“The elders are up, yes? Go get them,” Aphella said. “It’s a dreadtusk.” She picked up her spear and bent her knees. Softly she began to incant, and the broad bone head of the spear gave off a pale green light.
“What?” Ty said. He fumbled with his lantern, nearly dropping it on the rocks, then held it out as if it too were a spear. A roar like a deep, guttural drum shook them. Ripples appeared from the water as if dozens of rocks had been thrown into the pool. On the far side of the pool, the silhouette of the monster began to take shape, blocking out the glow of the water. Great, lumbering legs dipped into the water above a wide and thorned body.
“A dreadtusk. Fetch the elders. Or anyone, for that matter. Go!”
“I can’t just leave you here with that thing,” Ty said. “Here, I know a trick.” He choked up on the pole enough to reach the crystalline lantern and touched it with his palm. He furrowed his brow, his breath hissing between his clenched teeth, and the lantern’s light grew. Soon it was aglow with a blinding white light, and Aphella had to shield her eyes with her hand. He spread his hand out on the pole, and then with a smooth motion flipped the lantern out into the moss pit. It hurdled end over end and landed in the far away shallows with a bright splash.
“See? You’re not the only one who can light weave,” Ty said with a terse, forced laugh.
“Bah! Now I can’t see anything.”
“That’ll send it running,” Ty said. A moment later the light went out, enveloped in what appeared to their blinded eyes to be a writhing, immense darkness. Beams of light shot out here and there, falling upon the water, or a rock, or strange, mottled skin.
“Dreadtusks are blind you fool!” Aphella said. “Now do as I say and go!” She felt Ty grabbing at her coat sleeve. “I’ll be right behind you. I won’t risk my life for a few snufflers, alright?”
Ty nodded at her and ran over the uneven rocks, stumbling without the lantern to guide his feet. He held his pole out to his side as he ran, a weapon of last resort, and cursed to himself under his breath.
Aphella squatted down and took in the shape of the dreadtusk as her eyes adjusted. It’s head was massive, a mouth mounted amidst leathery, eyeless shields. Two large, sharpened tusks protruded from the sides of the toothed maw, a clean white. Its skin appeared as red as the water, but was covered with a strangle, spotted pattern.
The beast’s head was facing to Aphella’s right, following as Ty ran along the rocks. It’s body seemed to shrink, to coil, and it seemed to Aphella as if it were ready to strike. A meaty tail splashed in the water. Aphella dug in her pocked and found a piece of hardened krum, the remnants of her dinner she had intended to eat while watching the snufflers. She threw it to her left and the dense hunk of cooked lichen plopped loudly in one of the deeper pools.
Immediately, the dreadtusk turned its head away from Ty and toward the splash, then resumed its position. With a burst of speed that seemed impossible from a beast so large, it bolted through the pool, throwing up water in waves and sheets. Aphella panicked and moved toward Ty, only to freeze after a few steps. A horrific squeal pierced her ears as the dreadtusk crushed a snuffler in its mouth. Blood ran out of its dark maw in black torrents, dimming the water it stood in and obscuring its shape.
Aphella breathed deeply and twisted the spear in her hands. She felt sweat slicking the ancient bone. Slowly she lowered it the tip back toward the water. She dipped it in, and the color of the water changed to a red, then intensified its brightness. The blood was less visible, but the monster more so. The leathery shields of its face revealed a wide, many-nostriled nose and a pair of bare pits where eyes would have been. It’s wide mouth crunched bones amid the dying squeals and ensuing silence, and more gore poured out.
Not satisfied, the dreadtusk swung its head from side to side, searching for another one of the small creatures. Aphella took another deep breath.
I can’t let it eat them all. I can’t.
She stood up and raised her spear. She concentrated and focused on the long length of bone, and felt it soak up the magic she fed into it with her mind and breath. Quietly, Aphella incanted her mind’s vision of fire, made into a word that only she understood. She leveled the point at the beast as it lumbered toward a group of snufflers, huddling against a rock and mewing loudly. She drew the bone back and, allowing it to focus her energy, thrust it forward.
Bright crimson and yellow light leapt from the tip of her spear and flew along the top of the water, which hissed and steamed as the heat passed over it. The ball of fire hit the shoulder and head plate of the dreadtusk, then burst into white-hot sparks. In her mind Aphella felt the flames and fire, felt the heat, and willed it to continue, to grow. Flames poured over the beast and enveloped it. A roar assaulted her ears, loud enough to make the water break and the ground rumble. The dreadtusk reared up on its hind legs and cried again, covered in flame. It dropped back into the pool with a tremendous thud. Aphella continued to concentrate. Never before had she channeled a fire spell of such size for so long, but she willed it to continue.
Feeling her mind alight, feeling the pain of the fire, Aphella released the spell. The fire died and fell away from the leathery husk she had attacked, though all around it debris lay alight, even in the shallow water. She breathed heavily, and light left her focus, her spear. Then, her breath caught.
The dreadtusk arose, one great hideous leg at a time, from the inferno and roared again.