Never had Sandrose known a more peaceful day. There was not a cloud in the sky, while stray sunbeams rained down from the canopy above in golden shafts of light. The air was still, the birds were singing, and the great river babbled as it coursed its way across the forest floor. Lurking in a bed of reeds that grew where the water slowed around a bend, the sea otter watched the world around her, taking in the beauty with half lidded eyes and a relaxed mind. It was the first time she had been able to truly rest since her ship had sank off the coast of Salamandastron.
Her lungs still burned from the smoke that had filled the galley; her paws still ached from pulling free her shackles when the deck had collapsed on top of them. She had thrown herself from the wreckage and drifted, a broken plank as her only means of support. It had been days before she had spotted the coast and then the river, where she swam upstream as fast as she was able, the fear of capture from another ship driving her far inland.
Now, she was beginning to regret her choice. Life was hard in the galleys, but it was harder in the wild, where predators watched and stalked her and death had no rules. Food was not given to her, she had to find it, and as a beast who knew nothing beyond how to row a ship, Sandrose was distrustful of even the most innocent of berries. At least as an otter her ability to swim was natural, but she did not know how to hunt and more often than not she would pass her nights hungry and wishing her luck would change on the morrow.
Despite it all, laying in the reeds and watching the forest bloom around her, Sandrose had to admit when the world thus far had been the size of a porthole, she had never seen a more beautiful sight.
She closed her eyes, letting exhaustion overtake her when a sudden searing pain exploded in her left calf. Sandrose barely had enough time to open her eyes wide in shock when she was submerged, the pain in her leg dragging her to the bottom of the river bed. She yanked as hard as she could, desperately trying to swim upwards but the pull was too strong, the pain too great. Something had grabbed her, something big, and through the cloud of blood billowing around her she saw the outline of a huge spotted fish. It continued to pull her to the bottom, twisting its body, ripping her flesh. It was all she could do not to lose her breath—her leg felt like it was going to fall off. In desperation, she slammed her free foot paw in the face of the monster, once, twice, thrice, until she felt its jaws slacken. Then she swam as fast as she could towards the surface.
The sounds of the forest exploded around her, but that did not concern her. She needed to get to safety. Twisting her body, she searched for the bed of reeds. Through the reeds she could pull herself up the bank. Spotting the bed to her right, she swam towards them, her sanctuary, but she had only gone a few strokes before her right arm was nearly ripped from its socket. The only thing Sandrose could do before she was pulled once more beneath the depths was let loose a scream of terror.