Her lungs were fire. With every inhale she felt the burning instinct drive her forward. Run. This will kill you. And Keturah did not want to die. She felt the desire for life in every fiber of her being; however, one thing was growing dangerously clear. Despite her best efforts, she was going to die.
The overgrown forest around her would have barely been visible to the average eye yet, as she focused, she could sense everything from the multicolored red and golden leaves beneath her feet to the occasional rustle of dense foliage growing across the earthen floor. She felt like a Divine. A dying one maybe, but a Divine nonetheless. She poured more energy into her focus and felt power coming from every breath within her body. The crunching beneath her feet was crisp and sharp as every snap of twig and leaf beneath her feet echoed in her ears. Keturah let the intoxication of it all fill her as she felt the power enhance her senses once more.
She became all too aware of the pounding in her head as she pushed herself to go faster. With her enhanced senses, she could easily dodge the many roots woven into the ground and focused harder on the sounds around her. The leaves rustled on the leviathan trees as the wind caused them to sway like gentle giants to the rhythm of her heartbeat. She shivered and concentrated again. There was something deeper beyond them. After a moment it was there, and she heard the slight sound of skittering in the distance.
“Divine’s blood…” Keturah swore with a slight whimper in the back of her throat. She was feeling the fatigue now. No, it was too soon. She had only just turned on her focus, yet the ache in her limbs held the tell-tale sign of sharp pain that usually set in after her power had reached its limit.
She knew she had to move, but her body swayed in defiance of her own panicked thoughts. She had pushed herself too far. It had been inevitable. Despite having the power of a Divine, she had the body of a human. Her feet began moving with a sluggish pace and she felt her stomach lurch as a sharp pain flared in her side.
I can’t go on like this…
Keturah felt her feet flop uselessly against the ground in increasingly uneven steps. There were no pathways. No markers. No help. Her throat felt dry and coarse as she let her knees thump onto the soft earth and gave a small cry when the pain in her joints flared. With a tendril sigh she released whatever power remained in her. The brightness of the forest faded, and she was left in nothing more than its shadowed remnants.
Her hand fell to the side and brushed against one of the velvety plants and ferns growing around her. This forest was like nothing she had ever seen. There was a reason the Imperial army feared it, yet she had charged into its depths with total abandon. Now she would pay for it.
The torrent skittering grew louder behind her like a tidal swarm through the air. She had never been close enough to glimpse the beasts, but the sound of their guttural screeches was never far away through the trees above. She took in a deep breath and steadied herself enough to take her knife from its sheath. There was no glint to it in the shade of the ancient, gnarled trees. Their branches were too large and covered too much of the sky above for any sunlight to shimmer through. How had so many plants thrived here of all places?
She shook her head and focused on the task at hand. She would have to take her own life before these things could get to her. A death by her own hand, she suspected, would at least be better than whatever those creatures had in store.
Keturah had hoped that if she outran them for long enough, she might be able to escape into the free country of Xanthyr unharmed. She wasn’t surprised it hadn’t worked. This was, after all, their domain and hunting ground. She had merely been the ignorant beast who crashed through their dinner party only to realize that she was, in fact, the main course.
In the distance, she saw a nearing wave of leaves as they fluttered down to the forest floor in a massive oncoming wave. She forced her gaze up and only then felt the true dread set in. The gargantuan mass jumped and swirled above her with a mixture of tiny winged rodents that carried the stench of death among them on the wind.
She knew then she only had moments. Keturah brought the knife laced with Mare Root to her chest. She had no real regrets. How could she? With a missing memory there was nothing really for her to miss. She let the knife hover above her left breast. The leaves fell in a flurry around her now and brushed softly against her cheeks as if to wipe away the free flowing tears.
Her fingers felt like lead, but she was committed. She was in control. She took a breath as the screeching monsters descended with the downward plunge of her dagger.
Then something cried out in the darkness. A yell of fury followed by fire echoed in the night. In an instant, a brilliant blaze of orange light streaked below the treetops. It slammed into a trunk and exploded with a force of light that seemed to brighten out the world of darkness for just a moment.
Her vision returned in a haze, and she realized one of the giant trees before her was on fire. Its bark began to smoke heavily and gave off light that could easily rival the sun. Hundreds of bloodcurdling shrieks sounded and tiny singed bodies fell with thumps into the foliage. The knife in her hand felt like a trinket against the illuminated mass of beasts before her. She watched amazed as the small rat-like forms wormed around each other in the treetops desperately trying to escape the flame. What could have done this?
More streaks of fire flew past and slammed into the horde with incredible precision. An intense heat hit her fast as the wall of flames, bright and deadly, rose between her and the beasts. She looked back. Archers continued to fire volleys of flaming arrows into the mass of fleeing creatures, and a small group of hunters was running straight for her.
Any other day she might have run. Any other day she probably could have. But the pain in her body overrode any sense of flight as the small company approached. Their voices were muffled to her dulled ears, and she let herself slump even further against the ground as they approached. There was nothing more she could do.
Keturah felt dazed as a man lifted her into his arms, and her vision began to fade. Night was coming again and she whimpered. She had never been so afraid of the dark. He was shouting something to the others. There was something insistent to his voice now, but she couldn’t quite catch it. The smoke clogged her nostrils and lungs. She felt her knife slip from her fingers as her body burned from the sharp pain of being moved. She had used to much of the power. Her head fell back against the man carrying her despite her efforts to keep it upright. The fires continued to burn around them, and the last thing she remembered was the screeching of monsters following her into the darkness of sleep.