THE CREATURES WERE SHADOWS AMONGST THE TREES, MOVING FASTER THAN HE COULD FOLLOW.
Will couldn't tell where they were, or if they were there at all. Even in the sun's evening glow, between the trees, they were mirages. He was uneasy, keeping a vigilant eye all around him, each swivel and turn exposed a new weakness to his undeterred foe. Squinting to focus, he tried to see through the thick smog, dun-coloured from the smoke of distant chimneys, burning any scraps that they could find, culminating in what curled playfully around his ankles like poisonous silk.
It was only made worse by the snow.
He stood, freezing, the tall birch trees blocking out the sun, letting the light dapple through the tight spaces of leaves, rays falling on him like bars. The leaves were wet and heavy, dew dripping from stem to stem with loud drips. The air was so cold that Will's breath clouded in front of him and obscured his vision for the slighest moment. The wind whistled, sharp at the back of his throat like a blade, and noises echoed through the valleys from distant villages, the nearest a mile away; too far to find help in time. His coat swished and his leather boots squeaked with the slightest of his movements. He tried to move slowly as possible, but he felt paralysed, staring wildly.
Something crunched on his left, earth underfoot. Will's peripheral kicked in, noticing a shadow at the corner of his eye, darting from the dark sentinel of one tree to the next. They seemed to peel forwards around him, he thought they were coming closer until he realised, absently, that he had begun to move. A strange instinct took over him as he paced forward, further into the forest. Another crunch, this time, a raven flew overhead, cawing shrilly as the leaves rattled, the sound of beating wings reaching his ears like battered velvet. The light caught its smooth feathers, shining navy, almost purple. It had been startled, and its perch had been only a couple of metres away.
They were close.
Before he could stop to consider what to do, a familiar voice came to him, one that only he could hear.
'You're the one with the legs,' said Maga, her voice smooth like silk on stone, 'run.'
Will knew that was his choice, wait to be ambushed, or run, and just maybe make it out of the forest into the open. It was hardly a difficult decision. Licking his lips nervously, he crossed one leg over another, sidestepping. The snow crunched, his boot soles giving him a good enough grip.
Something crossed his path, flying towards him, he ducked down just in time, unable to see it. He heard it hit the tree behind him, and a horrible chill spread up his hands as they sank into the snow, rippling up his body. He heard another set of footsteps, and without anymore forethought, positioned his legs, and threw himself forward into a run.
Snow hit his cheeks like a cold slap, his lips and throat drying as he sped between the trees, weighed down by his thick Winterwear. He was being pursued, the enemy's silhouette running alongside him. Unbelievably, he felt powerless, surrounded by trees, his own element, but his mind buzzed with confusion. His legs ached, and just as he lost his balance, something flew through the air again.
It hit him, his head felt numb, so much that his neck and face burnt. His clothes became wet, the cold soaking his skin. He sank to the ground on his knees, consumed by cold like a gathering of people. The figure emerged, dark in front of the burning sun, coming closer until his shadow crossed Will's face, and he was trapped.