+++ This is a 1st draft. Please forgive me if you find any nonsensical sentences, grammatical mistakes, and typos. The reason I share this story is to hear some constructive criticism on plot points and flow. I'd appreciate all comments. +++
Iris sat in the back of the hover truck amongst all her family's belongings. The only source of light were the floating screens that showcased a 3D strategy game with arrows and squares. Occasionally Claire, her mother, would talk to her through the glass that separated the back from the front.
"Iris, take a look outside. Ostaur is something else, isn't it?"
Iris tapped at the side of the panel at Claire's prompting. With the convenience of technology, the side panel rippled until the nature scenery could bleed through, as if replaced by a clear window. She knew no one would be able to see her. The panel worked like a one-way mirror.
Tall trees with thick trunks dominated her view, but the variety of shrubbery and ferns were a pretty sight. It was a marvel to traverse through a forest like this. However, what her mother wanted her to see was the wide river streaming with white water.
"It's been raining a lot these last few days. The river floods sometimes, but the Net warns environmentalists to take action before any damage is done. It should be back to normal within a couple days." Chad said.
Chad was hired to tag along for his strength. His Soul Stone made it easy for him to lift and move heavy furniture without breaking a sweat. It was fun hearing about the moving service he worked for, and some of the customers he had. He also told interesting trivia about the new region her family was moving into.
Iris admired the water a few moments longer before turning back to her game and saving her progress. She then changed the mode on her phone so she could take a few pictures.
Seeing a river is a good sign. She began to type using the keyboard projected on a beam of blue light. It means we're on the outskirts of Wildewood!
Just as she submitted the post to her page, a distant howl interrupted the ongoing conversation behind her.
"It sounds like some wolves are close by." Claire commented. "If we're lucky, we might be able to see them."
Another howl, but it sounded garbled – like it was under water. Iris got on her knees and pressed her forehead against the panel, trying to look for a possible wolf in passing.
A black shape the size of an elephant darted by. Before she could say anything, Iris suddenly felt gravity shift, sending her stomach up into her throat.
"What the–" Chad started to say, before an explosion of glass muted his next words.
Shrill screaming pierced her eardrums. Iris wanted to shout back, but toppling furniture threatened to crush her as the truck was sent flying off the road.
Something jabbed into her side and landed heavily against her back when the truck crashed into the ground. It was completely dark now, but not silent. The groan of metal being torn apart sent her heart racing, and she scrambled to find an exit.
Breathing frantically, she neared the opposite end of the truck. She pressed her hand against the emergency hatch, and a series of colored lights flashed and disappeared before her eyes. She was able to make sense of her surroundings long enough to crawl out from under trashed shelves and folded mattresses to escape through the truck's back doors.
She touched the ground, finding brittle grass and hard pebbles. She was able to spot Chad, who bleeding from several cuts on his face and arms. He had accessed his Soul Stone's power and was wrestling down a wolf. He used Earth magic to keep snapping jaws away from his throat, but that creature . . . it was huge.
That's not a wolf. That's a monster!
An ominous glint grabbed her attention. She turned only to find a wolf making its approach. Its eyes were an eerie red-green, which were twitching and distorting like a glitch. Still, its attention remained fixated on her.
Her whole body froze. Her heart was hammering against her chest now, as if it were a trapped animal in a cage. Her body wouldn't respond even when her nerves screeched for her to act. It was difficult to breathe.
She looked passed its eyes. It moved towards her with jerky movements, its body shifting like fragments of a broken mirror. Before she could run, it lunged for her.
"Get away from me!" She screamed.
It didn't heed her words. Instead, teeth wrapped around her waist and dug hard into her shoulders. She was then lifted into the air, and she squirmed in a panic.
It tightened its hold, and the blood in her ears drummed manically with the increase of pressure. She knew that a firm squeeze could break all the bones in her body. To her horror, it proceeded to bite down and crush her ribs and spine with its massive fangs, and she wailed in agony. She could feel the blood spilling out from her wounds.
"You there, listen to me!"
The unfamiliar voice was dissonant, and it bounced around the surrounding forest like booming thunder. The wolf didn't seem to hear the intrusion, instead shaking its head as if she were a ragdoll. It was literally tearing her apart.
The voice boomed again, demanding like an indigent god. "Become my Champion, and my power is yours! Just say the word and the contract is sealed."
"I'll become your champion, just make it stop!" She begged the voice.
Iris was quickly losing focus, and just when she was convinced she imagined the voice, a surge of heat expanded outwards from the center of her chest.
The beast howled in pain, thus releasing its hold as if she were a burning coal. She dropped hard onto the ground, feeling the impact of all her crushed bones at once. She cried out.
"Get up now." The voice commanded. It was louder than before, rattling inside her skull. The heat was so intense she thought her organs were liquefying. "We must finish it off!"
"How?" Iris whimpered, limp from the damage that had already been dealt. She screamed as the fire increased a thousand fold, to the point her soul was nothing more than a pool of boiling lava.
"My magic is healing your wounds as we speak. Stand up. You can do it."
Sobbing, Iris forced herself onto her hands and knees, and shakily stood on her feet. Somehow she didn't collapse under her own weight.
