“How does this keep happening to us?!” It wasn’t really a question, and Mellie wasn’t actually looking for an answer. She was mostly looking for a quick path to safety. Part of this was that she knew she was close to the town of Vigilance, not far from the bridge. It would be a safe haven, and she had been looking forward to sleeping with a roof over her head. The other part was the more pressing matter of the creature chasing her, something that looked like an angry boulder with feet and horns and three angry little glowing red eyes in the middle of a flat face.
“Less talking,” Tilly shrieked, fleeing as fast as her little legs could carry her, “more running!” After they’d escaped the chaos on the riverbank near Serana’s mangrove, it had been a trepidatious but mostly uneventful trip through the Redwood. The only exception had been the flocks of stark white birds circling overhead, but they’d learned to ignore those.
“Is this a regular thing with you guys?!” The third member of their party was weaving between the trees and clearly out of his element. His name, Melamira had discovered, was Alexander, although he also accepted Lex, or Alex, or Xander, he didn’t mind, thank you and could he have some pants now please. Finally in possession of a shirt and, crucially, the aforementioned legwear, he’d been a bit more amicable, and had been a pleasant (ish) traveling companion, if a bit grumpy. Melamira didn’t hold it against him, though. He clearly had no idea where he was or what was going on, and as far as Melamira was concerned, he was still a child.
“Not -- oof -- that regular!” Mellie yelled as she slid under a fallen tree. It exploded in a shower of splinters behind her as a thousand pounds of muscle and bone thundered through it behind her.
“Well...” Tilly piped up, jumping over a boulder that barely slowed down what Melamira suspected was an old demon of some kind. She vaguely remembered stories of something like this, but she couldn’t even remember where she might have heard those.
“Tilly! Not the time!”
“We get into a lot of scrapes, Mels!”
“The point is that, no, this specifically is not a regular occurrence!” She sidestepped a thorny bush and grabbed Alexander by the back of his coat and helped him clear a small creek. He was keeping up well, all things considered. Despite his age and wiry physique, he was an efficient runner, which had surprised her. His demeanour hadn’t exactly inspired confidence, but he seemed to be holding up well, all things considered.
Behind them, the creature roared, a bellow that reverberated in Mellie’s chest and took an extended, high-pitched stay in her sensitive eardrums. It had been chasing them for some ten minutes, and had been keeping pace that entire time. The trees were slowing it down, probably because its horns were several paces wide and caught every tree trunk, but even that was barely having any effect.
“Where are we even going?!” Alexander yelled, narrowly dodging a bramble patch.
“Town should be up ahead,” Tilly informed him as she looked over her shoulder.
“Why are we leading it right to them?!” Alexander sounded exasperated, insofar as being exasperated was a possibility when sprinting full bore away from certain death. She’d been thinking about that too. She couldn’t think of any major landmarks that would get them to safety fast enough, and she’d sort of hoped that the terrain would have offered them a way out, or forward, or even behind the thing at this point, but it had just been mildly hilly terrain and a mess of trees the entire time. “Aren’t you two supposed to be badasses? Can’t you stop it?” If there had been the time or space, Melamira would have glared at him.
“With what weaponry, Alexander?” Tilly snapped. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re hardly carrying any sort of arsenal with us! Why don’t you lock horns with it, if it’s so easy!” Alexander groaned but didn’t offer any other kind of protest. The town of Vigilance had to be getting close, though, and something would have to be done.
“Without any furth--” Melamira began, and that’s as far as she got when a figure became visible through the trees. She also thought she saw what might have been a thatched roof between the trees, further up ahead. The hypothetical was about to stop being hypothetical real quick. “Get out the way!” she shouted at the figure who seemed to be just sort of standing there. She hoped she was in time. Whoever it was, they were tall. Taller than most people she knew. The only person she could even compare them to was Erza, but she was up north, wasn’t she?
“Not on your life, darling,” the person said, a husky voice and an accent that gently rolled the ‘r’s greeted her. Melamira hoped desperately that the person answering would have better sense than to try and face the creature. She had the distinct feeling that anyone caught in the demon’s path would probably be not so much killed as turned into a fine mist. She caught a glance of the person as she leapt past.
It was a woman. Mellie was sure of it. She just wasn’t like any woman she’d seen before. The comparison with Erza failed even. Erza was tall, certainly, but where the Orc had the elegance and grace of a swimmer, this woman was big. Approaching seven feet in height, she looked like she carried logs of wood around for fun. Her black, curly hair was braided backwards and from her outfit to her eyes to her skin, she blended perfectly with the forest around her, all earth tones and textures. She also winked, which almost caused Melamira to slam face-first into a tree, because Mellie was nothing if not a little useless.
Then she was past her, and she had to resign herself to the fact that this person wasn’t going to be able to help. She didn’t have the time or, most likely, the upper body strength to help this woman out of the way in time. She kept her ears open, waiting for the inevitable trampled scream, but none came.
