I had deliberately concealed myself in the depths of Terra Demorte’s woods after fleeing from my own tribe. At this juncture, there was no entity more ominous to me than my own kin, be it the Black Wolf tribe or Kennard. A morbid wish even crossed my mind — that I were truly a witch. If I possessed supernatural abilities, I would incinerate them in the blink of an eye, reduce their bones to dust, and savor the act with relish.
“Extinguish those torches at once. The Black Wolf tribe has penetrated the forest,” someone gasped urgently and shouted. The tribesfolk promptly snuffed out their torches by smothering them on the ground, vanishing into the cover of nearby trees and bushes.
My frantic gaze swept the surroundings, revealing nothing but densely packed trees that plunged everything into pitch-black obscurity and a heavy, stifling silence.
In response to this bleak scene, I summoned every ounce of my strength, determined to free myself from the rope binding my wrists behind the pillar. Amidst the chaotic commotion, everyone sought an opportunity to break free, yet the tightly cinched knot offered no solace, no matter how fiercely I wriggled.
“Oh, please… Please. Ugh,” I whimpered as I twisted my wrist with unyielding resolve, the flesh on my skin peeling away with every agonizing effort, a searing pain coursing through me. A warm, viscous liquid trickled down from my wrist to my trembling fingertips.
“Do you yearn for escape? If you so desire, I can arrange it,” a sudden whisper, both eerily familiar yet enigmatic, sent a paralyzing chill throughout my entire body. It was a voice that defied identification.
“I warned them that now is not the time to end your life. Those elders just won’t heed my counsel.”
“Who…” I began, only to be swiftly silenced.
“Shh.” As the man’s heated breath caressed my ear, an unsettling shiver raced from the crown of my head to the tips of my toes. I attempted to shift my head in discomfort, but a frigid hand clamped onto my chin, forcing it back into its original position.
“Instead, you must return when I come for you.”
“What do you mean?” I inquired in a hushed tone, an anxious thumping in my chest, fearful that my tribe might overhear.
The whispered words I heard seemed like my last lifeline. The tribes remained concealed, and the stillness around was unbroken. Then, as if by a stroke of magic, the ropes binding my wrists and body abruptly snapped. My unsteady form was hoisted by the mysterious man, and he gently lowered me to the ground.
In the darkness, the man’s face gradually materialized, though it remained somewhat shrouded. Slowly, a sinister smile stretched across his lips.
“To fulfill the promise, you must first survive, isn’t that right? Your opportunity is now. Run for your life with all your strength!”
I couldn’t entirely grasp the man’s words, but I couldn’t afford to linger in this place any longer. Just as he had said, the chance to escape and live beckoned at this very moment.
“Haah, haah,” I panted, unable to even close my mouth. The wild pounding of my heart showed no signs of abating, as though it might burst forth from my chest. A biting cold seemed to infiltrate every fiber of my being, from the tips of my hair to my toes.
With each rapid, raspy breath, a frigid and piercing wind penetrated deep into my lungs. My exhalations billowed into the icy air like mist, and my exposed skin stung as if it might crack.
Turning around, I stumbled and lost my footing, managing only a few faltering steps before a strangled groan escaped my lips.
As I trudged through the snow-covered landscape, my palm fell victim to a long, jutting tree root, slicing it open. However, even the cry of pain struggled to escape my lips. The unsettling realization that had I fallen slightly to the side, the root might have impaled my eye or cheek sent shivers coursing down my spine, surpassing the chill in the air.
With a fleeting glance at the blood trickling into my eyes from my wounded hand, I immediately scrambled to my feet and bolted forward. My fiery red hair, once hanging before my face, now billowed over my shoulders in the wind. The sound of the rushing wind resembled the fierce roars of a beast, yet my own ragged breathing reverberated even louder.
Before long, my tribal pursuers were once again hot on my heels. The hot, panting breath of these relentless predators, poised to tear my throat asunder, closed in behind me. No matter how fervently I sprinted, the gap between us showed no signs of widening. I ran with all the strength within me, desperate to elude death, but with each passing moment, the relentless pursuers drew ever closer.
“Please… Just leave me be,” I pleaded, a desperate plea that seemed to dissipate into the unforgiving wilderness.
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