The New Freeglader

Chapter 1

If you look into the Deepwoods on a cold winter's night, three years after the quelling on the goblin invasions in the Freeglades, you would see a woman, scarcely more than a girl. Her hair is lank and straggly, plastered against her scalp from the rain and the snow. She is wearing only a short wrap of hammelhorn hide, belted at the waist; it is little protection from the wind. Her feet are bare.

She is running for her life. A look of terror contorts her angular face. She has high, sun-browned cheekbones and vivid green eyes. The tips of her ears stick out from her reddish-brown hair, and the horror chasing her will catch up soon.

Bounding along behind her, one of her pursuers bays loudly. The woodwolves are much faster than she is, but she only needs to outrun it a little longer.

Already, her pace has slowed. Living in the Deepwoods for so long, there was always little food to spare, and her energy reserves are running out. The woodwolf pack has already eaten her cache of food; she won't last through the winter anyway. Her only hope is to outrun them for just a little while longer. The Free Glades cannot be far. Her hand instinctively strays to her belt, and the long, sharp dagger resting in its sheath there. Her fingers close around its comforting hilt. She is tiring fast now. She can barely force herself to keep running, but she pushes on because she has no other hope.

The smells of the Free Glades waft past her. She can almost see the lights of the taverns and inns from here. Encouraged, she spurs her aching legs on to greater effort.

She's not fast enough.

Within sight of the gates, she is set upon by the woodwolves. With a cry of pain, she falls to the ground. They all attack her with teeth and claws, howling victoriously.

Two young men burst out of the gates, swords drawn. One has a messy crop of black hair; one has a shaved head on which stubble is regrowing. Both have eyes full of determination. They are both coming towards the woman. She reaches out a hand, dimly aware that it is painful, croaking a hoarse cry for aid. She notices that her dagger is lying on the ground a few yards away, but doesn't have the energy to reach for it anymore. Suddenly, the woodwolves aren't on her back anymore. She thinks she hears the baying howls retreating, but she can't be sure. Everything is cut off by a thin, red veil of pain.

She turns her head slightly. The young men are both bent over her. One says something to the other that she can't quite make out. The one with the shaved head gently picks her up to carry her into the Free Glades, but even this small action is enough to cause her to black out from the pain.

The three of them enter the gates. She has made it.