I ran and I ran and I ran through the thick black woods, the gnarled bones of the trees rushing by me, and tramping the packed snow underfoot. Faster and faster I ran. My lungs burned and my blood sang in my veins and still I pushed myself, faster and faster, harder and harder – but I knew no matter how hard I ran it would never be fast enough to escape her.
My legs were burning, burning so hot they felt like they would explode, as I rounded the corner near the embankment, the snow of its sloping side dusted in fallen green pine needles. Past the giant boulder, over the next little hill. Not far now, it was not far now. Just had to keep running. Not think about what was behind me. Just keep running.
Finally, I reached the cave. I stopped and bent over at the waist, my face hot and flushed in the cold of the winter air, my chest heaving and lungs aflame, my gasped breaths quick bursts of steam evaporating into the frigid nothingness.
This was it. All I had to do now was plunge the dagger into her heart. That would vanquish her soul, both from her inert form and the one of the creature in which she’d terrorized the countryside; the one hot on the heels of my boots that very moment.
As I stood to enter the gaping black maw of the cave I heard a growling. I looked behind me, afeared to see the evil she-demon had caught me now when I was so close, but there was nothing. Then the low growling was mixed with angry barking. It was coming from in front of me, from the black mouth of the cave.
The terrifying white form of her emerged from the blackness, nine feet high at the shoulder, her wet fur glistening in the bright alpine sunlight. She growled and barked and bared her monstrous teeth. I was done for.
Another shape emerged from behind her, a man clad in robes. A man I recognized from the village, from the table of elders at the council only a fortnight past.
“Surprised to see me, Tristan?” he said, smiling ear to ear. “We knew you’d come.”