Gabriella drew the bowstring back, the fletching of the arrow grazing against her cheek. Hold it steady. Don’t be afraid. Three men were running at her across the woodland terrain, dodging past trees and moss covered rocks. Don’t think about all three of them. Just focus on the one.
Wind howled around her, whipping her dark brown hair. She flicked her head back briefly to get it out of her eyes. Stay on your game. Don’t be distracted. They were getting closer. Don’t think about that. Don’t rush. Take your time. Aim.
The arrow flew through the air towards the closest man. It flew wide, streaked past the man, and embedded itself in the trunk of a tree. Don’t worry about one miss. Worry about the next shot. They were getting closer. The nearest man had metal spikes of some kind growing out of his arm. She didn’t want to get anywhere near those. Stay on your game.
Draw. She raised a second arrow and aimed. Slow. Steady. Precise.
Focus. Adjust for the wind. Watch the path, he’ll have to move left to get past that tree. Wait for it. Pick the good shot.
Release. The arrow flew swift and strong, then pierced the man’s chest. He went down. Maybe not dead, but not continuing the chase either. Gabriella didn’t let herself heave a sigh of relief. She had to stay focused. There were two more coming.
The second man had shot lightning at her earlier, before she had briefly lost them in the woods. He’d be dangerous, once he got close. He was still too far now, and her arrows flew farther than his power. He was nearly in range. Be careful. Don’t panic. Remember, fear makes it worse.
She drew another arrow as the man raised his fist. Sparks of energy flew from his fingertips. A bolt of electricity flew towards her as another arrow flew away. The lightning only struck a tree nearby, but the arrow struck flesh. The man staggered, but didn’t fall. He was getting closer. Don’t think about that. She drew another arrow from her quiver, refusing to rush. Rushing made her shots sloppy. She couldn’t afford to be sloppy.
Release. The arrow struck. The man went down. A final surge of energy from his body sent bolts of lightning into the plants and set fire to the underbrush. The third man wove around the flames and closed the distance. He was almost on top of her. No time for another shot.
Gabriella turned and ran through the forest. She slung her bow across her back to keep her hands free. She tried her hardest to control her breathing. Stay calm. Don’t be afraid. Fear makes it worse. The man was faster than her. His muscles bulged with power. Supernatural strength. Powerful leg muscles propelled him forward. She had to keep her lead. She scanned the forest ahead of her and picked out paths in the impossible terrain.
Run to live. Don’t run out of fear. Just run to stay alive.
A fallen tree leaned against a slope, its trunk a slippery ramp. She ran up it, keeping her footing steady. The far end was a good ten feet off the ground. Gabby ran straight for it. She raced along the trunk and leapt off the edge. Her hands shot out and she grabbed a low-hanging branch from another tree, using it to swing forward, letting her momentum carry her. She landed in a crouch to absorb the impact of the fall, then sprang right back to her feet and rushed forward. Thick bushes blocked the way in front of her and scattered boulders dotted the forest ground. There was no easy path around. She jumped towards the nearest boulder and planted one foot on it just long enough to push off to her left towards another. Without pausing she pushed off the second boulder, bounding to her right to make contact with the trunk of an ancient tree. She planted her feet against the trunk just long enough to ensure her balance, then leapt forward, somersaulting through the air and landing on the ground beyond, putting her hands out to catch herself from the fall. She landed on her hands and used the momentum of the fall to roll across her shoulder, then came out of the roll with her feet back under her. Her pace never faltered as she was pushed herself up and kept running.
She snatched a quick glance back towards her pursuer. He was closing in. He had the strength to barrel past the obstacles in his way without slowing down. Damn. There was a ridge ahead. Wet. Slick. She heard the sound of running water nearby. She ran up to the ridge and saw a drop too far to jump. She jumped anyway, then twisted in mid air as she fell so she could grab a thick root that hung over the ridge. Pain shot through her arms as her weight jerked to a stop and she clung to the root. She swung on it for a moment, bringing her feet close to the ridge wall. Once her momentum stopped she let go, and her foot touched down on a small outcropping, no more than a foot wide. It couldn’t support her, but she used it for a moment’s balance to keep her in control of her movement. She pushed off the ledge to the right, dropped down a few more feet, and planted her foot against another small ledge, using them as stepping stones to keep from falling too fast. A few steps later she was landing on the ground below. She landed in the stream bank and mud splashed around her, staining her clothes and splattering on her face.