The beast that previously held her in its jaws was pacing and whipping its glitching form. It gouged at the closest tree trunks like a rabid animal, and the voice inside her head hummed in satisfaction.
"I've been tracking this entity for some time, and now you and I can eliminate this threat before it harms another innocent."
Iris found the strength to reach her full height. The fire calmed to a smoldering nugget in her gut, and she breathed out a slow breath. She was startled when embers sparked the air as she exhaled.
"You're young, so I imagine you don't have much experience with dueling. I'll guide you from here."
Dueling? Iris paled.
She knew close to nothing about dueling. What she did know is that magic was still alive in this world, and the only way to wield it is through Soul Stones. Due to the extraordinary power a Soul Stone could harness, her father was wary to have her own while growing up. It was ironic though, since he was a powerful duelist himself.
However, she wasn't even sure if this voice was a Soul Stone.
"Wait, what are you?"
"Focus. I'm known as the Crimson Prince of Heaven."
The voice let out a frustrated sigh.
"My name is Avereon." She felt a mental nudge to focus on the wolf that scrambled in vain to escape her. "Just aim for the throat."
"With what? You want me to punch it?"
Considering the circumstances, Iris shouldn't be able to lift herself off the ground, much less throw a punch. She was supposed to be pulverized, if not swallowed whole. Strangely, at this moment, she felt stronger than she ever had in her life. Perhaps with Avereon's help she had a fighting chance.
Clenching her fists, she sprinted towards the lupine entity. Sensing her, the monster snarled as she took her first swing at its muzzle.
Just as she made contact with its face, an eruption of fire burst from her knuckles like fireworks. It howled in pain and reared back, and she used the opportunity to go for a swift kick at its exposed throat.
Despite the wolf's wavering form, she found purchase in a network of tense muscles that made up its neck. It gagged and whined like it took a bullet rather than the foot of a 15-year-old girl. With a familiar motion, she was back in a proper fighting stance.
Fortunately, Iris knew how to handle herself in a fight. Her eyes narrowed dangerously, giving Avereon the chance to spew flames around her like an infernal halo.
"It's weak, so now's your chance." Avereon prompted.
She needed to end this quickly.
Iris gathered her strength and made for a running start. The monster was flickering more than usual, but it was still able to rear back at her approach. She leaped and went for a last double kick.
Her heel dug into the meaty part of its neck and forced it closer to the ground on impact. Moving with the momentum, she struck again with the precision of a viper, and her other leg came down like a guillotine.
With a fury of white-hot flames, the wolf released a whine as it caught on fire. The sound of it gave her chills. No natural animal could produce such a noise; one that reminded her of a snared note in EDM. With one last hiccup, the wolf collapsed with a jarring warble and began to jerk and convulse. Before she knew it, it blinked out of existence. In its place was a black impression burned into the dirt.
Iris stilled. It didn't take long for the birds to feel safe enough to continue their birdsong, as if the wolfish monster was nothing but a fever dream. In the distance, she could hear the water that made up the lively river. Peace had returned.
"That was. . ."
"Very well done, on your part." Avereon finished.
Iris looked down at her hands. Like bracelets, she wore an angry blaze around her wrists that spewed up her forearms like geysers.
"What's going on?" Her heart jumped in her throat when she remembered her mother, and all the things they were trying to move into their new home. "Mom, are you okay?"
She frantically looked around, finding the mutilated body of Chad close by. She gasped, violently turning her head away from the gruesome sight. Realizing how much ground she covered, she spotted further up the road a trashed hover truck and a figure partially hidden by the bushes.
"No, no, this can't be happening!"
She raced over to inspect the body that remained too still to be alive.
The closer she got to the scene, the sicker she became. There was the pungent smell of burning fluid and smoke. Broken glass shone like diamonds from the wreckage, scattered around like stars.
And then the world stopped. Iris had gotten closer to the bushes, where a nightmare awaited her.
Her mom's pretty heart-shaped face, ruined and pale, watched the sky in horror with glassy brown eyes. Familiar chestnut curls were slicked with red. Her mother's floral dress was torn, exposing the deep gouges made from fangs that tore things bloody. She could see the bones of her ribcage poking through the meat of muscle, like baby teeth emerging from pink gums.
Iris couldn't hold back her lunch for much longer, and she tried to get as far as possible before she vomited. Her insides rejected the undigested bits of her sandwich, and she realized the tears when her face was too wet.
"Nonononono-" She rambled, hugging her arms for comfort.
She slid to the ground, shaking and nauseous, and Avereon spoke with a soft vibration in her mind.
"I'm so sorry." Avereon paused. "You must get help before the shock settles. Let's go."
She was filled with sudden inspiration, but it was as if it passed through a steel barrier, for it was a distant touch.
"I think Wildewood, the town we're moving to, is just down the road from here. My dad has a friend there so I can find him first." She said numbly.
"Good. Use this chance to get extra speed. We don't have time to lose."
The fire bracelets had gone dim while she searched for Claire, but now they blazed back to life with more ferocity than before.
Iris hesitated, peering at her unscathed hands.
"W-Wait. I need to find . . . my phone." She mumbled weakly.
Shivering, Iris was able to locate the device. It was near the wreckage, and its thin screen bore an ugly crack that webbed like lightning. She stuffed it into her pocket before fleeing the scene.