This is my entry for the Labyrinth forum biweekly writing contests. Hope you enjoy it!
I ran faster, the rain cutting into my exposed arms like miniature daggers. My boots, full of water now, squelched in the mud beneath me. I could barely hear my ragged breath above the pounding in my ears.
My eyes widened as the panting of the hounds wormed its way through my muddled thoughts. They're…right behind me…
Risking a glance to the side, I saw the flash of white teeth in the darkness just as one leapt at me. I twisted around. "Avanti!" Flames shot from my fingertips.
The beast whimpered as my attack hit, falling back. I knew, though my weak fire blast slowed the dogs, it would better serve the guards to find me faster. I whirled back to keep running. Soon enough I heard the shout of a man above the roar of the rain.
My heart leapt to my throat as I pushed myself onward. A pain split into my side, causing my vision to contract in agony. I cut off a cry in my throat, choosing to endure it. The last thing I could afford was stopping now. Not after I'm so close to freedom…
I felt myself lurch forward as I crashed into a fallen log. Mud sprayed up in my face and I tasted dirt. I decided to use this to my advantage by scurrying back to press myself against the roadblock as much as I could. They wouldn't be able to spot me in the darkness here. And if they did… I was as good as dead.
I stifled a gasp as a hound bounded over the log to continue running, sending a howl into the air. At the same moment lightning flashed across the night sky. The heavy footsteps of the bounty hunters came next. They stopped right in front of me to look around, soaked and muddy. Their boots were so close I could have touched them if I so desired.
"Where'd she go?" One growled lowly, whipping his head around.
"I don't know." The other, larger hunter took a few steps in my direction.
My heart was beating fiercely in my chest. I inched farther away, distressed to feel the rough bark of the log at my back. A soft whimper slipped through my lips. Please… Please don't look down… I squeezed my eyes shut to prepare myself for the certain discovery.
All at once he turned around in answer to a rather different howl than any the dogs could have produced. "Come on!" He shouted, gesturing for his companion to join him. They lumbered through the forest brush after the sound, which I could only assume they took to be me.
When I was sure they were gone, I ventured out of my hiding place. I stumbled forward as one of my knees buckled under me. Inspecting the problem, I saw that my fall had torn a lovely hole in my breeches and a rather large gash in my flesh. "Wonderful…" I muttered.
The rain had lessened somewhat, but it still poured down. I knew I had to keep moving, though continuing forward seemed like a terrible idea. The hunters were sure to notice that I was not in said direction eventually and double back. If I followed them, it would be an almost guarantee for capture. On the other hand, if I remained in one spot, it wouldn't help me in the slightest.
I eased to my feet and leaned against the log to think. My breath came in short bursts from running for so long. Other than the rain surrounding me, it was the only sound I heard. All howls had long since ceased and the shouts of men were no longer ringing in my ears. I could almost relax in a place like this. I lifted my head to feel the water on my face.
"You seem to be lost."
Immediately I jumped, whipping around to find the source of the voice. My hair smacked me in the face as I did so. "Who are you?" I whirled again. "Show yourself!"
"Calm down, I'm not going to hurt you. You seem to be more than capable of doing that yourself."
I felt a warm hand grab my arm. "Get off!" I shrieked, struggling to get away.
"Stop moving. I want to get a look at you."
Another hand rested on my shoulder, keeping me in place. I could barely make out this person's form in the darkness. Whoever they were, they towered over me. I could tell by his grip that he was strong, much stronger than me. "Who are you?" I asked again, softly this time.
"My name is Reynard. Yours?"
I looked up into what I assumed his face to be. "Amelia."
He chuckled. "I see. And a pretty name it is, too."
His almost condescending tone grated upon my nerves. "What do you want from me?" I hissed, pulling away. However, he held me in place.
"Is that really any way to speak to the man who just saved your miserable life?"
"What are you talking—" At that moment, the sky lit up with a lightning flash and I was able to have a single look at him. Animal ears, like that of a fox, were perched high on his head. They twitched in response to the sound of the lightning. His eyes were a light, ethereal shade of green as they gazed at me intently. I noticed two long, sharp teeth poked out from under his upper lip.
I couldn't hide the gasp that tore from my throat. "What are you?!"
His grip tightened on my arm. "Hmph. Somehow I knew you were going to say that."
"Let me go!" I wrenched away from him. "What do you want with me?!"
Reynard sighed, and for a single moment, I thought I could defeat in his tone. "I need your help, Amelia. You see, I am…cursed."
"And what do you expect me to do about it?!"
"You're a witch, are you not?"
I frowned slightly, crossing my arms. "Well… Sort of. I can do a few rudimentary spells, but nothing big, like removing curses. You're on your own for that."
"But you could learn, couldn't you?" He seemed hopeful.
For the longest time I could hear only the rain around us. I glanced back at him, now seeing the ears on his head. They were back against his skull, signaling he was either frightened, angry, or in this case, attempting to appear pathetic. "I…suppose I could…"
"Besides, do you have a choice? The king is after any and all persons with the ability to perform magic. That's why you're out here, isn't it?"
"Yes…" As much as I hated to admit it, he was right. If it weren't for the pesky new law, I would still be at home, relaxing by the fire, probably reading one of my spell books.
"My home is right over the border. You wouldn't have to worry anymore. You could live and be free. All I ask is that you remove the curse on me and make me normal again." I felt his hands take mine. "Please."
I sighed heavily. "…Fine. I'll help you. But only because I don't have any place else to go at the moment. You're lucky I'm agreeing at all."
"Excellent!" He dropped my hands. "Come with me and I'll take you home. Just follow me."
I began to walk after him when the pain from before pricked in my knee. I stumbled into him with a cry. Fortunately he was quick to catch me. "Ah… I nearly forgot." He set me back on my feet. "Well, no problem."
Before my eyes I watched him transform into a large, red fox, larger than any I had ever seen. "You were the one that distracted the bounty hunters!" It only made sense to me. Foxes and dogs tended to sound different, after all.
"Yes. Here, jump on my back." He crouched low to the ground. "Don't worry; I'm strong enough to carry you."
I narrowed my eyes as I eased onto his furry self. I knotted my fingers in his red fur. "Don't go too fast."
To my surprise, Reynard simply stood and began walking in the direction of his home. He looked around as he went. "Look Amelia; the rain stopped."
I lifted my gaze skyward, above the tree line. A rainbow streaked across the sky. I felt a smile tugging on my lips. "Yeah… It did." Shifting my eyes forward, I watched the sunlight spread over the calm forest.
Reviews are appreciated!
*EDIT* I just sort of noticed that I accidentally signed off with my FanFiction name, LoRF (before changing it to my proper initials, of course). Curious to see what that means? Go to my profile to find out.