gaze.

"We're going to find them," Wilson declared, his reedy voice stunningly firm. "And then we'll find a new, safer camp."

"But what if whatever this was just follows us?" Willow muttered, clearly nervous and hesitant, but already standing up straight and looking around for a direction to head. She ran the toe of her shoe along the indented edge of a huge footprint anxiously.

"I don't care," Wilson pressed. "We'll figure that out once we get to that point. First, we need to find Wickerbottom and Wolfgang. Now." Without waiting another moment, Wilson hefted the radio back onto his shoulder and trudged off, following the monstrous footprints. Though every instinct screamed for him to walk the other way, opposite of the beast, he knew that if this was the work of Maxwell the monster had surely followed Wilson's two friends as they fled.

It wasn't difficult tracking the creature, between its monstrous footprints and the trail of frost and shards of ice that surrounded them. It was all too soon that they caught up, hearing now close up the horrific growls they had before only heard off at a forgettable distance. Though Wilson fully expected the beast to be large, it still took him an embarrassingly long amount of time to put together that the huge white mass looming over the treetops was the thing he was looking for.

Wilson's stomach dropped into his shoes as he stared in bafflement. It was a huge, lumbering beast with legs like stilts. Gargantuan antlers grew from the creature's head, which lacked the long, white fur the body was covered in. Its arms and legs were likewise bare, and were as black as frostbite. It had stunningly human hands, scrawny and tipped with wicked claws. Its feet were cloven, matching the prints they had followed. Seeing only its back, it resembled a thin bipedal deer wrapped in a cotton-white fur coat.

A cry of distress caught Wilson's attention, and he felt a hand on his shoulder as Willow pointed him toward the source of the sound. The area was a rocky outcropping surrounded by forest, and hiding among the boulders in a teetering cave was Wolfgang, clearly scared out of his wits, covering something behind him. The huge deer swept its claws at the pile of rocks, gouging the stone with deep, parallel lines. Wolfgang flinched just enough for Wilson to spot Wickerbottom curled up behind him on her side. The giant took another swing, claws digging into the rock and leaving frost and ice in their wake.

"What kind of monster is that?" Willow gasped, staring in frozen horror.

"I've never seen anything like it," Wilson replied, trying to keep his voice low despite his rising panic. He had to think of a way to get their friends out of there before the giant crushed the rock into dust or the unstable cave collapsed right on top of them. "Its claws, how do they do that? Super-cooled enough to freeze the moisture in the surrounding air instantly? But how could such a mechanism exist within a creature of flesh and blood? Such a thing would surely damage-"

"Wilson, shut up with your dumb science rambling, that's not helping! Concentrate on the here and now, talk with Wickerbottom about it later!" Willow hissed.

"O-oh, sorry, I just-"

"Ramble like an idiot when you're nervous? I know! Now shut your mouth or start using it to come up with ideas!"

"I-I, we..." Wilson's mind ran rampant. There was no way they could fight that thing. Even thinking about it brought back memories of being mauled by hounds. The only way would be to run and escape. But he had to do it with everyone!

"I could distract it, and while I do that you could-" Wilson began, fidgeting.

"You kidding? Hell no. You couldn't even outrun a couple of stubby legged dogs. This hairball on stilts would crush you in an instant! Let me. 'Science' has proven I'm much faster than you," Willow winked. "And besides, someone as hot-blooded as me has no chance of being frozen by it!" she proclaimed proudly.

"Willow, I don't think that's how that works..."

"Oh, shut up. Wendy! Abigail! I'll need you two on this. I'll need Abigail to come with me, since she can take a hit and help with distraction. Wendy, I need you to keep back and be our lookout, make sure our coast is clear while Wilson runs in and helps Wolfgang get Wickerbottom out of there."

"I can help more than that!" Wendy protested, offended she wasn't getting in on the action.

"No, she's right," Wilson interjected, glancing over at the giant who was now stalking side to side, trying to find some other way to get its pray out of hiding. "We do need someone to keep watch. Someone to give a shout if another monster or other danger shows up while we're occupied. Please, your assistance would be invaluable, miss Wendy."

