High Priestess Daena Vulatanne’s tattered, dark-blue robes were soaked, slickening the handle of the small axe she held in her hand. Readjusting her grip, she blinked through the torrential downpour as periodic flashes of lightning dyed the northern shore of the mountain stream, surrounding the forest in monotones. The thunder that followed muffled Daena’s senses, turning the world into a silent play involving monsters and heroes with her as the lead.
The wild boar before her was no facsimile though. It appeared starved, with blackish-gray skin pulled taut against a large bony frame. Two jagged tusks protruded from its lower jaw, and saliva dripped from its mouth. The creature shook its head from side to side, attempting to dislodge the arrow jutting from the side of its snout. This did little to divert its focus as it dug its tusks into something on the ground.
Daena glimpsed a shredded, brown tunic and realized her younger sister T’alorin was the object of the monster’s focus. The thirteen-year-old girl’s body twitched reflexively with each strike. Her left arm—adorned with a blue-and-white woven bracelet—was stretched toward a crossbow. Daena had no idea where the girl obtained the weapon, but her confusion was immediately overshadowed by alarm as a flicker of lightning reflected off the dark-red pool spreading from the girl’s body.
Daena took a step forward and was immediately restrained by her attendant, Reisa. The woman’s aged and wrinkled face was accented by lightning flashes. Her mouth moved but no sound came forth as it was lost in the din of the storm. Daena shook free and ran toward T’alorin.
The creature responded with astounding speed and ferocity, charging her in return, head bent low as if to impale her with its tusks. Her foot caught on one of the rocks along the bank. The axe flew from her hand as she fell, lodging itself in the monster’s left eye. It jerked sideways, slicing a tusk diagonally across Daena’s right wrist as she threw out her hands to halt her fall. She instinctively drew the arm in and landed hard on the rocky ground.
T’alorin’s unconscious body forgotten, the beast roared and frantically shook its head, attempting to dislodge yet another weapon. Daena might have reached the girl had the impact not left her dazed, her body aching, and her wrist throbbing. She soon regained her senses, but so did the creature. Having removed the offending axe, it resumed its stance over T’alorin. Its left eye was clenched shut while blood leaked from the wound; the other eye glared threateningly at Daena.
She gazed on in panic. No more weapons meant no way to reach her sister.
A rope shot past Daena, snaring the end of the arrow in the creature’s snout, and she spun around.
A man wearing a green tunic stood on the bank downstream, the ends of the rope held in the crook of one arm, the other hanging lifelessly at his side. Blood trickled from a gash in his bicep and flowed down to a leather bracer wrapped around his forearm. Lightning reflected off the wound which was several shades darker than the surrounding skin.
He pulled on the rope, and Daena turned from him to see the beast skidding forward with the effort. She eagerly joined in despite the pain in her wrist, hoping to draw the beast away from T’alorin. Distant shouts floated up from behind her. She glanced toward them to find the man madly shaking his head. Daena shook her head as well, to which the man enunciated, “Let … go.”
She obeyed in confusion and was immediately flung to the ground as the rope whipped sideways with the beast’s violent turn. She heard a faint cry and looked downstream to see the man now in the water, fighting against the rapid current. She started to crawl toward him, but he called her off.
“Get the girl!” he shouted, his voice reaching her between thunderclaps.
The creature stood at the shore edge with its head bowed low far from T’alorin; the current had succeeded where the two of them had failed. Daena rushed to her side. She rolled the girl onto her back and listened to her thready heartbeat. Not much time was left.
The creature let out a strained groan as it wrenched backward, and Daena pulled T’alorin out of the way as its rear hooves landed exactly where the two of them had been a moment earlier. Startled by a cry from above, she looked skyward. The man was falling toward the beast, lightning glinting off the blade of his sword.
The man plunged the sword into the creature’s back as he landed. Letting out a horrendous moan, the beast bounded along the bank while attempting to throw the man.
Daena rolled from side to side with T’alorin clutched in her arms as the boar lumbered past. Finally, she laid on her back with the child atop her, a lightning-accented sky spinning above and rain splattering her face. It felt like a surreal dream.
Reisa appeared in Daena’s vision, grounding her in reality. “We must withdraw immediately,” the old woman said.
Daena struggled to get out from underneath T’alorin. “What about the man?”
Reisa helped her stand. “You have more pressing matters.”
Daena glanced back in his direction with uncertainty. The creature continued to buck madly. Despite having one usable arm, the man managed to hang on.
“High Priestess, we must tend to T’alorin’s wounds!” Reisa yelled above the storm and grasped the girl’s upper torso. Daena collected her legs, keeping an eye on the boar at the same time.
Letting out a strangled cry, the creature stumbled sideways into the river. The man pulled his sword free and did a backflip onto the bank. The beast continued to stagger sideways, howling in agony as the current pulled it deeper.
Once the beast disappeared beneath the surface, the stranger sheathed his sword and proceeded toward them. Daena desired to know who he was, why he was injured, how he had found them, and what he was doing at their compound. He picked up the crossbow, and she finally found her voice only to be interrupted by Reisa.
Daena looked to her attendant and then back at the man who was retreating upstream, taking her answers with him.
Daena relented, and the pair hurried to the infirmary.