A hush of midnight fell upon the woods.
Darkness crawled from the crags of the forest’s shattered grounds, wisps of inky black winding through the air like sky-borne serpents. A small form stumbled through the shade, head bowed and matted hair swaying. As the slumped soul passed through a ray of celestial light, the moonlight showed bruised skin and a body skeletal thin. Battered, bloody hands clutched at the pendant swinging from around her neck, the emerald gem within it faintly glowing.
Pain tore through her body. She toppled over, head pressed to the ground as she wrapped her arms around her middle. As her glazed eyes clenched shut, she sobbed into the ground. Clear liquid bubbled under the crease of her eyelids, her body shuddering with every broken cry. Bony hands clawed at the ground before her nails bit into the damp soil, her back curving as she pressed her forehead to her knees.
Somewhere in the distance, a bell rang long and dark. Her eyes snapped open as her lips parted in a gasp, a strong wind hurtling down the path she rested upon. She pushed away from the ground as a low, rumbling growl tore through the woods followed by the baying of bloodthirsty hounds. Back on her feet, she stumbled forward.
Her stomach clenched; pain surged, gathering in her chest and spiraling deep into her loins. Wet heat coiled between her thighs moments before the scent of copper flooded the air. The hounds howled, their voices louder than before. A crimson drop splattered the mist-laden ground.
‘Run,’ a voice whispered in her ear. She staggered, shoulder hitting a tree. She pushed away from it, vision blurring as streaks of red stained her thighs. Another sharp pain cut through her abdomen and she fell, chin knocking harshly against the ground. ‘Get up and run. They are coming…’
Sluggishly climbing to her knees, she eyed the wavering forest. It blurred as it moved and danced, an impossible sight. Behind her, a twig broke. A darker shadow fell over her body as foreign, unnatural scents clogged the air. Her eyes closed as a hand closed around the back of her neck, sharp nails biting into her flesh as lips brushed the shell of her ear.
“Going for a stroll, are we?”
A sob caught in her throat. Her arms hung limply at her side, a sense of defeat polluting her soul as her chin tucked against her chest. The forest shifted, the leaves hurtling down the path. She heard him swear, felt him shift to shield his face from the biting winds. Upon the sharp currents, a voice whispered, ‘Get up and run. Run, now!’
He was thrown back as another gust of wind cut through the trail, the hounds surrounding them yowling in terror. She rose to her feet, swaying as a pool of blood flowed around her feet. The wind curled, pushing against her back until she staggered forward.
She ran blindly, fingers outstretched for Astaran’s Gate.