Instead, there was a dull thud, and then a slow, crashing noise. She dared a look over her shoulder and saw that the beast was still advancing. However, it was advancing slower, largely because its head was being twisted sideways. Apparently, the woman had managed to not only grab the creature by the horns, but had leveraged it to slam face-first into the ground. Melamira slowed down her run to see what in the heavens was happening. The demon was clearly pushing the woman back, and her muscles visibly strained against her clothing -- Mellie had to shake her head to stop herself staring -- but its run had been all but halted. Tilly and Alexander slowed down to look as well.
“Uh,” Tilly said, and licked her eyeball.
“What,” Alexander said.
“Do you think we should help?” Tilly asked. Melamira looked around, but she couldn’t think of any way to help. Now that she’d stopped running, she realized that the forest around her was alive with critters. Their approach must have spooked a lot of wildlife, and they’d been driving it out in front of them. The wave of animals, big and small, might have been what had allerted this woman, this warrior, to their arrival.
The woman was still being pushed back, almost lifted off the ground with an arm wrapped around one of the creature’s massive horns, and Mellie saw her dig her heels into the earth. There was a grinding noise, and they could hear bones and joints crack and pop. Before she started running again, certainly the woman had only bought them time, Melamira hesitated. The woman was smiling, and smiling right at her. Why was she smiling?
Then there was a roar, because the kind of person who would try to tackle a demon bull would be exactly the kind of person to roar dramatically, and suddenly the woman was gone, replaced by a massive bear, ramming its paws down on the creature’s head, forcing it face-first into the dirt with a loud, angry snort. It raised its head again and bucked, trying to hit the bear with its horns, but couldn’t get a proper hit in, constantly pushed back by its opponent.
The bear roared again, seemingly forcing the demon bull back with its ferocity. One swing of its massive paws, and the demon was thrown sideways, falling to the ground and scrambling to get back up. The (Bear? Woman?) warrior roared again, seemingly in warning, and the demon scurried off, tail literally and figuratively between its legs. Then the giant who had protected them was… well, still there, but clearly a woman again, watching the monstrous beast escape. She was breathing heavily and clutching her shoulder, which was sticking up at a bit of an angle, but otherwise seemingly unharmed.
“Hello?” Tilly hazarded, and approached. The forest around them was devastated. Trees strewn about the snowy forest floor like matches, a path cleared as far as they could see. Mellie wasn’t so sure about approaching someone who had just wrestled with what was probably an ancient deity, but, well, she had just saved their lives.
“Hi,” the woman said, panting, and then crouched down to rest her arms on her knees. “Seventeen hells damned,” she huffed. “What was that?”
“Never mind the bull,” Tilly exclaimed, “what was that?” The little kobold pointed directly at the woman. “And who are you?”
The woman chuckled and offered a coal shovel of a hand. “Bea. Lovely to meet you.”
“Yeah,” Melamira said as she and Alexander also tentatively stepped closer, “likewise. I’m not sure what exactly happened.” She wasn’t lying. She’d never seen anything like this. Mages could conjure up illusions and increase their strength, but a body couldn’t just be altered like that, to such a degree. She only knew one person who had done so effortlessly, and that wasn’t even remotely comparable.
“Lucky as hell you came along,” Alexander laughed. “I’m glad someone here was able to fight it.”
“No such thing,” Bea said, standing up and, almost casually, snap her shoulder back into place with a loud ‘POP’. “I was traveling this way. Portents, omens, call it what you will. I was led here. Just in time, it seems.”
“And what exactly are you? Who are you?” Melamira asked again.
“Just Bea,” Bea said. “If you want to know more, you’ll have to buy me dinner first, aye?” Another one of those winks that made even Melamira’s suspicious mind buckle for a moment. “Come on, Vigilance is close by, and I feel as though there’s discussing to be done.” She looked at Alexander. “I’ve never seen a Dragonborn with gold horns before, nor heard of one.” She turned to Melamira and Tilly. “But I’ve heard of the two of you.” Her face split into a wide grin. “Come.”
Without further ado, the woman led them through the trees. The building Mellie had seen had been a little hovel on the outskirts of town and it took them ten or so minutes to make their way into Vigilance proper. It was chaos. People were running through the street, fighting off scared wildlife, and there were animals here Melamira had never even seen before, from cats the size of large hounds, hounds the size of stags, as well as all manner of bugs and insects of species, varieties and colours she wouldn’t have thought possible. And all of them were scared and trying to escape.
In the din, she recognized a face.
“Mel!” Lillian yelled, holding her lantern high. Melamira, Tilly, Alexander and Bea made their way over. Several of the townsfolk did as well, clearly seeing the white lantern as a beacon of some kind. They were clearly a bit skittish around the mountainous Bea, though.
“Good to see you, Lillian,” Melamira said, giving her old friend and companion a quick one-armed hug.
“What is going on?” Lillian asked. Before Melamira could answer, things went… dark-ish. It was like colour drained from the area around them. It was like dusk, but sudden and distinctly unpleasant. “It’s the middle of the day,” Lillian muttered, “what is…”
They looked up. The sun was covered. It wasn’t the first time Melamira had seen a solar eclipse. They were rare, of course.
“Hells, that’s not good,” Bea said.
“Yeah,” Tilly mumbled.
“Oh, fuck off,” Alexander mumbled as he looked up at the sky. Mellie couldn’t blame him. She’d seen an eclipse before, but she’d never seen the moon bleed.