Olivia knew it was only a matter of time before she reached Grimfore village, she’d recognized the symbol of a bear with an axe in its mouth engraved on a tree not far back. Her breath was caught in her throat and her burning legs ached with protest; she needed to rest but she didn’t. Fear and determination propelled her forward. Her thoughts rang in her ears like a bell, knowing well that she should’ve stayed put in the enchanted cave. She was terrified as it was and the more she ran the deeper she dug her grave.
Why did she always have to live in fear? Why did her family have to be so dysfunctional to a point of living through an endless nightmare? She didn’t do anything wrong, she was kind and caring to every living creature. One day the only thing she had to worry about was her parents going out to hunt with the rest of the hunters in Keolia village. And then the next day, she was in the forest with teary eyes and bloody clothes.
The cold air gave her satisfaction to her hot body. She breathed out heavily and leaped over a risen tree branch. Without realizing it, her foot got caught underneath it. Her eyes widened, quick to see the deep slope beneath her and there was no way to stop herself as she fell down. Her hair tangled with iced leaves, dirt and snow flung into her gasping mouth and eyes, and anything sharp poked at her bare skin, some more painful than others. Her body hurled down and Olivia could hardly see anything clear enough to grab onto.
Suddenly, a blunt force smashed against Olivia’s calf, twisting her leg awkwardly, before tumbling into another tree that collided with her back. Olivia cried in agony, sensing the ripples of pain through her body. Still, despite the sudden painful halts, she continued to toppled further down the steep slope. It seemed endless and she couldn’t do anything but cry and whimper at the amount of sheer pain she endured. The bottom then smacked against her back after her throbbing leg struck another tree and Olivia couldn’t fight back the scream tearing past her throat.
She let the pain consume her and, when she rolled onto her stomach, tears already stung her eyes. Her vision blurred and the girl muffled a cry. The snow melted against her warmth, wetting her clothes. All she could feel was a throbbing pain that made her body tremble. There was a sharp pulse in her skull that made her wince and there were screams that threatened to escape her.
Despite it, Olivia gritted her teeth and moved her arms underneath her chest, I’m not weak. Not anymore,
Surged with a strange new determination and strength, Olivia pushed up off the snowy ground, using the momentum to settle onto her knees. Short, rough breaths heaved from her chapped lips. There was a tightness in her chest and dizziness swirling in her head from the unexpected fall she took. Though she knew she had to keep moving, even though she also knew it was pointless. Staggering to her feet, Olivia brushed snow off her clothes and face.
What she was doing was pointless, Rykal would find her again. Although the chances were high, she wanted to fight for her freedom. She didn’t want to be kept in fear so that others could control her. She hated the feeling.
Putting the slightest amount of weight on her injured leg, Olivia felt needles of sharp pain, warning her. Olivia cursed under her breath; she couldn’t walk by herself, she needed some sort of makeshift assistance. Not much could be seen as the sun was dropping faster than she could see in the dark forest. And not knowing where she was made the girl frustrated. Her brown eyes scanned the area, looking for any sign to give away where she was. A hearty laugh abruptly cut through the silence and Olivia quickly looked over her stiffened shoulder.
“That was some fall you took there, ma’am,” a voice chuckled.
“Who’s there?” Olivia demanded, a strange thing for her to do.
Sitting upon a bare branch was a man. Olivia spotted him and narrowed her eyes. The man smiled at her before he pushed off the branch and landed with a soft thud. The snow crunched beneath his black boots as he stood and dusted himself off. Olivia took note that the man held an axe that rested on his shoulder carefree. He smiled at Olivia again and stepped forward. Olivia watched his movements and the man chuckled.
“I’m Abraham, a woodsman of Grimfore,” he introduced, holding out his hand. His brown eyes were soft and kind.
Olivia noticed the cleanly kept hair growing on his cheeks and the silver chain around his neck. He wore a ragged leather brown jacket with another grey hooded jacket and a black shirt underneath, fitting with a pair of snowy black trousers. On his trousers was a belt holding a pouch filled with continents along with a dagger. Keeping his overgrown bangs in place was a dark blue beanie and it was then that she noticed the golden ring he wore on his left hand as she took it.
“Olivia,” she nodded and shook hands with him. “Do you know where we are?”
“Yes, ma’am, I do. We’re standing in Grimfore territory, not far from the village,” answered the woodsman.
“Really? I thought Grimfore was the other way.” Olivia questioned.
