Wick bore the candle aloft. “You know what this is, don’t you?”

At the flick of a slimy finger, the frogs retreated. “Of course we do,” burbled their king. “That accursed spark is what allowed you to roast us for eating, powered the machines that drained our swamps.” He drew out his following words with thick malice: “It has brought nothing but death to my people, even here at our last outpost.”

“What if I told you,” said Wick, trying to be sly, “that this is the last flame in the world, and that the secret of its creation has been lost?”

The frog king lolled out its tongue in a moment of thought. “I would say that my people should attack you now, at all hazards, to ensure that it is drowned in the cleansing waters of the last refuge.”

“Consider this an opportunity,” Wick said. “The last fire is traveling to the summit that it might be rekindled in the souls of all my people. If you would allow me to pass, my people would be in your debt.”

“You do not have a good record of being beholden to those to whom you owe much,” sneered the frog king. “Ask the aurochs that, if you can find one.”

“The fire might be the only thing that can hold back the decay and rebuild our world,” Wick replied. “Surely you, in your wisdom, feel the end closing about all life even here in the last refuge.”

“You would have me put my trust in that which caused the decay in the first place? Perhaps it is simply time for us to fade quietly away with one last noble act.”

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It had been a long night for the group of students holed up in Tammy’s parents’ holiday house in the mountains. First, a fierce storm blowing in off the mountains had put the kibosh on their plans to smooch each other out in the sunshine and at the lake. Then the power had gone out; when Bernard went to check the breakers, he never came back.

Eventually, the indoor smooching had stopped and the others had gone looking for him. Michelle had found his body, with the head sucked clean off, stuffed in an upstairs broom closet. She’d also seen a dark shape darting across the landing, and wet webbed footprints soaking into the carpet.

That had been enough to interrupt the smooching, if only briefly.

Picked off one by one, eventually the group was whittled down to the last two. They were cornered by the murderous creature, the shadow that had decapitated all their friends, out by the pool. Illuminated by the spotlights, it was fully visible for the first time: a monstrous, bipedal frog!

Tammy accidentally fell into the pool, horrified at the sight. Erica tried to grab her hand but the frog dove in after her first. Swimming faster than Tammy could sink, Erica couldn’t look away even as she was sure her friend was a goner.

And that’s when they came between Tammy and the pursuing megafrog: giant tadpoles, tails writhing, whose faces were the faces of every head the prowling amphibian had gathered. It hadn’t just been hunger or bloodlust, but a horrifying circle of life that had driven the creature’s depredations.

Batting the tadpoles aside, the frog swam greedily for the flailing Tammy. With her last gasp of breath, she entreated the only person for aid that she could think of in her final moments, the only one she was sure could rescue her:

“Help me, Mr. Darcy, you’re my only hope!”

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