The sun was cresting the sea’s chopped line as daylight found its way once more onto land. Morning dew twinkled on the leaves and sprayed in all directions as Elliera slipped through branches and down weeded paths. She lived for this sort of thing, feeling the damp cling of the morning air, the brilliant call of waking animals, and the brisk light that made everything slightly ephmereal. The dark trunks of the forest that surrounded her were so wonderfully ancient, their bark exuding more character than any person she had met thus far. There were stories in those deep lines and worn wood, stories that only a tracker like herself could read. She did so now, glancing down one particular tree that had tell tale signs of a lucien having passed by in the night. She had been tracking this particular creature now on three days and still it evaded her. The council had proposed, and willingly so, that she chose another to take as her guardian. And the council did not dismiss these choices lightly.
Still, as aggrevated as it made them with the length that she was taking, she found no rush in tracking her guardian. Elliera grew up believing that one day she would be the proud owner of a lucien, that she would be one of the best trackers under sun or moon. Even after the creature had evaded her for so long, she refused to give up hope. This was what she wanted, after all, this is what she had to work for.
The tracks she followed led down to the river bank. They were beginning to become fresher, the paws having left identifiable marks even a non-tracker could have identified. Hairs were still stuck to twigs and trees only Elliera’s trained eyes could glimpse. She was close.
She quickened her pace, keeping her eyes in constant motion, shifting from tree trunk to tree trunk, from shadow to shadow and letting the nearing sound of rushing water pour into her ears. The water throbbed in time with her heart beat that was speeding up as she anticipated her catch. Each step she took she drew closer to success. Oh how she would revel at the expression on her elders’ faces when she came back with a lucien in her wake! They wouldn’t know what to do with themselves, she laughed.
She was still predicting how her reception would be when she stubbled across a figure strewn in the mud. The leg had clearly been torn by some savage maw. The clothes were simple and dirty. She crept closer, her concentration focused on any sudden moves that might be made. From the mud on the figure’s face and her distance, she could guess that it was a man, but she wasn’t sure. Most men in her village kept their hair cropped short. This man’s hair was long, tangled in dried mud that was caked on his person.
When the man made no move, she gently examined his wound. Whatever creature had made the marks on his leg was none that she had come across, and she did not want to find out. Elliera had heard of many vicious beasts in her time, but none that she could imagine would actually exist. Perhaps it had been a monster of legend.
The tracker shook her head. What silly thoughts, she chastised, legend or no the man clearly needed help. With the few herbs and bandages she carried on her body she bandaged him as best she could, applying ointments where needed. Even when she tied a brace to tightly the man did not stir. She glanced at his face from time to time and felt an unexplained shiver run down her spine. There was truly no reason for it, but something about the paleness of the man’s face disturbed her. With his nasty wound, many would have contributed his color to loss of blood, but she had seen a great deal of bad wounds and no one could look this unnaturally pale.
As she kept dilberating on how the man could look the way he did, she felt a sudden urge to look up. There, standing just beyond the tree line with pale, lantern orange eyes peering at her was the lucien. Its fur was a remarkably silky black tipped with silver that glistened like wet paint. Its powerful legs supported a long torso, almost six feet long, with a sweeping tail. Many often mistook a lucien for a black wolf. Indeed, the lucien was a mixture of wolf and wild cat, an unfathomable combination, but deadly nonetheless.
“What luck,” she breathed.