Wendy scowled, but gave a hesitant nod of affirmation.

Willow nodded back, and turned to Abigail to rattle off some quick instructions while Wilson put a hand on Wendy's shoulder and gave her an approving smile. Or at least the best one he could muster under the stress of the situation.

"Alright. When I say go, we begin. Operation: Save the Friends, GO!" Willow shouted, tearing off into the rocky clearing, shouting and making a terrible racket as Abigail rushed forward, wailing. The giant turned around and quickly spotted them, an earth-shaking roar ripping its way out of its throat. Willow balked, and Wilson could see why.

As the giant spun to face the noise, its face came into view for the first time. Its mouth was filled with humongous teeth, the length and sharpness was akin to that of swords. The most shocking feature, however, was a large, solitary eye. Notably with a pupil-strange, considering everything else on the island that lacked such a feature-that burned with utmost fury.

Despite the momentary shock, Willow quickly regained her composure and picked up on her shouting once again, waving her arms in the air. The giant stared at her, unwilling to leave its trapped prey. Willow shrieked in frustration and reached behind her head to grab the blow dart tube that was sticking out of her pack, loading it, and spitting one of her poisoned darts into the creature's shoulder. The fiery poison must have done its work, for the beast broke away entirely from its quarry and went after the more readily available food source.

Wilson and Wendy watched, stiff with fear, until it was a fair distance away. "Alright, keep a close eye out and give me a shout if anything happens," Wilson stammered, hardly able to contain his fear. He handed Wendy the odd radio and got out of his hiding place, sprinting toward the claw-torn cave.

Wolfgang looked relieved to see Wilson approaching, a hysterical laugh of surprise and happiness escaping him. "Little science man!" he exclaimed, his face quickly turning serious. "Miss Wickerbottom! She's hurting! Help!"

He moved to the side, allowing Wilson to look clearly upon Wickerbottom. She shifted slightly to smile weakly up at him as he gazed in numb shock at her shirt, soaked red in blood. "I'm glad to see you, dear. I seem to have found myself in a rather precarious situation," she muttered, acting all the world like it was a simple meeting for a cup of tea.

Indeed, the situation was bad. The giant must have landed a solid hit on her, for a couple deep gashes spread across her midsection. Without another moment's hesitation, Wilson pulled the pack off his back and dug out a makeshift first aid kit wrapped in leaves, using it to stop as much bleeding before hastily bandaging what he could with the meager supplies.

"We need to get out of here. Back to camp preferably, if only for a moment," Wilson said. "There are supplies there we didn't have the time to grab. Wolfgang, can you carry her that far?"

Wolfgang puffed up proudly. "Of course! I am mighty Wolfgang! I can carry forever!"

"I wouldn't doubt it for a moment. Now here-carefully now-hold her here. Watch out for that wound... perfect. I'm sorry this isn't the most comfortable Ms. Wickerbottom, but it's the best that can be done," Wilson apologized.

"Don't fret, my dear. I'm just glad you got here when you did, that thing was mere inches from ending us both!"

"L-let's not talk about that," Wilson stuttered. "Let's instead just get you somewhere safe and patched up."

"Agreed, Mr. Higgsbury."

Without wasting another moment, Wilson set off into a jog toward Wendy, Wolfgang in tow carrying Wickerbottom more gently than a mother would with her newborn baby. Wendy reported a clear getaway, and together they rushed to camp.

As soon as the site was in view, Wilson sprinted ahead of the rest to assemble healing supplies. Wilson and Wendy worked together to better patch up Wickerbottom's injuries as Wolfgang kept careful watch.

Wilson couldn't help but find himself glancing between Wendy and Wickerbottom and their respective bandages. Wendy, sliced up along her soft, pretty little face by the night monster when he was too preoccupied with staying in the light himself to even consider if she was okay. And Wickerbottom, her side and back torn to ribbons because he wasn't there to help, rushing off chasing a fool's errand as he was. It was his fault in the first place Wickerbottom was even here. Neglect. Neglect on his part everywhere he turned. If only he could just pay more attention, live in the world around him more than being stuck in his head all the time! If only-

"Wilson, stop."

