Ameran fled through the darkened forest, his ragged breaths clouding in the frigid air. Trees draped in the white mantle of winter grasped at him as he darted between them, their stark branches brushing against his skin like cold, dead fingers. Twisting and flailing, he ran on, not even feeling the cuts they left on his face.
A horn sounded in the gloom, harsh and discordant, followed by coarse shouts and a series of wild howls.
They were gaining on him.
Grunting with exertion, he willed his legs to keep moving as a blur of chaotic thoughts surged through his mind. A log loomed before him in the darkness and he leapt over it, landing heavily in the snow. Grimacing in pain, he glanced back through the woods. Fear immediately flared in his gut as he saw the hulking forms slipping through the snow and shadows. Moving swiftly on all fours, they were black spectres in the light of the moon.
Closing his eyes Ameran desperately tried to commune with his companions, seeking their auras. Releasing his senses, his mind was abruptly filled with a thousand sensations. He felt the menacing threat of his pursuers, now dangerously close, and the bloodlust and greed that drove them. Casting his mind further, he sensed the hunger of an eagle followed swiftly by the terror of its prey. Yet nowhere did he sense the presence of his friends. A feral howl caused his concentration to waver and his eyes snapped open.
Hauling himself to his feet, Ameran ploughed onwards through the frozen forest, every breath feeling like a blow to his stomach. Anger replaced his fear and lent additional strength to his limbs. He couldn't let it end like this, not here, not in this way. Devastated and drenched in cold sweat, he ran until he thought his knees would buckle beneath him. Eventually, exhausted, he shouldered his way into a clearing and then reared back in surprise. Before him the mountainside fell away in a sheer drop. Stunned, he stood helplessly on the precipice, gazing at the vista before his eyes.
Far below lay a darkened valley, bathed in the spectral light of Azrael, the greater moon. Around him other mountains rose up, immortal and indomitable, silent beneath the countless stars that glittered like lanterns in the vault of Heaven. A strange calm settled over Ameris as his breathing gradually slowed. If this was to be the end, he decided, then so be it.
With a smooth motion he drew his serani. Moonlight reflected off the slender blade. His other hand probed under the front of his tunic, withdrawing a worn pouch. Crouching, he upturned it over the frozen ground. The emerald slipped softly out and lay in the snow. Its flawless surface caught the moonlight and sparkled with a deep green radiance. Within the depths of the gemstone a pure white orb pulsed like a heartbeat, rippling like the reflection of the moon in a puddle.
The soul of Ishra the Healer, Light of the Divine.
For a brief moment Ameran forgot the danger that hounded him, forgot the blood and the death of so many years, so many centuries. Everything paled into insignificance compared with the beauty of the stone.