After long days of rituals leading to her choosing a husband, Hijeneva awoke to the screams, mistaking them at first to be the ceremonial raised voices of the women of the Ajjuun. She stirred herself, rubbing sleep from her eyes, unsure of the hour. In two days she was expected to put her suitors through the trials. The items taken from the dead god were ready to be tested and she was ready to see the truth behind each.
The screams told her something horrible was taking place in the witching hour. The soft gray glow of the sky from her maiden hut window suggested the sun was less than an hour from waking the rest of the world. She pushed herself up from her sleeping mat, dressed, and grabbed her shield and spear. She considered the god’s items for a moment. Should she risk it? Perhaps it was an attack by the Shygua. If so, her people needed help. Due to the dead god, the Ajjuun had lost too many of their young warriors. No, she resisted the urge, fearing the unknown could kill her just by touching the items. More screams pulled her to the early dawn. Outside, she found chaos.
Running past her drowsy vision and fighting in the shadows, the Ajjuun were in disarray. Hijeneva stepped forward but stopped when her foot fell further than she expected. She crouched, hand touching the print. Three toes she counted but something else—a swishing mark, suggesting a heavy tail—stamped the earth with a weight suggesting great size. What could have made the print?
Out of the corner of her eye, Hijeneva reacted in time but still bore the brunt of the strike. Something heavy clipped her shoulder but found its full impact in her hut’s wall. Pain broke her fall as she slid against the earth. Her shield twisted her fingers, breaking at least two. Her spear was gone.
Something moved in closer from where the flung object struck her. Frantic and in pain, she moved her shield to her other hand, ready to defend. Her dazed eyes caught the outline of a gray, slick form with too many eyes to be real. A sound she thought was high-pitched, sinister laughter interrupted her pounding ears. Nearby torchlight touched the blade of a tiil inches away from her.
The creature advanced, revealing two legs of three clawed toes and a balancing tail at its rear. Hijeneva rolled, threw her shield like an over-sized bowl, and took up the tiil, recognizing its distinct quality and stabbed greedily at the flesh of her attacker as it swayed in recovery from her shield striking it. Her screams of pain and anger ripped through the new day in what would surely be a morning for mourning.