Wilson looked up, a little surprised, seeing Wickerbottom staring straight at him through cracked spectacles. "W-what?"

"Stop what you're doing immediately. I may not have known you long, but I know you well. Well enough to know that the expression on your face right now is guilt. Now listen to me, Mr. Higgsbury. This is not your fault, not in any way, shape, or form. If you must blame someone, blame Maxwell, but most definitely not yourself. There's nothing you could have done, and what has happened has happened, so let's keep going. No guilt. Do you hear me, young man?" she pressed, her voice snappish as she forced herself to sit herself up into a more intimidating posture.

"I-uh, y-yes, I understand, ma'am," Wilson said quickly, equal parts worried about Wickerbottom's wounds with that much movement, and now feeling genuinely ashamed for being caught in that embarrassing whirl of self-blame. She was right. Blaming himself wouldn't change what had happened, and would only cause more problems if he kept it up. He wasn't sure if he could completely forgive himself for living in the clouds so much, but he agreed, worrying would do no good here and now.

At that moment, something came crashing toward the clearing and Wolfgang began sounding the alarm-as if it were impossible to not hear the racket.

Willow burst into the clearing moments later, out of breath and with Abigail close behind. Abigail swept over to Wendy to check on her, and Wilson sped past her on his way to check over Willow for injuries.

"I'm fine, I'm fine!" she whined as soon as she caught her breath, pushing Wilson away by the chest. "Leave me alone, damn it! Pack everything up, we can't stay here. We lost that monster a ways back, but it's patrolling the area, and it's only a matter of time before it finds us if we stick around here too long. Come on, let's go!" she insisted, dropping down to gather whatever pieces of useful supplies she could cram into her pack. "The stupid thing can probably smell blood or fear or whatever. We should go downwind."

"Sounds like a splendid idea, dear. I'd hate for my condition to be even more of a burden," Wickerbottom said.

Willow looked up at her as if noticing the wounds for the first time, though it was obvious she already knew. She flinched when her gaze drifted across the pile of bloodied, used bandages off to the side. "Yeah. Let's just get out of here."

"I couldn't agree more," Wilson sighed, cinching his heavy backpack more firmly to his back. A distant roar made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. He retrieved the odd radio from Wendy, grabbed a spear, helped Wolfgang find a good way to carry Wickerbottom, and led the way out of camp.

At first, they sped their way through the trees, away from the sounds of the giant, but once its growls faded into the distance and their walk slowed, new worries surfaced.

"It's gotten really chilly," Willow complained yet again. "Why is it so cold all of a sudden?"

"My best guess is because of islands and their strange weather systems, especially on an uncharted island like this. The warmth we had could have been the strange weather for all we know," Wilson said.

"What if it's the deer-thing's fault?" Wendy piped up.

"Unlikely. Weather doesn't change because of a single organism. It's probably just showing up by chance, or maybe it woke up because it felt the bite on the wind."

"A single 'organism' also doesn't freeze things with its claws," Wendy pointed out.

"That doesn't mean it can change the weather!"

"Weirder things have happened. It certainly was colder when we were near it."

"Poppycock. You must have imagined that!"

Wendy shrugged, unconcerned.

"Whatever is making it cold doesn't matter!" Willow interrupted. "What matters is the fact that it's cold, and it's cold right now, and I want to find somewhere that's not! Preferably somewhere that won't be interrupted by any of Maxwell's monsters, but at this point I won't even be that picky," she grumbled, shivering.

"What about the beefalo?" Wendy suggested. "They're warm and friendly. And could be a good alarm system! All those extra soulless eyes."

"Hmm. While I don't like the actual sharing of body warmth with a big hairy cow, the watch idea isn't bad. Any other ideas?" Willow asked, looking at Wilson.

