For the first time in a long time, Daena felt the stirrings of fatigue in her legs.
Ever since her ‘accident’ her bottom half had been forced to run constantly. She’d been given no choice in the matter. Even upon release from her tree by the rats, Daena had run, run, run her little life out. The benefit of this was, in time, complete immunity to fatigue: she’d simply spent too much of her life trying to run to tire out while actually running. But most of her running to date had been in a straight line, not attempting to avoid werewolves.
The subtle burn in her calves was not enough to stop Daena. She couldn’t stop if she tried. But it was one more problem to add to the laundry list of problems.
Leaping, Daena rebounded off of a building to avoid the lunge of a werewolf. It hit the ground where she’d been standing and buried its snout in snow, its snarling muffled. Daena used the opportunity to try and light the building on fire, but she moved too quickly, and her torch’s flames only scorched the wood. When she hit the ground again, the torch had been extinguished by her frantic movements.
“Shit,” Daena muttered, inwardly slapping herself for cursing. She seldom resorted to the stuff. “Back to the drawing board…”
On no less than three occasions now, Daena had attempted to bring down the eastern gate that presented the final obvious avenue of escape for the werewolves. This represented a considerable challenge, however: if Daena destroyed the gate while entering the city she would lock the werewolves out of Foregone, and if she destroyed the gate while exiting the city she would have no further opportunities to set buildings ablaze. As it was she’d only managed to light a handful of structures on fire.
This is not working, Julius said into Daena’s mind. You are beginning to slow. Eventually one of them will catch you…
You think? Daena thought back rather viciously. She hopped lightly over one werewolf that attempted to tackle her from the entrance of a market, then kicked another aside as it jumped from the second floor of another building. It managed to rake her left leg with its claws before crashing into a wall. Ow! There has… ow… there has to be a better way to go about this!
Julius sighed. I… well, I can help, but you need to get closer to me. I can’t do anything from this distance. I’d hoped you would be fast enough on your own, but…
Daena tensed. She’d wondered if this might come up, if, in fact, Julius had simply been baiting her with this plan of burning down Foregone in order to earn her trust. Daena liked to trust people, but she simultaneously maintained a healthy skepticism as to their overall intentions, and in this case…
Julius apparently heard her inner turmoil. I understand your dilemma, Queen Daena, and I sympathize, but my only intention is to stop these werewolves from rampaging across the Imperium. You have nothing to fear from me, and, in this case, everything to gain.
I have no idea if you’re being honest or not, Daena persisted, annoyed that the mystery man could read her thoughts. And I don’t suppose I have much choice, do I?
Julius mentally shrugged. Not really. Are you willing to take a major risk? It will pay off substantially if it works.
Daena thought about her family. Images of her husband, her son, and her daughter flashed to mind, all three wonderful, contrary, and unique. Thoughts of them had sustained her on her long road to nowhere these last few months, and she clutched to her memories of each, drawing strength from them.
What can you do for me? Daena asked eventually, as she sped down a narrow alleyway.
Minutes later Daena found herself, once again, racing down Foregone’s longest, straightest thoroughfare. Blood was seeping down into her right eye from a gash on her forehead, her body ached in a dozen places, her legs continued to burn, and the werewolves refused to give up on their mad pursuit. A closed gate lay ahead, one Daena had slammed shut herself.
But she wasn’t aiming for the gate. All she wanted was to turn around.
Gritting her teeth, Daena jumped. Her legs carried her almost ten feet into the air, and as she glided back down to the snow she forced her body to spin. It overcompensated, whirling Daena around in three tight turns, and her stomach churned sickeningly -
- but it was enough. Daena landed in the snow at a slight angle to the werewolves, her hitherto forward motion sending her skidding almost six feet backwards as she came to a very temporary halt. The backs of her feet gently tapped an empty barrel. Then, legs pulsing, Daena surged forward, towards the left side of the pack of werewolves.
This had better work, whatever it is, Daena thought, twitching at the sight of the frothing mob rushing forward to greet her. Or so help me I’ll hunt you down as a werewolf and eat you, Julius.
The pack closed on Daena, snapping voraciously. Coiling her legs as best she could, Daena bit her lip, plunged towards the werewolves, and leaped as high as she could over their heads. Surprised, the werewolves at the front of the pack nipped at her heels as she sailed over them, towards a second-floor balcony Daena planned on using as a springboard.
Time slowed. Despite her fear, Daena tilted her head to gaze at the sea of werewolves beneath her pinwheeling feet. There were so many that they seemed almost to be a single, unruly entity, composed of millions of mouths and claws eager to pull her in and make her one of the whole. Yet despite their swollen numbers and almost uniform appearance the werewolves were not uniform, and for a brief second one of them, a huge, hunchbacked monstrosity that almost dwarfed the rest flashed a brilliant orange -
- and power surged into Daena’s body -
- and something clicked -
- and when Daena hit the balcony she was so surprised that she simply clung to it for dear life, rather than leaping boldly off of it as she’d planned. Her legs dangled over the werewolves for several tempting seconds before Daena thought to pull herself up and over the railing to avoid their frenzied snaps.
Righting herself on the balcony, Daena stood and looked down at the werewolves. She didn’t leap off of the balcony, she didn’t jump into the building and run down the hall, she didn’t burst through the railing and carry on down the street. She just stood there, her well-muscled thighs content to remain stationary for the first time in a very long time.
Uh oh, Julius said, his tone grim. That, uh, that wasn’t supposed to happen.