“Dear Mother, I have become lost.”
Lucia’s own words rang in her head and woke her from a sleep she never intended falling into. She superstitiously looked out into the darkness, though she could not have seen her own hand in front of her face, and searched for the monster. Realizing that looking for him was futile, Lucia needlessly closed her eyes, held her breath, and listened. The only thing she could hear was the silence of being alone.
Lucia opened her eyes again and felt tears start to roll down her cheek. Lucia quickly wiped the tears with her sleeve, reminding herself that she could not afford to show weakness, even when she felt like she was alone. She needed to take control of herself and take stock of what she had.
She still had some weapons; shield, claw, and a few knives. She also had some rations left, mostly some dry meat and cheese, but she hadn’t had much of an appetite since she first encountered the monster. The only light Lucia had was the small star stone that rested on her leg, but that had barely been enough to write the letter she had been working on when she dozed off. The only other thing in her possession was the coin with the Chi-Rho her father had given her many years ago for good luck.
Not that it had brought her much luck to this point.
Lucia stood up and wiped off the earthen remains of her nest-like home she had spent the past few days. Of course, she had no actual idea how long she had been alone in the dark. The native peoples called these lands the Fields of Shadows and for good reason. Now, separated from her regiment, all this darkness seemed to be too much for her to bare alone. The only chance she had was to reunite with her fellow soldiers and somehow make up for the mistakes she had made that had led her comrades down into this hellhole.
The young woman reached down to the ground and searched for the walking stick that she hoped would keep her from falling off a cliff. A ghoul like howl screamed out in the distance reminding Lucia that she was still in a nightmare. Lucia could feel tears start to well up in her eyes again. She fought them back like a good soldier would have, like the soldier she longed to be. She started walking, not rushing like some scared prey animal, but with purpose and enough caution not to get her thrown down another hole.
Still, it always felt like something was watching her every step because Lucia knew that the creature was still hunting her, or playing with her. She did not know if the creature could see in the dark, its attacks always seemed so random and chaotic. From a few glimpses of the creature in firelight she figured that it was some kind of reptile with a hard shell like body, but it also possessed a very bird-like beak and talons. Lucia felt a cold shiver down her spine, just the memory of the creature’s image made it feel like it was close by.
Lucia whispered a small prayer to herself and continued on her way, trying to focus on each individual step. She could feel the path in front of her start to rise in elevation and with it, her hope that she would find a way out of the pit were also beginning to rise. As if reading her mind, what had to be the monster chasing let out a terrifying sound that was like a cross between a lion’s roar and eagle’s screech. Forgetting about caution almost immediately, Lucia started to sprint up the ever-growing hill in front of her.
That is when she saw a most welcoming site, the light of a fire began to sharpen in the distance. Starting as a mere speck in the corner of her eye, the light started to brighten at the apex of the hill until Lucia could start to see the ground in front of her and the hillside around her. Against her better judgement, she looked back for any signs of the creature hunting but found none.
Reaching the top of the hill, she came to rest in the middle of what must have been an abandoned camp site. Lucia bent down and grabbed her knees, not realizing until that moment how hard she had actually been running. The small fire, which felt extremely good to her damp body, looked like it had recently been tended to and maybe even just built. Most likely Lucia knew that whoever had made the camp had been scared off by the cry of the beast chasing her. She walked through the camp slowly and to the other side of the hill, careful not to look too threatening to anyone who might have been watching.
“Is anyone here?” she asked.
Lucia moved to the edge of the hill and tried to look for any signs of her fellow soldiers, but the fire’s light was too weak to overcome the darkness. Disappointed, but not surprised, Lucia let her gaze drop, wondering what she should do next. That is when she spotted it, a sparkle of silver set against scarlet cloth. Not unlike the uniform she wore.
She dashed toward where the soldier sat, kicking up dust and nearly losing her footing a few times. Lucia dropped to her knees beside the soldier and pulled him toward her by the shoulder, forgetting all sense of decorum. When she looked into his dried sunken in face, frozen in agony, she was forced to cover her mouth with both hands to stifle the scream of terror that came from inside her. She should not have been surprised, but hope had appeared for a brief second and she had jumped at it like bait.
From the brief glimpse of the corpse and the gear that he had own, Lucia believed that she did not know this man. Not that she wanted to do a full examination of a corpse, but she felt confident that he had died some time ago and not from her regiment. He must have died lost and alone.
Tears started to roll down her cheeks and she was about to let herself cry, when a scream like something dying rang in her ears and snuffed out the fire on top of the hill. Heart beating like it was about to burst from her chest, Lucia wiped the tears away from her eyes with her sleeve and reached down toward the dead man’s waist. She searched for where the dead soldier would have kept his sword and when she found it, she gripped the handle tightly and unsheathed it. A shiver ran down her spine as she felt those demonic eyes fall on her once more. Below her, she saw the glimmer of faint light, like she had seen before with the campfire.
Lucia stood up and took a deep breath, slamming her new sword into her scabbard with a loud pop. The rumble of a growl over her shoulder caused her to shake violently as she started toward the light. She wanted to run, but almost immediately she fell on the slope she had forgotten about. It was just as well, she found that she could roll faster down the hill than she could have ran, and with every painful rotation of her body she knew was getting closer to the light she had spotted and hopefully closer to the person who had made it.
Lucia found herself taking the bait again.