"W-well, I don't quite know what these 'beefalo' are, but anywhere we can find even a hint of extra safety is indeed inciting," he said slowly. "Whatever we do, we should do it fast though. I want to get Wickerbottom somewhere where she can get some better rest. You're doing great Wolfgang, but a bed is best for sleeping."

"Then it is settled," Willow declared, reaching up to clap a grinning Wolfgang on the shoulder. Beefalo it is. They should be... that way!" She pointed dramatically with her spear and began to walk before any argument could be made. The rest of the group glanced among themselves, shrugged, and followed Willow.

Upon arriving, Wolfgang expressed pure glee at seeing the beefalo again. "Large, mighty, and fluffy!" he exclaimed, getting a mix of a smile and a grimace from Wickerbottom as he jostled her a bit. The tiny groan made him instantly begin fussing over her, the beefalo all but forgotten in his worry.

Meanwhile, Wilson was orbiting one of the beasts, deep into his fascinated ramblings on the potential origin and evolution of the beefalo. Willow rolled her eyes and left him to Wendy as she backtracked to gather wood for a fire. By the time she had returned with enough to get it started, Wendy had already constructed a modest ring for a fire pit, Wolfgang had gotten Wickerbottom as comfortable as possible on a bed of leaves and grass, and Wilson was still studying the beefalo, having since gained enough confidence to begin poking and prodding them. He had even coaxed one of them into eating grass out of his hand.

"He's like a child with a new puppy," Willow remarked, staring slack-jawed at the display as she dropped her armful of wood.

"Hey, I can hear you!" Wilson shot back, a touch of blush growing on his cheeks.

"That's why I said it loud enough for you to hear it, idiot!" Willow retorted, grinning slyly then sticking out her tongue.

"You can't deny these creatures are fascinating!" Wilson pressed as a beefalo began to gnaw at his hair. "They're surprisingly intelligent for a member of the bovine family. As far as I can tell they can't speak like the pigmen can, but just look at them! They have a family structure and everything! Not like a simple herd of cattle or flock of sheep. Truly, there's something utterly amazing going on on this island."

"Carry on then, O wise scientist," Willow called back, trying to be as faux serious as possible, dipping into a sarcastic curtsy as she flourished her hand.

Willow got a decent fire going, and dusk quickly descended upon them. The large group of beefalo started to gather together, using the fire as a focal point as they lowed softly to one another. Wilson watched them carefully, stroking his beard in contemplation. "They're aware that fire brings warmth, I hypothesize. That could provide some insulation for us too! Their bodies will block the cold breeze from all angles, if they keep in a circle like that! And look!" he exclaimed, sitting down and leaning up against one that had laid down by the fire. "Sharing body warmth!"

"You are an absolute lunatic, Wilson," Willow said bluntly.

Wilson balked, offended.

"I mean, she's kind of right," Wendy put in as she came and sat next to Wilson. "But you're also kind of right too."

"We cuddle them?" Wolfgang asked uncertainly.

"Yes dear, it seems so," Wickerbottom said, smiling at Wilson and Wendy. "Just be careful not to startle them. Though mighty you are, these creatures are large and very numerous."

"I will hug gently!" Wolfgang declared, sitting up against the nearest beefalo and wrapping his arms around its thick neck. The beefalo made a confused low, but didn't make any move to avoid it.

Willow sighed grumpily. "Well, all you weirdos can go and snuggle with those hairy, stinky beasts, but I for one will stick to a good old fashioned fire, thank you very much." She swiped some imaginary dirt off her skirt with a huff and turned back to the flames.

They quickly settled down, eager to find comfortable places to rest after the long day. They had barely enough time to roast and eat what little food they had managed to bring along, before-one by one-they each fell into an exhausted sleep.

'Sup y'all. Long time no see! Saying "sorry for the wait" probably doesn't cut it at this point, but people asked for it, so here's an update! I've got a piece of the next chapter started on paper, but I can't really promise any kind of timeline since my writing muse is all over the place recently. But I'll certainly try to get it done, because I still love this story and still have so much I'd love to work with and reveal. Thanks to all of you for following me through all this! You're the reason I keep going with this insanity! 3