Part 1--The Grasp of Winter (3)

Fifteen minutes into the chase through the pitch-black woods, and Mathew was very sure that his toes were frostbitten, as they were no longer stinging but completely numb. He was very sure that he couldn't last very much longer in the freezing, sideways-snowing night before he was caught. He was very sure that his map wasn't going to help him find his way through the labyrinth of trees that was Dorwood Forest. But Mathew was more than sure of this: the men hunting him weren't just using sled dogs to pull them. Only one kind of animal has a growl that menacing and bloodthirsty.

Arctic wolfhounds were harnessed to the sleds. Mathew was sure of it. He knew how vicious these animals could be. The soldiers of Obsidia must have foolishly taken them from his fellow Barthadites when they took the fortress. Why was that foolish? Taming wolfhounds is a tedious and potentially disastrous task; there have been tragedies in smaller villages in the North Lands in which a wolfhound was not given enough to eat, or it was harmed, intentionally or unintentionally, or it was not tamed by a skillful trainer. In nearly all cases, there have been multiple deaths. In one such catastrophe, one of the villagers of a now-abandoned village called Fangtor forgot to lock up one of the creatures’ cages. That same night, the beast escaped and began to prowl around the villagers’ homes. The next morning, when two of the village men returned to Fangtor from a hunting trip, they found the entire village dead, and the escaped wolfhound was nowhere to be found.

Mathew’s panting created foggy breath that caught the tiny amount of light seeping through the midnight clouds and appeared to be a living, ever-changing organism of some other world. Mathew's wobbly legs began to give out on him, and the next thing he knew, he was no longer only trudging his feet across the wet ground, but dragging his entire body. Gasping from the sudden bite of freezing snow touching him, Mathew managed to lift his head. Up ten yards ahead, he could see a cliff overlooking the vast snow-sprinkled woodlands. And, miles to the north, there was a vast shape looming out of the darkness like a massive thorn rising from the earth. There the Mountain from the map stood, snow-capped and majestic, at least several thousand feet tall. A frozen lake encircled it like the moat of some massive, rocky castle.

A sudden idea and a spark of hope to ignite some warmth into his shivering body as he peered over the ledge, which he had dragged himself to as he was looking, for there, at the base of the mountain, was a cluster of lighted buildings that could only be some sort of town. Maybe there was a chance of Mathew's survival after all, if only he could reach the village!

He was shaken from his thoughts as he heard a deep noise behind him. He turned his head-- and found himself staring into the hungry eyes of a wolfhound.

The End

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