The frigid wind bit at his face like burning knives, threatening to flay the skin from his nose. His gloves, the fur lining of his parka, every bit of his clothes supposed to keep him warm was heavy and stiff, crusted over with ice. But he didn't stop running. He couldn't. Even though part of him knew it was suicide, he pushed on into the night, into the howling and the cold.

Because it was better than the alternative.

At the very thought of what "the alternative" might entail, sheer panic threatened to overwhelm him, clouding his mind like noxious fumes. The horror, the absolute insanity of it all made him want to sink to his knees in the deep snow and scream up at the dark, uncaring sky until his vocal cords snapped and his lungs burst. And then…

Then it would find him. Overtake him, kneeling helpless in the snow, and–

He closed off that part of his mind before he could imagine those events in any more detail. Instead he devoted all his attention to his legs, forcing them to trudge through the snow. It was up to his calves, any movement like walking through semi-hard cement. To call it running was a feeble joke; he could only lumber forward. It was frustrating: the fear and adrenaline building inside him, reaching the breaking point– and he couldn't release it, was held back by the elements. It was like beating one's head against a brick wall to reach safety on the other side.

Of course, there was no safety here. Or anywhere for several thousand miles. Everywhere he looked, had it been day, he would have seen endless fields of white stretching into oblivion, ominous crags and peaks standing on the horizon like sentinels ensuring no escape. The closest human outpost was behind him.

As soon as the thought entered his mind, he turned, against his own will, to look. Through the raging blizzard he could see a warm, flickering orange smudge a quarter of a mile away, sitting at the bottom of the slight slope he was climbing. It was all that remained of the place he and his colleagues had called home for seven months, a flaming wreck standing against the pitch-black night. Smaller pricks of flame on the outskirts marked where debris had been cast, and the whiteout lights glowed an eerie blue.

Then he saw a shape, a dark silhouette moving against the backlit scene. Ask anyone and they would have said it was a man, or at the very least a person of some gender: a bit bulky from the heavy coat, struggling against the wind, arms flailing slightly as they tried to push through the deep snowdrifts. They might have been in a hurry, eager to escape the cold, except there was nowhere to go. Instead the person seemed to be moving away from the warm fires, up the slope, perhaps following a set of tracks in the snow.

The sight of this second survivor filled the man with even more terror, if at all possible, and he turned to flee. His boots stuck deep beneath the snow and he lost balance, falling on his face into the cold crust. It burned like fire; he half expected his skin to start blistering. Instead his right cheek began to grow numb. Pushing himself up on all fours and shaking the snow from his dark hair, he looked back over his shoulder. The shape, although still a ways away, was noticeably closer, pressing on towards the crouching man.

He struggled to his feet and began an awkward half-run, arms pin wheeling, breath coming in short high gasps. He knew that sooner or later he would collapse, and maybe pass out. Part of him hoped it would happen; to fall asleep in the soft snow and escape this nightmare would be a welcome relief.

Nightmare. The word barely began to describe what had happened over the past few days. It was still a blur to him, an incoherent memory like a smear of blood across his mind. Brief flashes of clarity came to him: dark shapes inside blocks of ice, pale forms lying on cold metal tables, a puddle of carnage that had once been a friend of his. And things. Horrible, distorted, indescribable things that he knew only a handful of people on this earth had ever seen before. Some of them bore familiar faces, twisted in agony and rage. He had tried to kill them, to destroy them all in fire, burning down the outpost even though he knew it meant his own death. He had thought he was the only survivor. But apparently it hadn't been enough.

He reached the top of the slope, standing precariously on an unstable spine of snow and ice. Looking back he saw the burning wreckage a mile away and his pursuer no more than a hundred yards down the slope. It had caught up with him impossibly fast. It must have changed, taking advantage of its many forms, while his back was turned. In desperation he turned and flung himself over the edge. He let his limbs go limp, rolling and tumbling down the opposite side, down and away. Maybe, if he was lucky, there would be a cliff edge, a sheer drop to hard ice.