“No, ma’am, this is the way, only you took the short cut down the slope. If you kept traveling east and not sidetracked north, you would’ve come across the tree made pathway leading down to Grimefore,”
“And by the looks of it, you can’t walk by yourself,” Abraham inquired, looking at her leg questionably.
Olivia looked away, embarrassed.
“Ma’am, I can’t stay here. I have some business to tend to. Would you like me to escort you to Grimfore?”
“Yes, please,” Olivia answered.
Abraham put his axe away, it resting on his back as he hooked her arm over his shoulders, carefully moving his arms under her back and thighs. Gently, he lifted her up and began walking. Olivia felt a little awkward as Rykal was the only other male to hold her the way Abraham did.
“Thank you, Abraham,” Olivia whispered.
“It’s my pleasure, ma’am,” the woodsman replied with a smile.
Olivia blushed. “You don’t need to call me, ma’am. Olivia’s fine,”
Abraham chuckled. “Sorry, it’s a habit. My mother raised me to respect and cherish women as they are one of the most precious things on earth,”
Olivia smiled. “I’m glad you think that way. It’s sweet to hear,”
He nodded. “My mother reminded me that a woman is like a candle. They’re warm and sweet as long as you constantly give them attention, if you leave them alone for too long they’ll burn your house down,” Abraham sighed happily. “I’ve had the experience of facing a woman’s rage a few times by my wife. The way I see it, just agree to her and only disagree when it matters,”
Olivia giggled as Abraham ducked his head underneath a branch, smiling ahead at fond memories. Olivia admired his respect for women and envied his wife. They were both lucky to have each other. The girl wished she could experience the same sort of love, the kind of love that lasted forever. She looked over Abraham’s shoulder toward the late evening sky and gazed grimly, knowing she had doomed herself by leaving. Rykal would surely become angry enough to kill her. Olivia sighed and looked ahead, seeing specks of flickering light ahead. She then noticed Abraham walking on a pathway made of tree stumps of all sizes, large, small and in between.
“We’re nearly there,” murmured the woodsman.
Olivia didn’t reply as she saw two tall wooden gates up ahead at the end of the pathway, open and waiting with two largely lit torches hanging on either side. Small vines had twinned their way around two wooden watchtowers that stood either side of the gates extending into a wall stretched beyond Olivia’s eye. She saw figures inside, though they were strangely still. Nightfall dominated the sky and the half shaped moon shined dully behind the clouds. Abraham tensed ever so slightly and sighed.
“I didn’t tell her good night,” he whispered.
Olivia looked at him weirdly. “What are you talking about?”
Abraham looked at her and shook his head, “Nothing. Just a thing I do with my wife to comfort her before she turns,”
Olivia frowned, a little nervous by his words as they approached the gates. Abraham set Olivia down on the ground but kept her arm over his shoulders and held her body against his securely. Olivia noticed his saddened expression and wondered why he suddenly seemed so glum. At her pace, they walked into Grimfore village and Olivia instantly noticed how quiet it was. The area was busied with cottages and markets lit with hanging torches and fireflies, but there was no sign of the people. They then approached a person who stood as still as a statue. Olivia hardly noticed them until Abraham greeted them with a nod.
Olivia frowned as she watched the man. He didn’t move in the slightest. The lighting around him was poor but she noticed he was wearing all grey clothes, though they looked rough and seemed oddly frozen.
“Why isn’t he moving?” Olivia asked.
Abraham didn’t answer as he led her away. Olivia squinted her eyes but couldn’t make out why the man wasn’t moving. He was so still, the cold breeze didn’t seem to make him move, not even his clothes. It was strange and it sent an unpleasant chill down her spine. She saw another figure just like the man as they approached. The person looked like a female that held a sack carried over her back. Olivia pushed off Abraham, she wanted to investigate. He didn’t fight her and Olivia wobbled over to the female, ignoring the sharp neeldes shooting up her leg. She didn’t move even the slightest and wore the same rough grey clothes. Olivia leaned in closer and immediately saw her skin as grey as her clothes with her expression frozen in place. Her eyes widened and she staggered back, gasping in horror.
“She’s. . .” Olivia whispered, quickly glancing at all the still adults and children and realizing they all shared the same fate. “T-They’re all. . .”
“Cursed,” the woodsman finished grimly. “They were cursed by their ancestor’s doings,”
Olivia’s eyes widened in pure horror as she glanced at a little boy running with his arms up toward a woman reaching out for him. Every person in Grimfore was frozen by stone. Nothing was moving apart from loose materials and nature.
