Saoirse jumped down in a moment, turning the body’s face out of the water and muck and to the sky. The boy coughed once, twice, and was breathing. Saoirse cleared off the mud from his face.
Toiréasa’s voice rang out behind her. “If there’s one, there might be more. I’ll look.”
She didn’t have to look, she could hear Toiréasa obey, though reluctantly. No matter how long they had done this for, Toiréasa would always feel like she should have charge. Saoirse was in charge though, they had both agreed.
“We go together.”
Saoirse’s meaning was clear. There would be one of those beasts here, no doubts. She picked the boy up and they went searching.
There came the day when the vicious beasts no longer had names that anyone knew. At least, not anyone nearby. Without a name, without anyone who knew anything about them, these monsters became much more difficult to kill when they got in the way.
“If we come across another slaughtered town…”
Toiréasa didn’t have to finish her sentence, Saoirse knew how it would end. It felt like they had been away from home for so long, tracking down the origins of these changes, this destruction. This swampland used to be a grassy field, according to the maps, according to the last people they had talked to. Some still believed it was grass. The change hadn’t happened slowly.
“-did you see that?”
Saoirse first looked at Toiréasa before following her line of sight. First it looked like a body. Then it tried to move.
Someone was, despite all odds, alive.
When the mountain fell out under them, the only one of the three who didn’t fall was the Gévaudan hound. She bounded up to the next stable place. Saoirse saw that the beast would have taken Toiréasa with her, if Toiréasa’s cloak could have withstood the canine’s teeth.
Maybe it meant she was in a better position than Saoirse though, who fell straight down. The rocks and dirt scraped against her and she knew if she grabbed with a finger she would break any of them. She slowed herself down with her boots on one side and her shoulder on the other.
Finally she slowed. It wasn’t that bad, once Saoirse had the ability to look over her situation. She could climb right back up, once she caught her breath.
Toiréasa called down to her and Saoirse toyed with the idea of pretending this was it. The corner of her mouth twitched.
She opened her mouth.
“Why haven’t you ever tried to kiss me?”
Perhaps she should have been embarrassed to ask such a thing. She could imagine her father’s reaction to such a thing. So forward! Not that Toiréasa had ever given much thought to propriety, not in a long time. Yet Saoirse had been so forward in everything else. She had been the one to approach Toiréasa first. The woman had tried nothing. Not a kiss, not any other sweet romantic gesture.
Toiréasa didn’t want the other sweet, romantic gestures. That wasn’t important to her. Not that she’d turn them away. However, considering what her other suitors had wanted, it was important to her to know Saoirse’s thoughts on the matter.
There were those teeth, showing in that smile. “Is that a request?”
Toiréasa looked her companion over, before absently reaching for the Gévaudan hound at her feet. Her boot rubbed against the fur of the beast’s side. The bitch continued to sleep. “It’s a question.”
Saoirse shrugged. “I’m in no rush. I’m going to be the only one and I’m going to have all of them. When that starts is of no consequence.”
“Still very certain, aren’t you.”
“Tell me I’m wrong.”
She couldn’t, because she couldn’t imagine it being anyone else but Saoirse now. “Your patience might not be rewarded.”
Saoirse grabbed her by the shoulders, holding her where she stood. Those lips were on hers, that tongue meeting hers, those teeth somehow not ripping her to shreds.
When they parted, Saoirse looked as smug as she ever did. “I think it was.”
It was. Toiréasa couldn’t complain about that. She returned that smile with one of her own. “Who won what now?”
Saoirse didn’t care so much about clothes, except that they be serviceable enough to get her through what she needed to get through. Warm for those terrible cold winds, airy enough for the harsh sun – whatever she needed.
Catching Toiréasa in something different than what was usually considered good for travelling… Well, that was a different matter entirely. It reminded her of those days, right when the world was turning on its head, when she would catch a glimpse of the fire from the top of the craeg. Before the outfits became more and more suited for usage of the sword.
