Snow fled, dashing between trees, dodging trunks, and throwing himself over puddles. His eyes strained to make out the obstacles ahead of him in the dim twilight. Behind him followed a bloodcurdling howl and a thunder of exploding branches as the shadowfiend crashed through the foliage in chase.

He stumbled and almost fell, losing a few precious seconds, and the sound of the forest being trampled and crushed behind him seemed to almost catch up. And then he was running full speed again, branches clawing at his hair and his cloak, roots and rocks grabbing for his feet. One foot caught something and he went down, crashing hard into the the forest floor. Time seemed to slow as he pushed himself back onto his feet, and he thought he could feel the creature's breath on the back of his neck, its horrid scream right beside his ear. But he had no time to look over his shoulder as he brought his burning muscles back into frantic motion.

He flew over a streambed, scrambled up the wall of a ravine, squeezed between a pair of boulders, and still those murderous shrieks followed right behind. He had no idea how long he'd been running. Minutes? Hours? Days? Somehow his legs still managed to carry him, but he could feel his stamina teetering on the brink of collapse.

The canopy above him suddenly gave way to twilit sky as he emerged from the forest onto a cleared plain, pausing for a moment in surprise. In front of him, rising more than fifty feet and dominating his vision, stood the great wall of the city of Deleml. It curved inward slightly as it rose, as if holding itself aloof to his plight, and the blue steel of its construction glowed diffusely with the light cast upon it by the globes embedded just beneath its battlements. It extended far away into the darkness both to the right and left, and even though Snow knew it was perfectly circular, it was so massive that it appeared straight from ground level.

A growling roar behind him reminded Snow of the danger he was in. He barrelled towards the wall, willing every last bit of his energy into his dying legs. He desperately sought purchase in its glassy-smooth surface, but his quivering fingers could find not even the slightest crack. "Help!" he shouted at the top of his lungs, spinning around and pressing his back to the wall. He scanned the edge of the forest where he'd exited, sweat beading on his forehead. The trees swayed gently with the wind, and branches scraped each other noisily. Shut up, shut up, he thought, listening hysterically for anything less natural.

One shadow slowly peeled itself away from the rest, and then it was running, lumbering with impossible speed directly towards him. Snow pressed himself even tighter against the wall, shouted again, first for help, then out of pure terror as the creature rapidly closed in, kicking up a cloud of dirt behind it. It screamed too, its hideous cry cutting through his consciousness like the wail of a banshee, overpowering all other senses. But suddenly there was something else. He barely heard the first one, but the second gunshot rang loudly above the din.

The creature collapsed into the dirt, sliding and rolling limply until it came to a stop just feet in front of Snow. It twitched a few times before going still.

Snow's rapid breath was now the world's only sound, and he gradually realized that the lump of shadow lying at his feet wouldn't rise again. He breathed out a gasp of relief and detached himself shakily from the wall, looking up towards its summit and shielding his eyes from the powerful light globes just below it. He couldn't make out anything through the glare. "Thanks friend!" He called.

"Don't mention it." There. The voice guided Snow's eyes to its source, a silhouette atop the wall resting a rifle on its shoulder. The voice was clearly a man's, and the gun more or less gave him away as one of the city's soldiers. "Are there a lot of those things out there?" he asked.

"More and more every day," Snow replied wearily. "And they're coming out earlier, too."

"Oh what fun."

"Yeah..." Snow wiped the sweat from his forehead and let himself drop to the ground. Even sitting, his legs quaked uncontrollably. He hugged them to his chest, which stopped them from moving at least, but he still felt like the muscles were trying to jump out of his legs. "Say, it's getting pretty crazy out here, villages getting destroyed, babies getting eaten, you know, stuff you wouldn't wish upon your worst enemy. Any chance you could let me in?" There was no hope is his voice, nor even desperation. Just reflex.

"Not really," came the expected reply. "Even if I wanted to, I don't have gate codes."

"You could throw a rope down or something."

The soldier hesitated, then grappled with his belt and tossed something from the wall. It careened through the air and landed with a dull thump a couple of feet from where Snow sat. "There's 'something'. Now get out of here, you're not supposed to be near the wall." The soldier quickly withdrew, leaving Snow alone once again, alone with the forest and the monsters within, on the outskirts of a sanctuary for the millions who hadn't sinned as he had.

He crawled anemically to the dark object waiting for him in a loamy patch of dirt. Hey, cool, a gun! He gingerly gathered up the pistol and held it close to his chest as he ran a calloused finger along its streamlined curves, afraid it would disappear otherwise. A good time for you to fall into my life, friend. He had never used a gun before, but figured it couldn't be all that difficult. Just point and pull, and whatever was in its crosshairs would fall over, dead, unable to make lunch out of him, right? Snow shivered as he wondered how many times he'd owe his life to that shape on the wall before the ammunition ran dry.

"Thanks!" He hollered as loudly as he could. Silence. He stood up confidently, the shakiness in his limbs all but vanished, a euphoric feeling of empowerment replacing his tired resignation. He jabbed his foot into the fleshy belly of the fallen shadowfiend, straining to kick the huge, almost ape-shaped creature onto its back. "What are ya waiting for, come on, let's see who's bigger now!" The shadowfiend's beady, pitch black eyes stared into space, and its fang-filled mouth was frozen open in a silent scream of fury. It had no nose and no ears, and its skin was completely smooth, without the many creases, lines, and bony bumps of the human body. Vicious talons adorned its enormous grasping appendages, which Snow wasn't sure whether to call hands or paws. "That's what I thought."

He gave the prone body another kick for good measure, and then looked back to the wall. In his mind's eye, it lost its opacity, and he could once again smell roasted meat, clean clothing, and flowered boulevards. He could see fountains, marble steps, and all around him a vertical jungle of polished steel. Slowly, reluctantly he turned to look into the forest, and could feel darkness, lonely boundlessness, peril and secrets, an untamed and unknown infinity.

He wedged his new weapon into his belt, steeled his nerves, and crossed the fifty meters of cleared ground towards the forest, returning into the depths of his strange and merciless homeland.