Shade lions concealed their presence better than any creature in Breshtk, proving the most-difficult predators the Ajjuun dealt with throughout the grasslands. Small traces of their kills had to be dug up in order to track the animals. Even then, trails could take hours to find.
Hijeneva crouched a few feet from the mess of entrails piled before her, looking past the gore and able to see the direction of her target’s path. One of the other-worldly creatures—a demon from the Agony—but a second had left just as much death and destruction in the village. This one had escaped Ajjuun justice.
Chatter from behind forced her jaw to clench. Her three suitors crouched a mere few strides behind her but struggled to maintain any sense of composure. These three had earned her favor, chosen to prove themselves if they wished to wed her. Their pale faces masked in ash blinked in waiting as they noticed her gaze.
Unconsciously, Hijeneva touched the leather pouch at her waist which held the god’s relics. Soon, they would all be tested. Soon, her suitors would face her ultimate test if they were to be worthy of her maidenhood.
Saying nothing, she continued along the dead trail, hearing the near silent movements of her suitors. If any of the three lacked that simple ability of quiet pursuit, she would send them back to the tribe in shame.
Laughter pulled her eyes back to the dead trail. Within a copse of trees, the bloody line led straight into the wooded shadows; the bone-chilling sound dared her to advance closer. Rising from her stance, heart racing and anger twisting in her chest, she reached for the leather pouch. The time for her suiters to prove their worth had come.
Hijeneva motioned the men forward, opened the pouch, made the contents available and waited. All the while, the mocking laughter continued. One by one, they took the pieces, not questioning her or the origin of the items.
Dagal, the tallest and thinnest of her suitors, hesitated by rubbing his unshaven chin where dark stubble curled. His dark eyes caught hers and he reached in grabbing the armlet with the dull gold-colored stone. Hijeneva watched, not daring to blink, to see what influence the stone might have on him if any. Nothing.
The squat but solid, Bjuno, reached in without waiting and took the silver hand mirror, looking into the reflection for longer than she would have expected. He did not show much care for his appearance before but she could say nothing when the third suitor, Malistin, reached in and took the four coins not waiting for her to offer the pouch.
Malstin raised one of the coins and held it to the sun. “A shining—” His voice stopped abruptly and so did the laughter in the trees. His gaze turned to the three coins in his other hand. Steam or smoke rose from his half-clenched palm. He began to scream, waving his hand to free his flesh from the coins but nothing fell away.
Laughter from the trees started again but it moved out and to the group’s left, drawing fearful eyes. The black oily form of the creature moved casually but its path was a closing circle.
Hijeneva reached for her tiil in time to hear Dagal curse and raise his bow as the creature advanced. Screams and laughter filled the air. Blood and more blood marred the land. The world stilled to see if a survivor would remain.