Drops of water puddle onto mounds of ice crusted snow. They dribble down over grass and foliage, frozen in crystallized prisons. The sunset shimmers through their fractals dusting over the understory of the forest canopy, as the rays of light stream between the breadth of the trees. Winter birds flit through the silver birch leaves and a large five point stag struts along the riverside nibbling at strips of bark and long grass blades that have broken through the snow. The forest held a tranquility today, as if it had given up its gifts of life during the summer, and now receded back into its frigid yet peaceful state of reserve.
It was the dead of winter, and hunting was a necessity. She had saved enough from her last kill to make it through the next week, but she would need more soon. Taking the given opportunity of good whether she started her hunt across the frozen over lake and into the forest. Her celestial eyes search the landscape for any signs of movement and tufts of whitetails. She creeps through the snow, puncturing the frozen ground below her advancing in steady strides. Her fur boots muffling her steps, her eyes forward, her manifested bow drawn and her arrow knocked. Tracing the tip over the area she stops as it lands on a corpulent five point. A tiny smile tugs at her cheeks as she crouches down keeping her sight on its temple. She draws back on the string and the stag twitches its ears to the left and right. It can hear something in the distance. Her breath hitches.
She lowers her bow and connects to her senses searching for danger. Her kind, have evolutionary senses more tenacious than any creatures around her. She pulls back on the right side of her hood with one hand exposing her ear to the crisp air. Low dense pants and growls pierce her ears and she realizes she is not alone out there in the woods. In the distance footsteps puncture the snow circling around her and her prey. Sudden movement ahead, the stag jerks it hind legs preparing them for takeoff. She lets her manifested bow disappear into the air. Then a daunting howl petrifies her mind and she is as frozen as the ice around her. The beating of her heart, the pulsing of blood through her veins, the static in her ears, reaction is out of her reach. It wasn’t until adrenaline rushed in sweeping away her shock that she was able to move again, and just as the stag, she prepares for takeoff.
She springs to her feet in pursuit of the stag, as their predators close in. Short barks and yips startle her, taking her breath, pounding at her heart. She runs with the speed of a full grown mountain lion, bounding over fallen birch trees and shrubs. But with the snow being as thick as it was, it was difficult to maneuver in and she was finding herself slowing down as the canines catch up to her. If she could get to the lake through the tree line before the sun slips under the horizon she might be able to escape their jaws.
She follows the path marked by her prey, in hopes its scent will mask part of hers. But try as she might her footing was failing and she quickly found herself thigh deep in a thick snow pack. Her strides slow to a walk as she presses on.
An abrupt yip and bark to her right, then a flash of blackened fur darts by. It moves quickly, light enough to run the tops of the snowpack taking the advantage. It’s ember eyes smile at her with greedy hunger. She whimpers at the sight of it, a demonic mutation of wolf and bear, she draws a dagger from her belt ready for the attack. It barrels in towards her snapping its jaws, then pouncing on her forcing her onto her back. She shields herself with her thick white coat allowing it to chew on her forearm, fracturing bones, until she can steady her blade. Taking her dagger in her right, she grips the hilt and forces it into the side of its skull, it yelps, then falls on top of her motionless. Lying their limp bleeding black fluid from its wound, she pulls out the dagger and pushes the beast to the side with all her might. She rises to her feet, replacing her dagger back into its sheath, and carries on as quick footed as possible.
Blood is seeping through her sleeve onto the snow but her adrenaline has reached its peak and pain is a sense she cannot feel anymore, in this moment she feels only the crunch of snow beneath her feet, the extra beats of her heart, and her survival instincts that are pushing her forward.
Behind her, a low growls tears through the silence, she picks up her pace as the snowpack thins away to the ice covered lake ahead. She had made it to the tree line where her horse Artemis waits. He whinnies from the howls closing in behind her and she takes his bridal and mounts him with a simple leap into his saddle.
“Hya!” She snaps, and Atermis reigns then takes off galloping over the ice. It was dusk now and the sun had set, the snow and stars contrast the darkness creeping in, making her predators barely visible in the shadows. As she speeds across the ice, they dart out of the forest after her, nine snarling beasts fan out in uniform preparing for a flank.
“I need more speed” she thinks.
Closing her eyes, she pictures her core power, the center of her life tree. She speaks in the language of old times, a language lost to the world many years ago...in Gaelic she calls her “crann saoil” her source of life on this earth...
“tabhair mo am riachtanais”
(Give me speed in this time of need.)
Her voice sends a wave of white energy out into the darkness, and Artemis whinnies once more as his body fills with light. His legs pick up speed tearing through the thin layer of snow. But before they could gain any leeway they are attacked from the left. A beast snaps at the hind leg of Artemis, tearing flesh from his ankle. He kicks and bucks, throwing her off his back and she hits the icy floor tumbling to a stop, face buried into the snow. Turning over quickly and drawing her blade, she is just in time for the beast to leap on top of her. As it lands, shoving her shoulders into the snow, she thrusts her dagger into its heart, pulls it out and stabs into its neck. It falls to her side twitching and convulsing, as high pitched whimpers seep from its lungs.
The rest of her predators approach slowly, circling around her, each bearing sharp fangs and long claws. Some lunge forward, testing their victim as they skulk around her. She rises to her feet sobbing, taking in long painful cold breaths. It was the end for her, the hunter was now the hunted, and they have succeeded in their capture. Saying one last prayer to the god of Arawn to take her soul to its proper place, she touches the tips of her fingers to each chakra in a traditional symbolic gesture for one whose life is no longer theirs.
And she waits for their next move...