The darkness was thick and suffocating, like a heavy blanket had been thrown over the world. She had to get over the wall, had to get across the border before one of the guards noticed her precariously perched on the uneven stones and released the dire wolves. Once loose, they would either pull her off the wall or hunt her down.The result depended on how far she got before they caught up.
The dire wolves were the pride of Aren’s border security. They were barely tamed, but that was still more than anyone else was able to claim. Well, those who had even tried to tame them at all - most thought it was suicidal to try and work with the beasts.
A shiver ran down her spine as she remembered the one time she had ever seen one.
It had been during a town patrol, and one of the guards had managed to identify a man at the market who was wanted for petty theft. The man had tried to run and the guards had released a wolf in response. It had been the size of a small horse, with teeth as long as a man’s forearm, and had a wild ferocity surpassed only by the Giants to the North and the dragons deep within the mountains. Needless to say, the man hadn’t been seen again, and his two kids were now part of the Rats on the streets of the capital, Eguzkia.
Their addition to the border guards, though, was undeniable despite the immense risk. Nobody had managed to get past them yet, keeping intruders out of the country, and more importantly in the eyes of the Church, keeping the citizens in. Once the wolves got a scent, they never lost it, sometimes tracking a person for weeks until they found them. They could leap over obstacles twice the size of the tallest men, and there were rumors that their strength was enough to fell small trees with a single blow from their massive paws.
She did not intend to stick around long enough to find out.
The night was nearly silent around her as she felt her way through the darkness, fingers cautiously feeling out handholds blindly as her toes slid along rough stone in an attempt to wedge in wherever there was space. She had made it nearly to the top when one of the stones she was holding onto crumbled to pieces, sending her reeling to one side and chucks of rock tumbling down the wall to the ground.
She froze, heart pounding so fast she thought it had stopped entirely, legs trembling with nerves and breath stunned still in her chest. She was so afraid she could barely think, but somehow she managed to stop and listen, waiting with dread for the sound of guards shouting, and maybe even the pounding of feet and the heavy, panting breaths that would accompany them.
An uncertain amount of time passed before her body slowly relaxed enough to move again. All of her senses were tuned in to the slightest shifts in her surroundings, and she made her way up the wall even more slowly than before. When she reached the top, she eased her way to her feet, standing on the thin ledge that separated one side from the other.
As she stared at the trees on the other side, a giddy feeling burst throughout her chest. She had actually done it, she had actually made it over the wall separating Aren from the rest of the world. She could go anywhere she wanted, be whoever she wanted, do whatever she wanted to do. She was finally free, and all that was left to do was pick which direction to go next.
Over the several weeks of planning leading up to her escape, she had narrowed down the options to the sea-ports to the south or to the valleys further to the west. She figured that she would make it over the wall before deciding, as her decision depended on the weather, as well as which was the safer option in whatever circumstances she found herself in when the plan was implemented.
She turned her gaze towards the mountains in the west, mere smudges against the night sky, their black silhouettes just a shade darker than the rest of the night. A cold wind played about her, and she shivered, a foreboding feeling sweeping through her at the thought of what those mountains contained during the winter, tales of shadows and demons coming to the forefront of her mind. They might be just stories to scare children, but there was always an unusually high number of deaths from their neighboring country during the winter, to the point where even Aren’s merchants refused to travel through Tenzu Pass during the colder months.
No, she decided, better go south towards the sea. It was a slightly longer journey, but there were no ghost-stories for that route.
Decision made, she swung a leg over the other side of the wall, forcing herself not to scramble her way down like she wanted to. It was hard to contain her excitement in the face of freedom, but her fear was stronger, and she kept a level head all the way down. Her breaths didn’t come easy until both feet were firmly planted on the earth on the other side of the wall, outside of Aren’s rigid boundaries. She took a moment to gather herself, to imprint the moment her freedom began in her mind before she turned around.
That was when the shouts began, and the howling pierced the still air.