Author's Note: This is a new version of "Snowblood", which I posted a while ago. I finally finished planning the series out, and I can't believe it's taken me nearly five years! I plan to try and get this story published, with previews put here. Please review to give me your opinions and point out mistakes. Also, let me know what you think of the title, I had so much trouble coming up with one.


Prologue

Karl panted as he ran through the forest, his breath coming out in shallow wisps of white. He haphazardly weaved his way through the vast army of trees, only narrowly avoiding collision numerous times in his desperate attempt to escape by disappearing among them.

The cold winter air, combined with the cloudy sky and harsh rainfall, had already chilled him to the point where he was slowly losing the ability to feel anything. He felt almost numb-not only physically, but emotionally as well. The recent events had left him drained, and his body moved solely on instinct now.

He had to keep running, though what he was truly running from was something he couldn't bring himself to think about.

The harsh weather seemed to express the torrent of emotions he could not. The wind whipped wildly all around him, icy blades cutting into his wet skin with a deafening, agonizing howl. Like an endless stream of tears, the relentless rain limited his visibility to barely a few feet in front of him and made it hard to keep his eyes open to see even that far. It was as if nature was trying to tear him apart and drown him in the misery he was struggling to keep locked away inside, for fear it would cost him his life…or his sanity.

Karl shook his head violently. He needed to focus on escaping. There would be time for him to think about everything else later.

I hope…

But it was getting harder and harder to move. His body was starting to give out on him under the stress of being pushed well beyond what it was used to. The weapon in his left hand felt unnaturally heavy, a constant reminder he desperately tried to ignore. His clothes only weighed him down further, soaked with something more than just the water that was pounding down mercilessly on him-something thicker and darker.

Every intake of breath hurt now. His legs ached, and he felt so tired. The pain was enough to make him want to simply collapse and accept his fate. But the frantic beating of his heart urged him to keep going, reminding him that he could not stop, no matter what.

Behind him, his unknown assailant was catching up. He could not hear them, and he could not risk looking back to be sure. But somehow, he knew. He knew they were getting closer with every passing second, and he knew that no matter how fast or hard he ran, he could not get away.

The forest was not an area he was familiar with, but he knew it was on a raised section of land. Stairs led up to a large clearing, and the forest stretched out from the left and right sides of it-the former of which he was currently running through. If you were to continue moving straight from clearing, you would encounter another set of stairs, which lead to another clearing, this one completely surrounded by trees.

Due to this rather unique setup, the clearing was the only way in and out of the forest. Even though he could no longer tell which direction he was heading in, he knew the odds were hardly in his favor. If he wasn't headed back towards the clearing, there were only three other possibilities, and none of them good.

Karl found his thoughts flicking to each one, in an effort to come up with a plan, or perhaps simply distract him from the inevitable. There was a large wall of earth that bordered the northern side of the forest, and he knew it would be impossible to climb up it. There was a steep cliff on the southern side, and even if he survived a jump, it would not be without injury. That particular side was fenced off anyway, to prevent accidents. The western side was probably the best of the three, leading to a wide river. But due to safety concerns, that side was fenced off too, and he would have to climb over the fence in order to reach the river. Even in normal circumstances, he knew accomplishing such a feat before being caught would be a long shot. And in his current state, it didn't seem possible.

But what other choice did he have?

Up ahead, Karl could see the tall, worn fence come into view, getting closer with each passing moment. On the other side of it, was the river that ran down into the lake that gave the town its name. The first time he had seen that river, it had been calm and peaceful. Now, it was violent and ominous.

Behind him, he could hear his assailant shouting something, but it was drowned out by the deafening sounds around him.

To jump into that river would be suicide. He was a poor swimmer, and the water would be ice-cold. If he didn't drown, he would probably get hypothermia. The part of town where most of the people lived was far away, and there was no one out here to help him. He was truly and utterly alone.

Alone.

A crippling panic gripped his mind, as the reality of his situation finally set in. He had already been in a rather fragile state, but fear and shock pushed him even closer to the brink. It was hard for him to think clearly, and as he stood there, shaking, he knew it was not from the cold.

He was going to die.

Karl found himself struggling just to breathe. He needed time, but there wasn't any. His pursuer would reach him any minute, and then…

They were getting closer. He could hear their footsteps running towards him, even though that should have been impossible. Was he finally going mad?

He wanted to run.

He needed to run.

But there was nowhere for him to run. Even if there was, he no longer had the strength to do so. The numbness was finally starting to set in, sapping away his strength. Pretty soon, he would not have enough energy or sanity left to do anything.

Right behind me… Even in his head, the words sounded shaky, unstable. Getting closer and closer… Any second now, they'll be able to reach out and touch me. Then it will be all over. I'll wind up just like the rest of them! The world seemed to go silent all around him as he became wrapped up in the maddening thoughts rambling through his head. No… I can't let them get me! I've got to escape! If I don't…

His senses returned suddenly, his terror-filled blue eyes going wide. The fence towered above him ominously, seeming much taller than it actually was. If he tried to scale it, at least he'd have a chance of surviving. And if he didn't, at least he'd deny his pursuer the pleasure of killing him. Maybe the chill of the water would even make his death painless and quick, and then he could just forget about all of this…

No! His mind raged against the idea, and it was as if his conscience had slapped him in the face. He felt his grip on reality return, and a new resolve started to build up within him. I haven't come this far to die!

Too many had already died in this damn town. He was not going to become just another unfortunate soul who had been "cursed". No, he was going to survive. He was going to live through this and catch the first bus back to the city. It had been stupid to come here in the first place. He had trusted the people of this simple town so easily, and he had fallen right into their trap. They had all been out to get him, even the ones he had started to consider his friends.

An emotion too much like sorrow made his eyes sting, and he squeezed them shut. No, he would not waste any tears on them.

Instead, Karl let his anger rise to the surface and intertwine with the madness brewing there, slowly taking him over. Yes, he would get through this. And there was only one way to do that-stand and fight. He wouldn't run. Not anymore. It didn't matter that he knew nothing about his pursuer-their age, gender, motives, or even if they were armed or not. All he knew, was that he was going to kill them. Not even dental records would be able to identify the body when he got through with it. He'd let out all his anger on this one person and make the damn bastard regret ever coming after him in the first place!

The rage coursing through Karl's veins burned away the numbness, flooding his body with a boiling warmth that threatened to consume him. He clenched his teeth in silent fury, his mind made up as he felt his assailant closing in.

Tightening his grip on his weapon, Karl quickly turned. There was a look of sheer insanity amidst the rage on his face as he blindly swung the weapon in the direction of his target, too consumed by his anger to even register their face.

He never even heard the gun fire, the sound no doubt masked by the chaos all around him. The bullet made contact with flesh, tearing through it with ease. He watched with a mixture of fear and morbid fascination as blood came spurting out of the hole it left behind, like something out of a horror movie.

The blood stained the already-wet grass, dying it a dark red. The body followed it to the ground, twitching violently. Karl did not know if this reaction was due to shock or the cold, but it seemed a ridiculous thing to occupy himself with at the moment.

Death was coming quickly-that much he did know. Blood was rapidly pooling underneath the body. All movement was slowing to a stop. A single tear fell, almost invisible against the paling cheek it slid down. Through thoughts jumbled by panic, sorrow, and fear, one question echoed clearly:

How did it come to this?