It started to rain.
Eve trudged through the forest, cold but undeterred. A steady downpour slowed her, mud clinging to her legs as she waded through pools of dark, earthen water. As she adjusted her pack over a shoulder, she peered through the dreary haze.
Overhead, thunder roared. Lightning flashed, hundreds of bolts slashing through the sky. Eve shielded her eyes, blinded by the storm’s brilliance. After a moment, she began to pick her way through the shadowed forest as the wind started to howl.
When a bolt of white fire slapped the earth in front of her, Eve cried out in alarm. Panicked, she backed up. She pressed one hand over her chest, exhaling as her heart beat a frantic pace under the palm of her hand.
She took off to the left when wood splintered, the struck tree groaning as it began to sag. Eve ran. Behind, the tree toppled and the earth shook.
Eve was cast off the path into the hills beyond. She rolled, sharp rocks biting at her skin until she came to a full stop. She laid there, sides heaving as she blinked rapidly.
Eve climbed to her feet, skin bruised and stinging. She shook herself off, wiped the rain from her eyes as she looked around.
Exhaling into her hands, Eve shuddered. It was colder, the forest an unfamiliar blur. She dug out her compus, staring as the needle spun in rapid circles.
She was lost, the trail gone and the heavens dark. None were the wiser, a deep hush having fallen over the forest as she stumbled her way through the wet growth.
She wasn’t expecting the drop-off or the blood. The incline was steep and slick with mud, twisted roots jutting from the ground. A trail of crimson glowed, the light intense as she slid along the path.
When she found the body, she could only stare. A chill cut deeper than the rain, her gaze wide as she stared at the crumpled form on the ground.
And she wasn’t alone. A man stood off to the side, his back resting against a tree. His gaze was on her, expression devoid of emotion. She swallowed.
“Control is but one measure to gain power, to gain independence,” the man stood within feet of her, an easy smile spreading across his face. How could he smile when looking over the body of a dead boy? It was almost as if he knew her thoughts when he said, “This isn’t as bad as the others I’ve seen. It is tragic, all deaths are…but this is tame. Almost gentle.”
Eve eyed the boy’s still form, stomach churning. The body’s glazed eyes stared vacantly ahead as she asked, “How is getting torn apart gentle? And who are you?”
“Call me Sal. Everyone does,” this man stepped around the body, shadowed eyes scanning the wet ground around the dead boy. Sal was silent for a time. After a while, he continued, “It was far from gentle. He didn’t die here, either. Dropped off. Only one set of prints on the ground.”
‘And how do you know that?’ The question begged an answer, but Eve’s mouth was dry. This man, Sal, he looked at her. It was almost as if he knew her thoughts as he stepped towards her. He smiled, the expression all but nice before he said, “I keep an eye on these things. It’s my job. And who might you be, wandering the forest in this weather?”
“Just a wanderer.”
Sal rose a brow, but chuckled nonetheless. After a moment, he stood directly in front of her. When she tried to withdraw, he caught her wrist and held her fast.
“You really should have stayed home, missy,” Sal murmured as he turned her hand palm up. He pressed his thumb into the skin, gaze on her face as he whispered, “There’s a monster about. Is it here? Maybe. Should you have stayed away? Certainly. The question remains, however…
“Why are you here, Eve Turner, and what shall I do with you?”