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Erlund's breath came in ragged gasps as he fled through the darkened forest. His eyes were wide with panic; he knew they were behind him. The only question was how far. He stole a backward glance and fear flared in his stomach. In the spectral light of the moon he could see movement amongst the snow and shadows. He could feel their dead eyes on his back. Twisting and turning, he fought his way through the forest. Snow-shrouded branches grasped at him like cold, dead fingers. Flailing his arms wildly, he ran on, not feeling the scratches they left on his hands and face. Wracked by exhaustion, Erlund knew it was only pure desperation that kept his tired limbs moving. To slow down was to die.
He leapt over a log and landed heavily, his right foot slipping in the snow. Hauling himself up, he chanced another look backwards. His fear turned to terror. He could see them now, several dark shadows amidst the snow-shrouded trees. They moved effortlessly, almost gracefully, their horrific spider-like legs propelling them forward. Jagged armour glinted in the moonlight. Momentarily frozen with fear, Erlund gazed helplessly at his pursuers. It was useless, he knew. He could not outrun them and even if he did, the snow preserved his footprints. Despair washed over him as he watched the nightmarish creatures drew closer. What did they want with him?
It had all happened so swiftly; he had been cutting wood outside the trading post when the three figures had loomed out of the dusk shadows. That far north there were many legends about what lay across the mountains and during his fifty-four years Erlund had heard them all. As the creatures slipped into the fading light of day he had known instantly what they were. He had listened to the tales of the Galgarith and laughed and jested along with the rest of the men. Now, confronted with living legend, he felt only one emotion – terror. He had dropped his axe and was running before the blunted blade even struck the ground. That had been over half an hour ago. He had hoped to lose them in the woods.
Now, as he watched the creatures approaching through the trees, his hope had all but died. He willed his legs to move but they felt encased in iron. A primal urge then flashed in his mind; the need to flee, to survive. Suddenly he was running again. For several minutes he managed to haul himself through the forest, cold sweat plastering strands of greying hair to his forehead, every breath feeling like a blow to his stomach. He was strong and healthy despite his middle years, yet now his strength was waning. Eventually not even terror could drive his limbs any further. A sharp pain shot through his left side and as it intensified he staggered behind a tree. Wearily he slumped to the snow. His ragged breaths frosted in the air as he gazed up at the night sky through the branches of the trees. Dozens of stars flickered like lanterns in the vault of Heaven, and a strange peace settled over him. Soon it would be over. He wanted to curl up in a blanket of snow to sleep, to dream. His thoughts were broken by the sound of voices conversing in an obscure language; harsh voices that cut jaggedly through the frigid air.