"I will laugh at my bloodstained shirt when the monsters have gone, and I will call your name wildly into the darkness they came from."
The ground trembled beneath her feet, rattling her hands where they rested against the flagpole. Behind her, she could hear the storm of thousands of boots rushing up to meet her. She tugged harder on the ropes. She couldn't be scared. She had to think clearly. The fibers dug into her wrists, and she groaned, setting one foot up against the pole and lurching her whole weight into the action. She swallowed the scream in her throat as her skin peeled back with the rope until it became impossible. It wrenched itself out of her, starting out as a low, tortured keen and growing into a miserable wail. It rested beneath her knuckles now, and she paused for breath, sobbing on the oxygen.
Her back crawled with heat, anticipating the brutal onslaught of people herded towards her. She didn't look to check. There didn't seem to be a point in that. Breathing heavily, she braced again. She almost couldn't do it.
Her shriek added melody to the beat, but she was free. Whimpering, chest heaving, she stumbled backward from the pole. The trembling in the ground grew worse, and she flailed for a moment before regaining her footing, cringing at the idea of having to catch herself. Her hands were raw and bleeding, and she cradled them by her chest, nervous to touch them. She was drenched in adrenalin, and it practically dripped off her skin, but she was shaking so badly it seemed she was incapable of thought. It was as though her entire being was focused on the dull burning of her hands.
Something streaked past her, so close a current of air ruffled her hair. She jerked sideways. Stumbled. Her eyes flashed to the side, and she saw with distressing clarity the proximity of the army to herself. The eyes consumed by grey, half-shackled bodies. All of them pitching toward her with alarming speed.
She bolted, swinging her gaze and focus ahead. The pain was momentarily forgotten. She had time, and that was all that mattered. Before her, the empty vista looked like the ground rushing up to meet her, and she had the overwhelming feeling of hurtling toward the inevitable. Shoving it from her body, she tripped over herself down the steep incline and used the momentum to carry her over the flatlands. It was bad enough that she had begun this whole nightmare exhausted - she didn't know what she was now. Maybe just desperate.
Cruelly, there was a cluster of buildings on the other side of the valley. But it was so far away. Too far. Her chest felt tight, and it spasmed with lack of oxygen. Her muscles burned. She could feel tears squeezing out of the corners of her eyes, and could hear herself gasping, little wheezes on every inhale. She didn't have the breath to speak. But her head was filled with the gutting sound of those behind her, and her own voice - please, please, please.
She had to make it to the buildings. She had to get inside. Now.
It seemed so unforgiving. It was such a little mistake. If she had just planted her foot an inch further...
But it didn't happen like that.
Her toe dug into a small hollow in the ground, and she went flying. It almost felt like that, too - arms outstretched, a cry on her lips, she hovered in the air for the space between seconds, barely breathing. And then she was down, down, down. Sprawling painfully in the dirt, her momentum forcing her body over itself twice before coming to a halt.
She was dead.
Facing the horde, she saw the space between herself and them, and knew there was no time. No more time to reach a haven - this time, she was done. Her breath shuddered in and out of her, and she counted them, closing her eyes.
If she was going to die, she was going to do it with something else in her eyes.
The image was peaceful. Familiar. All but extinct. She remembered it perfectly.
Her valley was small and green. The air wasn't so hot she could feel herself burning. It was gentle and reassuring.
And there were people there. They were waiting for her, faces smiling, inviting her closer to where they sat, bare-foot beside the water.
Her gaze hung onto one person in particular. His face looked better here. Not mangled. All in one piece. She moaned quietly. He was coming closer. Closer.
"Hi, ma," he whispered.