Time: The Great Northern Hunt
Place: An abandoned tower in a remote forest
Objects: Nine magical jewels
Rasheen’s labored panting as his massive paws pounded against the snow-covered ground in tandem with her worn deerskin moccasins was Shayna’s only sign of progress as they sprinted across the vast forest floor. Her makeshift shoes had worn down to the soles, and the top piece of animal hide flapped in the frigid wind, exposing her frost-bitten toes. Thick flakes tumbled around them, blanketing the bronze plates covering her shoulders. Her breaths crystallized in the frigid air; it licked and gnawed at her cheeks, coloring the flesh until it burned. Her skin gleamed with a luminescent pink tinge from spending so many months braving the harsh winters of the Meragiae forests, but they had no choice as long as the Northern Hunt knew they were alive.
She’d done her best to make suitable clothing from the leaves and foliage littering the ground after her own had been shredded in their first encounter with the Hunt last winter, just days after her brother had stolen those nine accursed jewels from the Hobgoblin in the Seian Mountains. The hides from her kills provided a sliver of extra warmth, but it wasn’t much against the constant blizzards howling across the land.
For once, she envied Rasheen and the greedy tendencies that had overtaken his moral since their parents murder at the hands of the Huriant tribe in the last war for the fruitful lands that were once a safe haven for Druids. His stupidity had caused their predicament in the first place, but at least the curse would prevent him from freezing to death until they found a way to cure the therianthropy.
If they ever found a cure. After a year on the run, and two months alone dedicated to evading the Great Northern Hunt and their merciless slaughter of all foreign magical creatures, Shanya began to doubt the possibility that they would ever make it out of the forest alive, let alone with her brother in his rightful skin.
She almost let out a sigh of relief as the trees finally began to thin around them, but the thundering of horses’ hooves echoed through the woods.
Rasheen growled and turned to face the onslaught of hunters, his cumbersome wolf body acting, not for the first time since they began their quest, as a shield of protection for his sister.
Nonetheless, Shanya was acutely aware of the bone-knife at her hip. She whipped around and in one fluid motion pulled the last arrow from her pack, notching it in her battered bronze bow. She took aim as best she could through the icy sheets of of snow and wind. Her eyes watered and every breath seares her lungs as the arrow glided through the air, but a triumphant grin burst forth from between her chapped lips when she heard the whoosh, clink, and agonized groan that meant it was a direct hit.
“Maybe we’ll live through this after all, Ra.” She looked down the wolf.
Rasheen nuzzled her hand and offered a big, toothy grin before bending down on his front paws and scooping her up on his back.
Shanya barely had time to grip two clumps of fur in her hands before he plunged into the undergrowth to their right. The jolting movement knocked the midnight black hood from her head and exposed her ashen blonde hair.
They raced through the brush. Branches stung as they ripped and scraped at Shanya’s already pulsing skin. Air chomped at the open wounds. She gritted her teeth and clenched her jaw, swallowing the scream bubbling from her throat.
Finally, they emerged in a small, round clearing. Shanya let out a long breath as she slid off of Rasheen’s back.
The wolf spun and faced the path, his ears perked. Shanya froze and clutched his side, watching the shaking leaves without blinking. They quivered and quaked as the Hunt galloped past.
“Where did they go?”
“They’ve vanished, sir.”
“Impossible. Druids are many things, but not invisible. They’re merely hiding, waiting out their journey until this blizzard passes.”
“But, if that’s true, how will we–”
“They have to reveal themselves sooner or later, if that ridiculous girl really does plan to bargain with the Hobgoblin.”
His harsh laugh ricocheted through the clearing and seeped through Shanya’s bones. She hugged Rasheen that much tighter.
“Shall we make camp here then?”
“Yes, but only until dawn; if I know those two, they will vanish again long before the sun peeks through the clouds. Keep your men on high alert, and be prepared to move out at any sign of a disturbance.”
Shanya slumped and stroked her brother’s fur. What are we going to do?
Rasheen shook his fur and pushed his nose beneath her arm.
She stumbled, gulping back a laugh as she turned to face the center of the clearing. A large grey tower blocked out the rays of the setting sun, it’s dilapidated and crumbling state offering beacon of hope.
Rasheen nudged her forward, and Shanya offered a soft smile as they started toward it. At least for tonight, they would be safe.