Mud. Mud was bad. It got her feet stuck, slowed her down. She wrested herself free and back onto the grass. The stream flowed by on her left, and an open field stood at the forest’s edge to her right. She dodged right. She heard a loud thud behind her, and glanced back. Her pursuer had taken the ridge in a single leap, landing with enough force that he should have broken his legs. He looked unfazed. He was also getting closer. She pushed herself for all she had as panic started to grip her. Don’t be afraid. Fear makes it worse. He was closing in. She reached the field and raced forward. Far off, in the distance, there were city lights. Way too far to reach. Just run.
She could hear the man’s breathing behind her now. His breaths were thick with exertion, like hers. Heavy footsteps pounded the ground. Her breath caught in a panic. She glanced back. He was within thirty feet. No good, no good. Run! She tried for more speed, but her legs felt like jelly. Her hands started to shake. She heard him let out a grunt of effort as he closed the distance. She looked back again. Twenty five feet. Don’t be afraid! Please please please don’t be afraid, you’ll only make it worse. She glanced back. Twenty feet.
The man chasing her was struck with a surge of energy that made his muscles ripple. It emboldened him. Gabriella let out a strangled yelp and tears flooded her eyes. The man’s muscles grew stronger, and that made each step easier. Each step brought him closer to her. Each step made him stronger. Adrenaline was pumping through him, along with renewed energy from seeing his prey was almost within reach. Ten feet. His steps sounded like a jackhammer hitting the ground behind her. Veins in his neck popped out. His face turned red. Five feet. Fear was all Gabriella’s mind knew now, and it only made the man stronger.
He reached out, grabbed her backpack, and yanked her back hard. It felt like whiplash. She screamed. He pulled her back and threw her to the ground. Her breath was knocked from her lungs. Her throat closed tight. His bulging fist came down, and she barely twisted aside in time. This close, his strength was so great it left a crater in the ground next to her head. Dirt and grass flew everywhere, getting in her eyes and mouth. Shaking sobs escaped her lips. She fumbled to get free, and lashed out with her belt knife. She couldn’t remember drawing it. She tried to stab the man, but he knocked the knife aside with ease. Her wrist flared in pain and nearly broke. The man’s veins quivered with the energy coursing through him. His heart must have been racing beyond control.
About to burst.
Her eyes locked on the bulging veins. As the man’s fist came up a final time, Gabriella grabbed his arm. Energy erupted. Power. Raw mana. It rushed through her and made him stronger. Physical contact was the worst, worse than the fear even. The man’s strength grew so high he could likely level a building. With one motion he could rip her clean in half. There was nothing else to do, though. His fist rose to strike. She closed her eyes tight.
The man staggered.
When the blow didn’t come she opened her eyes. The brute wore a wide eyed expression. His hand trembled. His skin ripped and burst along both arms, the muscles bulging beyond possibility. He wavered, his right hand moving to his chest.
Gabriella leapt to her feet and tried to run. Her attacker’s left hand still gripped her backpack. She went nowhere. The man’s arm was bleeding and quivering, his arm going numb and his fingers growing limp. He dropped to his knees and struggled to hold on to her. Panic was in his eyes. He obviously didn’t know what was happening. He wouldn’t have understood that the strength had grown too much. His heart was giving out. His fingers went slack, and she ran. Ten feet, twenty, thirty. The strength left him, and he slumped over. The energy faded and he returned to his normal state, but his heart had already given out. He fell to the ground, dead.
Gabriella just kept running, her tears changing from fear to relief. She wiped the dirt and tears from her face and forced herself to keep moving. The men chasing her had been after her power. A ‘pet’ that made them stronger, they thought. Keep her around, and they would be the most powerful anywhere. Men not unlike gods, or so they believed. But the very power they sought was deadly. The last man, his heart burst inside his chest, was the proof.
Finally Gabby’s pace slowed. She had nothing left. She collapsed to the ground, struggling to catch her breath. Then, after a long struggle to regain her strength, she forced her weak limbs back into motion, heading towards the distant city.