In the years since her family’s airship had crashed on the outer edge of the Ram formation, forcing her to grow up fast to stay alive on the frontier, Xelya has hunted many creatures. As a child, alone but for a frequently absent mentor, she had stalked the wild rams and other wildlife of the Shattered Isle to find sustenance. She also learned to hunt the most dangerous foes of all, the mighty Behemoths that dominated the wild islands at the edge of the Maelstrom.
Now it was her turn to be hunted. And she was discovering to her surprise that she was actually enjoying it.
Casting a glance back the way she had come, she saw she had left not a trace to mark her passage. But her pursuers were no ordinary hunters. Her ears told her what her eyes denied: they were still coming, and she had to move.
The silver-white moon that broke through the clouds cast a ghostly pallor over the small lagoon that appeared before her as she burst out of the undergrowth. A pale mist drifted across the glass-calm surface, disturbed only by the flight of a single, frightened dragonfly that made its escape when this new interloper appeared.
Every bone in her body wanted to follow the insect into flight. To run, to flee, to dash at breakneck speed away from pursuit and back to her skyboard. To take flight from this island and leap on a current of aether to the next, in hopes it might offer a bit more safety. It was a pattern of behaviour that had kept her alive until this point, after all. But she also knew that the only way to go from hunted to hunter was to take control of the situation. To stop reacting and instead to prepare, and act. And so she was still and silent. She silenced even her own heartbeat in her ears, homing in on her pursuers. Pinpointing their location, and preparing to meet them when they emerged from the dense foliage.
There, she thought. That’s the spot. Definitely.
Grasping her pike with one hand, she silently positioned herself for their arrival.
The first to emerge was a tall, muscular man wearing the typical wood and leather armour of the Farslayer. Similar to her own, but more worn and battered. He clutched a set of chain blades crafted from the bony brow ridges of a Winterhorn, and he squinted as he surveyed the silent clearing.
Xelya did not give him the opportunity to see her before she struck. She brought the war pike in low, striking the other Farslayer in the back of his knees, which caused him to pitch forward face-first into the pond with a splash and a yell. Xelya was careful not to strike him with the blade—she wasn’t a murderer. She followed up with a swift kick that knocked the man unconscious. She then turned toward her next attacker.
This new opponent was also a Farslayer. A woman perhaps a decade Xelya’s senior, she emerged from the woods wielding an axe carved from archonite, but was completely unprepared for the sight of her companion’s limp form flying toward her. The woman tried to dodge to one side, but Xelya was there to meet her with another kick, this time to her foe’s ankle. The second attacker went down with a tortured grunt, writhing as she clutched a badly sprained ankle.
The third pursuer was not so reckless. Having seen Xelya quickly handle his companions, this one stayed on the edge of the woods, maneuvering for a better angle to strike. Xelya knew he was there, but did everything she could to hide it—pretending to search the treeline, sniffing the air curiously, and telling the groaning woman with the injured ankle to be quiet. After a few minutes of this, her third pursuer apparently decided he was in the clear. She heard a rasping sound as his bone sword cleared its woven scabbard, and still did not react. Xelya had to admit this third hunter was impressively silent as he approached her, still convinced she was unaware of his presence. It wasn’t until she raised her war pike to block his strike that he realized he’d never had a chance.
Xelya grinned at the man’s surprise—then took advantage of his shock to knock his sword away and break his nose with the shaft of her pike. The hunter staggered back, off balance and clutching his face, which spewed blood.
“Well?” Xelya said as she twirled her war pike with the slightest hint of a swagger. “Have you figured it out yet?” The man just made a pained sound through his bloodied nose. Xelya turned to the first two just as the initial attacker was regaining consciousness. “Eh? Is that it? Did I pass your test, you fancy-pants Farslayers?”
“You broag by doze!” squealed the third hunter.
“Yep,” Xelya replied. “So. We good?”
The first hunter regained his feet and picked up his chain blades. “Good?” he said. “I’ll tell you when we’re—”
He had the briefest of moments to hear the whistling sound, and turned his head skyward just in time to see the razor-tipped quill that plunged into his thigh and out the other side, pinning him to the ground. The man began to cry out, but Xelya silenced him with a look. “Stay put. You’ll bleed out if you don’t. Just wait here. Or die. Your call.”
She could spare no more time for the foolish Farslayer. And Xelya didn’t really care if she’d passed this latest test. Without a word, she pulled the woman with the sprained ankle to her feet. Together, the three who could still move turned to face the enraged Quillshot that barreled down the rise to face them.
“So,” Xelya said. “Like I said. We good?”
“We’re good,” winced the woman. Her companion just nodded and hefted his chain blades, while his pinned compatriot whimpered encouragement from behind them.
With a roar that belied her diminutive frame, Xelya the Farslayer charged into the fray.