“Why did this happen? Why have they all turned to stone?” Olivia turned to Abraham for answers. Though it wasn’t his voice that answered.
“It’s simple, Dragella, their ancestors cut down a sacred tree that belonged to a nature fairy despite her warnings and she cursed them to turn to stone every night for the next thousand years.”
Olivia snapped her head behind her, seeing a pair of hooded figures walk through the gates. Both wore full-body black coats with masks, revealing nothing but their calculating eyes. One was taller than the other with a leaner built whilst the other held feminine body. Olivia tensed as Abraham nodded at them respectfully.
“To what do I owe the pleasure of the Fantasy Hunters?”
Olivia looked at him before looking at the pair again. She was confused. The Fantasy Hunters that visited Limrock looked nothing like the pair standing before them. The hunters that visited her old village wore ragged old clothes as if they were homeless and carried all sorts of junk on their backs. They looked like a joke. But the pair in front of Olivia, they didn’t look like they joked around as the male held a crossbow that peeked through the gap in his hooded coat. The female revealed nothing and it didn’t sit well with Olivia as the two approached Abraham and her.
“You can owe us by staying out of the way, woodsman. This has nothing to do with you,” a feminine voice spoke.
Before either had time to react, two figures jumped down from a marketing stall and grabbed Abraham by the arms and twisted them behind his back. Abraham gasped and yelled in discomfort.
“What are you doing? Let me go!” he protested.
The figures ignored him and one raised their elbow and slammed it hard into Abraham’s neck. Abraham groaned. His struggling ceased and his body went completely limp. The two hooded figures nodded to each other before carrying him away from Olivia.
“Abraham!” Olivia called.
Hopelessly, she watched them drag him out of sight. Her first thought was to run and she hobbled back. The eerie warmth of a presence chilled her back and froze her in her tracks.
“Going somewhere?” the same feminine voice mused behind her.
Olivia tensed and spun around, being greeted with a mischief expression staring at her. Olivia hobbled away from the hooded huntress and felt someone behind her once again. Olivia gasped and snapped her head around. Another hooded figure was there. There was no place to run as she was surrounded. Though she couldn’t even walk in her condition.
“What do you want?” she demanded but couldn’t hide the uncertainty in her voice.
“You’ve been seen accompanied by a dragon shifter by one of our sources. And we know the only reason you’re still alive is if by chance you’re valuable to him,” the huntress answered.
Olivia frowned at her words. “You’re wrong. He’s going to kill me once he finds me.”
The huntress laughed. “You think he wants to kill you? Looks like we got another sucker for those books, boys, she’s as gullible as every other clueless human,”
The group surrounding her laughed along with the huntress and Olivia looked down, whispering, “I’m not as gullible as you think,”
The huntress stopped laughing and took off her mask, revealing a scar lining across her left cheek and brow. “Tell you what, if you be a good girl you won’t have to put up with the dragon shifter anymore. Do what we say and he’ll be gone by the time the sun rises again. It’ll be another win for us and a win for you,”
Olivia shifted uneasily. “You want to use me to lure him here so you can kill him?”
The huntress nodded. “You got the brains, girl, it’s a shame you believe those books. They’re about as honest as a snake,”
“What are you talking about? You’re the ones who gave the ideas to everyone,” Olivia said with fact.
The huntress shrugged her shoulders. “Did we give the ideas to everyone, boys?”
The men shook their heads.
“But you visited Limrock,” Olivia stated.
“Limrock?” the huntress questioned. “You mean to tell me you’re from Limrock? What’s a laima doing all the way out in Grimfore accompanied by a dragon shifter?”
“I’m not one of those things,” Olivia muttered and crossed her arms.
“Your bite mark says otherwise,”
“It says I’m human that hasn’t turned into those disgusting things.” Olivia snapped.
The huntress rolled her green eyes. “Enough talk. Pierce, knock her out.”
Something tingled the back of Olivia’s neck and she suddenly ducked to the left as a male jabbed his elbow down. She dodged his attack. She frowned with confusion as the tingly sensation buzzed in her shoulder and she suddenly pushed herself forward. Twisting her body around, the male glared with cold brown eyes and held up his crossbow at her.
“Try dodging this,” he snared.
Before she knew it, the man named Pierce shot her neck with a small dart. Olivia yelped at the pinch of pain. Immediately she felt dizzy and fell forward. Pierce caught her as her vision blurred. Darkness grew in the corners of her eyes before it swallowed her whole.