Eleuia examined the tracks that led into the cloud forest and gripped her father’s macuahuitl. Sharp obsidian blades glinted in the morning light, and the heavy wooden handle was comforting in her hand.
She could use all the comfort she could find. None of the warriors who’d seen the beast that took Citali would venture after it. Most were curled under piles of blankets, crying. A few stared blankly and giggled at nothing, and one had fallen into a stupor. Any rescue was up to Eleuia.
“You can’t go,” Eleuia’s mother said. She clutched at Eleuia’s shoulders. “You’ll die, then who’ll be left to take care of me?”
The weapon’s weight kept Eleuia’s hand from shaking, and she was grateful for that, too.
“Someone has to go.”
“If you come back, you’ll be mad or broken, and no man will ever want you.”
Eleuia shrugged her hands away and strode into the cloud forest. She’d been looking for ways to avoid marriage for years.
The creature’s tracks were unlike any Eleuia had seen before. Each footprint had four thick toes, but they protruded at angles that made her head ache when she looked at them directly. The creature had also left behind a strange, rotting-cacao smell that made Eleuia dizzy.
Eleuia thought of Citali’s smile, of her deep brown eyes, of the warmth of her fingers. Of their friendship, and the deeper feelings that they never spoke of. Citali was the only person who could make Eleuia smile. She gritted her teeth and followed the tracks into the jungle.