March 22 at 12:00 AM
Photo courtesy of Peter Griffin
The hunter galloped up the cobblestone, raising his repeating crossbow as Vissorouy fell away. As brambles swept over the hill, he squeezed off three successive bursts. Arrows whirred through the air and erupted, incinerating the thorny tangles, and flattening the hill. Dirt and thorns flew high into the air, blood spurting out the broken vines. While the brambles smoldered, Lawson veered off, thundering up the path, and snaking around the flank.
As he whipped around the bend, the hunter unleashed a second volley. Silver needles arced into the valley, detonating one after another, and severing the lines extending from the forest. Blackened tendrils flailed, desperate to shake the flames from them and rethread with the core.
From beneath the charred coils, white flowers blossomed, flinging their poisonous quills. Picking up the fire as they flashed by, stingers rained down, grazing the hunter's coat. Lawson dug in his heels, outrunning the blast, as the firestorm tore up the trail behind. As the florets launched a second volley, the wind swirled, tossing the daggers back into the valley, and preventing any response.
As he turned his eyes back towards the path, a wall of thorns rose up. Lawson tugged his reigns, jerking Taurus' head abruptly. As they spun, the path crumbled. Stumbling down the slope, the Vanklass barely managed to stay erect as it infiltrated the valley.
"Why do you resist?" a voice whispered in his ear. "Is the black rage really in you? Come, let me wash the stain from your heart."
Lawson pressed Taurus back up the slope. "Stop playing with me, Enura," he uttered.
"If only I were so graceful," her voice resonated.
As the horse staggered, thorns whipped around Lawson's neck, and yanked him from his steed. Tripping the bow as he fell, an arrow shot over the cliffs, and splashed harmlessly into the sea.
"There you are," she sighed.
Brambles soared like a wave, cresting over, and smashing down. Prickly vines seized his arms and legs, twisting him back. Tortured faces peered at him, heads swiveling on thorny tangles, as the brambles conveyed him deeper.
"Be with me now," her voice echoed.
Blossoms uncurled as he drew closer. As he caught sight of her crystalline skin, purple tongues licked his cheeks. Eight arms extended from her frosty core, obscuring her timid face. One by one she peeled them away, revealing a blank, icy slate.
"Let me have a taste of you." She reached forward. Frigid spikes shot from her fingers, spearing his arms. "Share with me your darkest delights." She drank from him.
Thorny tangles tightened around the hunter's bow, but still he would not give it up. As life trickled away, he held fast as the brambles claimed the rest of him.
"Stay with me awhile," she beckoned.
As he gazed into her, darkness fell before his eyes, seizing him in its cold embrace, and ushering him into the abyss.