Because he wanted to die. He knew that, had known it for hours, but his own drive would not allow him to give up. He couldn't pull the trigger on himself, or blow himself up. And he certainly couldn't just sit and wait for it to find him. Death was the only way out, but that would be worse than death. Watching it happen was horrible enough.

His roll came to an end on a hard level surface. He slid across it on his stomach, the ice chilling him through his shirt. For a moment he lay there, cheek pressed against the smooth ground, eyes closed, willing himself to slip into unconsciousness.

A crunch sounded to his right, of boots on ice. He looked and saw a dark shape standing over him, features indistinguishable in the night. It shrugged its shoulders uncomfortably, and he saw two lumpy, folded shapes retracting beneath the coat and into its back. Wings?

Cheating bastard. His own bravado surprised him, considering how he was petrified with fear. He sat on the ice, legs sprawled before him, arms propping him up to face it. His legs grew warm as his bladder released, and he was a bit confused to still feel a twinge of shame, even now at the end.

The standing figure took a step forward, standing directly over him now. Its entire frame began to tremble, arms shaking spasmodically at its sides. A low gurgling sound could be heard from somewhere inside its chest cavity. It leaned slowly down towards him, arms stiff, bending at the waist. He knew what was coming and wanted to scream, to run. But he could do neither.

Then he saw something dangling from its coat: a long, thin cylinder, hanging by a strap. He knew what it was and, breaking his own paralysis, reached for it, pulling it away from the thing. His frozen thumb found a cap at the top and he snapped it off. The flare exploded to life in a burst of crimson flame, roaring in the night, a plume of thick, hot smoke spewing into the thing's face. It reared back, making a sound somewhere between a human yell and an animalistic moan.

Life flooded back into his limbs and he kicked at the ice, propelling himself backwards, away from the writhing figure. The harsh red light threw its features into sharp relief: a pair of pants and a heavy coat, ripped and sticky with frozen blood; the shoulders were now uneven, one drastically higher and sharper than the other, the back hunched; its arms covered the face from the sputtering flare, the hands elongated and twisted, the skin thick and pierced with large black spines. He leapt to his feet and waved the flare at it like a sword, forcing it back. It began to emit a high keening sound, muffled through its raised arms.

Then the flare began to die. The roar gradually dropped to a dull murmur, the high flame shrinking down to nearly nothing. It spat a few sparks that fell hissing to the ice and died completely.

As the dead flare fell from his numb fingers, the clouds shifted and the moon bathed the icescape in pale corpse-light. The thing lowered its twisted arms and he saw his own face staring out from beneath the hood, one side twisted and deformed, with long uneven fangs growing though the skin and one bulging eye that threatened to explode from its socket. Then it did, plopping to the ice. A large bubble of blood bloomed in the empty hole and popped as a mass of writhing tendrils pushed out. The chest swelled beneath the coat and the head was pulled back, exposing the neck. The throat rippled and split open, and a long, thick tongue lashed out, whipping lazily in the air. The thing made a huffing, gurgling sound as its chest exploded and something like a dog pushed out through a mass of intestines and the bloody coat, swiping blindly with deformed paws.

He blissfully lost consciousness as the slobbering tongue wrapped around his own throat and began to reel him in, towards the outstretched arms and the squirming dog-thing. An amalgamation of countless cries, screams, and squeals echoed across the ice as it engulfed him…

He sat on the ridge of ice and snow, watching the sun rise over the distant peaks. A cold breeze ruffled his dark hair and tugged at his coat, immaculate except for snow and a small dark stain near the collar. The sun breached the horizon and exploded in a spectacle of pink and purple, setting the clouds aflame. It also revealed the silhouette of a distant helicopter, heading towards his location. He smiled and let out a content sigh.

Now he was the only survivor.