Saoirse was certain she preferred those outfits. The ones best suited for Toiréasa to wield her blade. However, there was something to be said for those skirts catching in low breezes, shoes that would have worn through if they had been worn through any length of their current journey.
There was something to be said for a dress, because it reminded Saoirse that she wanted that house up on top and the girl that had always been beyond her reach.
The house might still be, but the girl was right here.
The letter took a very long time to reach them. Sent out with the best of those who could travel in this new world, it still had to find its way to someone who refused to stay still. Who couldn’t stay still. When they arrived at the inn though, having doubled back, the letter was waiting for her.
Saoirse opened it with a nail and read it fast. Then her pace slowed.
“I can’t believe they managed to send news all the way from home to here.”
Toiréasa’s words had faded into the background, despite how she stood near Saoirse’s shoulder. “Of course my father wouldn’t do that. Or failed to.”
“My cousin is dead.” From injuries sustained in the new environment. Because he couldn’t hunt as well on his own, more like.
Toiréasa’s attitude dwindled. She made a sound, like the slight exhalation of air.
Eventually, they got their room.
Saoirse was already soaked. The torrent coming down past them as they climbed the cliff made everything wet. It had made her more cold than this weather really should have allowed for. And a bit more distracted.
The waterfall covered their tracks, even as it made their journey vertically more and more difficult. The beast that followed them wouldn’t be able to make it the same way. If it wanted them, it would have to find another way. Saoirse had no doubt it would. However, by then they would be in control of the situation.
She heard Toiréasa swear. Saoirse couldn’t help but grin, pulling herself up with the only sort of grip that could hold onto the stones, slick with water, worn by the continuous splatter.
“What? Need a break?” she called down to her partner.
Toiréasa’s retort was full of fire. “If you slow down here, I’ll break your neck myself.”
Saoirse chuckled. Shoving the thoughts of cold aside, replacing them with Toiréasa’s fire, she kept climbing.
Saoirse watched the minhocão move, fast enough despite its size, but not as fast as the first one they had taken down.
“Easy.” She rose to her feet in one fluid motion.
“You always say they’re easy.”
Saoirse had a wide grin on her face, an expression that occasionally matched the expression of the Gévaudan beast which followed Toiréasa – blood thirsty and eager. Teeth, lots of teeth.
“What could beat us?”
Slowly, Toiréasa’s smile matched the other two.
The minhocão was a giant, black, serpentine creature with massive jaws. Pushing up from the earth below, it snapped in the air with its sightless head.
Toiréasa tapped her fingers against her belt. She stood, looking down at the forest with little concern for the humongous problem facing them. “What do you ken? They actually drove it out.”
While Toiréasa appeared lax, she still looked much more prepared for a fight than Saoirse, who sat perched on a boulder with knees up to her ears as she stared down at the carpet of forest below. “Remember the first minhocão? That was a trial, I reckon. Not like this one.”
Toiréasa rolled her eyes. “Like I could forget. That muppet wouldn’t have been dragged out so easy.”
She wanted to get moving, Saoirse could tell. Toiréasa had always been impulsive like that. That was why Saoirse was in charge.
Toiréasa led a giant man-eating hound, but Saoirse was in charge. Step one, completed.
She fed the beast raw meat, because as far as Toiréasa was concerned, the Gévaudan hound was like a dog. At least, in some ways. There were few similarities she would actually make, but when it came to parts of the care of the hound, she treated the bitch like any other dog.
“Why didn’t you name her?” Saoirse asked her, watching the beast tear into the food with a look of disinterest. Saoirse was the only one Toiréasa had known to show no fear around the canine. Simply caution.
Toiréasa shrugged. “I don’t know. She comes when I whistle. If she didn’t, that’d be fine. I’m not sure why she follows me.”
Saoirse smirked. “Good taste?”
They watched the beast lick all of the juices from the ground and break through the rest of the bone with those teeth.