Rianna darted through the forest like a frightened doe. Each frantic pounding of her heart a rumble of thunder. The harshness of her breath sawed in and out of her lungs, roaring like the wind in her ears. Gasps escaped her as she was whipped again and again by the passing trees, their long gnarled branches turned to weapons in the darkened forest. They towered above her, vainly trying to snuff out the silver rays of the moon.
Stumbling over fallen logs, she twisted past grasping limbs threatening to tear the cloak from her shoulders. On and on she ran, her footsteps echoing through the copse like a herd of galloping horses. She winced at each snapping twig, every rustle of bush she passed, declaring her presence as clearly as if a herald ran before her, blaring his horn, announcing her to the world. Icy cold tendrils of fear crept around her heart, the deeper she ran into the woods. Suddenly her mind was bombarded with tales of predators roaming through the forests. Her father's voice echoed in her head, the hundreds of warnings he had recited about the dangers lurking in the woodland. Wild cats, boars, wolves, and unscrupulous hunters of the human kind. Brigands who would not hesitate to capture a girl found running through the forest and use her in the most vile of ways. Rianna began to question her reasons for escaping her abductor in the middle of the night, with no clue as to where she was going.
A startled cry broke from her lips as she stumbled. She fell to the hard ground, her body twisting as she dropped. Rianna lay there stunned, desperately drawing breath back into her lungs.
What am I doing out here?
Trying to escape her kidnapper in the middle of the night, running through a forested landscape she knew nothing about... Looking around her, trying to penetrate the deeper shadows, she suddenly realized she was hopelessly lost. Her heart lurched into her throat. She did not know which direction the camp lay, nor where she was going or how to get there. Tingling trepidation slithered down her spine as Rianna noticed something else--the forest had become deathly quiet. There was not a croak of frog, not even the rustle of trees in the soft breeze. There was nothing but silence and permeating darkness, as if the copse itself was holding its breath.
Suddenly the hairs on the back of her neck rose in warning. And then she heard it, the sharp snap of a twig reverberating through the silence like a crack of lightning. Her heart surged into a frantic tattoo. Twisting around, she cried out, pain shooting up her ankle. Praying to the gods it was not broken, she leaned forward, gingerly touching the muscle and bone, but could detect no break. And yet an unreasonable fear rose within her, almost as though she was being watched... hunted.
She had to get up, now.
Stretching, she grasped the branch above her, and hauled herself to her feet. She winced in pain. Her heart froze as she heard an ominous rustle in the underbrush behind her. Holding her breath, she slowly turned to stare into the darkness. A startled gasp sucked past her lips as she caught sight of two eyes, reflecting the moonlight, watching her intently. Fear seized her. She spun around and ran, grimacing in pain, her injured foot forcing her to limp. Hobbling as fast as her ankle would allow, Rianna hurried through the forest, her pulse thundering in her ears as icy claws of dread circled her heart, squeezing tight. Panting hard, she threw a look over her shoulder only to discover the glowing eyes were following her. And then it passed through a shaft of moonlight. Catching sight of the massive beast giving chase, she shrieked. It was the largest wolf she had ever seen. A huge grey predator, its yellow eyes gleaming as it hastened toward her.
Rianna whipped around, moving faster, realizing with alarm her limp gave the impression of a wounded animal. Her breath was coming in great gasps now, her heart clutched in the icy grip of fear, knowing how desperate and hopeless her plight.
How could have I been so foolish as to escape my captor in the middle of the night?
Looking back over her shoulder, a cry tore from her as she slammed into a tree. She turned around and froze, hearing a low, menacing growl. Clutching the rough bark behind her, she sidled around the trunk, staring into the darkness, mesmerized by the approach of the glowing eyes.
She backed away from the oak. Suddenly she screamed. Tripping, she fell, landing on her back, the wind knocked from her. Desperate to put distance between her and the beast, she scrambled backwards, never taking her eyes from the advancing shadow.
The wolf slunk into the moonlight, its lips curled back revealing sharp, gleaming teeth. Foam dripped from it's mouth, stained pink from its last kill. Growling, it crouched low.
Rianna stared aghast, stark terror thundering through her veins.
With a snarl, the wolf leapt into the air, its powerful jaws open wide, intent on ripping the life from her throat.
A blood-curdling scream echoed through the trees...
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