Art by Mackenzie Holman, 2021.
Eitra ran through the dense forest, tall grass and the occasional branch swiping her face as she passed. She ran as quickly as she could but made sure to make every step count. She knew that one wrong step could lead to her demise–and an advantage for her pursuers.
The creatures chasing her were like she’d never seen before: heavy, blindingly white armor and a black void of a face. They had seemingly appeared from thin air with strange weapons and an aura of aggression.
Eitra was the only survivor from the takeover. Her small village had been ransacked by the creatures. Her home was burned to the ground and her family taken away by the faceless attackers. There was nothing left to go back to, only dust and rubble. Now she ran through the wilderness, pursued by the creatures who destroyed her home, hoping to survive long enough to reach the nearby kingdom. She had to warn the others. She had to tell them about these creatures before it was too late for them too.
Although she was young, Eitra brandished a weapon of her own: a small metallic dagger. It used to be her fathers, handed to her as he told her to leave, leave before they’d take her as well. Eitra hoped she wouldn’t have to use the dagger, but she feared she might have to.
As Eitra looked ahead, she realized she was almost out of the woods. The trees began to disappear and the grass began to shorten. Bursting through the undergrowth, she almost stumbled into the chasm below. She’d reached a river. Below her was a gushing body of water, moving frantically as if trying to escape the same creatures that chased after her. It’s size was enormous, and the sound of crashing water was deafening. The fall into the river wouldn’t be fatal, but Eitra knew that the current would be too powerful to swim against.
A crashing sound behind her signified that she didn’t have much time to consider her options. The creatures were approaching, their deadly weapons drawn. Eitra took a quick look upstream and was able to make out a small structure not too far from where she stood. She turned to take a quick look at her approaching attackers, then continued running to her newly found destination.
The creatures were getting closer. Eitra could hear the heavy footsteps they made as they ran after her. She kept her eyes focused at her destination ahead and continued on her way, avoiding the sheer cliff leading to the river below.
Now that Eitra was closer to her target, she was able to make out what exactly the structure was in the crashing waves. Through the mist she saw a small boat in the water, docked beside a makeshift shed. A man dressed in faded leather and pelts stood in the boat, rigging some rope attached to the boat’s tattered sail.
“Hey!” Eitra yelled as she sprinted down to the dock, “Cut the ropes! Now!”
“Wha-?” the man gave her a confused look, then looked up behind her, his eyes widened in terror. “Duck!”
Eitra instantly fell flat onto the ground, her hands digging into the mud, as blazing bolts of energy blasted over her head, puncturing holes in the boat’s sail. She scrambled to her feet and leapt into the boat next to the man who had drawn a bow crafted from smooth, dark wood. He notched an arrow and sent it firing at one of the pursuing creatures, managing to get a shot lodged in a chink in its unnaturally white armor.
“Cut the rope!” he yelled, then lodged another arrow against the string of his bow.
“That’s what I said!” Eitra shouted back.
The man shot another arrow, “I’m a bit busy here!”
Eitra gave him an annoyed look then drew her dagger, swinging at the knot tethering the boat to the dock. She struggled to keep her balance as the waves of water carried the boat down the river. The creatures lowered their weapons as the craft disappeared from their view, now concealed by the mist hanging in the cool, humid air.
🞛 🞛 🞛
“Do you want something to eat?” the man offered Eitra a bit of dried meat.
Eitra ignored the offer and continued to stare ahead. They had been sailing down the river for about half an hour in silence, both of them recovering from their earlier encounter.
“I’m Taris, by the way,” the man brought the meat to his mouth and took a bite. “Figured we should at least talk a bit if we’re gonna be stuck together for a while…”
“How long until we arrive at Arabouth?” Eitra asked.
“Ah, she finally speaks!” Taris squinted at the sky for a moment. “Should be there in a few days, if all goes well. You busted up my boat a bit didn’t you?”
Eitra continued to look forward in silence, listening to the waves crash against the bow of the boat.
“I mean, what were those things? Their weapons, like, shot lightning.” Taris sat down, “And their faces were just pure…”
“Darkness?” Eitra finished, “That’s what they bring with them too.”
Taris grunted, “That seems a bit gloomy.”
“It’s nothing to laugh about,” Eitra turned towards him. “They destroyed my home, my family, they took them away.”
“Oh,” Taris fiddled with his bow for a minute. “Do you know where they came from? They don’t seem to resemble anything I’ve seen.”
“And what makes you think you’ve seen everything?” Eitra said.
Taris laughed, “I’m a hunter that’s why. A Bowman of Uriv, one of the great riders of the Bygral Forests–” After seeing Eitra’s quizzical glance he hesitated, “Well, I used to be… Anyways, the point is, I’ve seen plenty of monsters and creatures of all shapes and sizes. That was not anything I’ve seen before.”
Eitra snorted, “A former hunter. I should have figured.”
“Oh, like your life is any better, miss doom and gloom,” Taris said.
Eitra turned back to watching the waves in front of them, her expression focused on the horizon, “My name is Eitra, for your information. And I have a duty to uphold.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that line all too much,” Taris tugged at a rope, positioning the sail a bit to the right. “What’ve you sworn to do? Avenge your family? Become a great hero? Fight for honor and justice?”
Eitra turned to him with a cold look on her face, “Those creatures can’t attack anyone else. I have to warn others. That is my duty.”
“Great,” Taris said, “and how exactly do you plan to go about this heroic campaign?”
“We’ll start with the closest kingdom over. That’s Arabouth,” she looked at Taris straight in the eyes, “You’re going to take me there.”
“Bunch of snobby kings and noblemen, if you ask me,” Taris said. “Besides, I’m not exactly welcome in that area, if you know what I mean…”
“You’re a criminal then,” Eitra prompted.
She sighed, “Great.”
“Hold on for a second. You won’t be able to navigate the river without me,” Taris smiled. “I’m one of the best sailors around, you know?”
“As good as you are at being a hunter?”
“Oh, haha. Very funny,” Taris fiddled with his bow a bit more. “How about I take you to Arabouth and all you have to do for me is one thing…”
“And that is?”
“Get me a new sail,” Taris pointed up at it. “After all, you did kind of rip it…”
Eitra frowned, “I wasn’t the one shooting at it with lightning weapons.”
“Yeah, but those things were aimed at you. So… guilty by association?”
Taris smiled, “I knew you’d come around.”
“You know when, you finally learn to appreciate me and–”
“No! What is that?” Eitra was pointing at something off the front of the boat, eyes wide with fear.
“What?” Taris scrambled to his feet and immediately saw what she was staring at. In fact, it was kind of hard to miss its large shape slowly emerging from the depths of the river. “Looks like we’ve got a Jiax in the way.”
“Hold on!” Taris pulled one of the longer ropes as he positioned the sail in the optimal position.
The boat lurched forward, a boost of speed bringing it on its way as they sailed straight towards the open mouth of a giant, crimson creature.