She had been chased by them for over an hour now. Numerically speaking, they had the upper hand, but this was an unfamiliar forest for everyone. Fortunately, Emma had always taken all kinds of healthy herbs since she was young, thanks to her father who’d been a master pharmacist, well-informed in herbal medicine.
She had been drinking tea made of luphenyl frequently, which was classified as a health booster. Luphenyl tea, a special, rare product of the neighboring country of Dukram, was famous for its mysterious effects and expensive price tag. Emma’s father had not been one to be cheap when it came to his daughter’s health. He had splurged generously for her. Thanks to this, Emma had grown up drinking luphenyl tea like water, and because of that, she had good stamina and a strong body. Therefore, luckily, she was able to keep ahead of her enemies and continued the rugged climb.
Suddenly, a thorn from a brier tree that was sticking out on the mountain trail, tore loudly through Emma’s robe. Her heart rattled because she thought an unseen hand had reached out and grabbed her and she quickly removed the robe. Thank goodness it had just been an unlucky situation. Emma rolled the robe around a large rock that she’d picked up nearby and sent it rolling down a slope in the opposite direction.
“Over there!” Someone shouted.
“Earlier she wasn’t in that direction.” Another voice said. Judging by their behavior, the chasers were confused as to where to go.
“Sh!t! That ratty little b!tch!”
Emma gritted her teeth as she ignored the strange voices piercing her ears. She had to get as far away from them as possible! With all of the strength she’d gotten from the herbal teas, she climbed the mountain diligently. But it was a shame that her efforts continued to fail her in this situation, which seemed to be spiraling downward. The rain was falling harder again and Emma’s vision was hindered as if she were surrounded by fog in a pitch-black cave. Even the footpath had become more slippery and more dangerous.
At the edge of the path, in a hurry to escape, a wolf’s howling was heard from somewhere, followed by the threatening roar of predators. Emma, who had stiffened her shoulders in fear, stopped for a moment. The monsters in the Perrigans are sub-species of wolves. Monsters were extremely rare within the Kingdom of Berken, except in the Perrigans, which was a vast and remote mountain range known to have a fairy somewhere deep in its valleys. Beyond that, it was a rugged patch of land where no one lived, but it was also known that the ruins of an ancient city that existed a long time ago, remained here. But it was said to be a sealed relic, not just an ordinary ruin, and some said it was a cursed area. Legend had it that a fairy was the guardian of the mysterious ruins.
According to the folktale, cruel elves who despised humans constantly created monsters and raised wild beasts. It was well known that werewolves were the dominant monsters of the Perrigans. They were three to four times larger than a wolf and a head taller than an adult man. They were crazy about moonlight; mad wolves that attacked people and tore them apart. So the long howling of the wolves in the distance was a type of warning. A sharp warning to Emma, to not step into this restricted area.
She’d suffered from chilling fear at night, after hearing the legend told by her tutor when she was a child, and she became white with fear.
The howling of wolves continued in the valley, just as the uninvited guests continued to hunt for Emma.
“Emma, keep this up and you’ll catch pneumonia!” Her aunt yelled. “Aren’t you afraid of that? Stop running and come to us. We won’t ask you anything,” she lied. “It was just a shock from the bad dream you had. Just come back to us.”
Perhaps it was fear felt from the howling that caused the voices that followed, to sound urgent and persistent. But Emma didn’t seem to be shaken by them because she’d already come to know their dark intentions a long time ago.
With her two hands pressed against her ears, Emma blindly ran forward. I’d rather face a monster. She tried to calm her insides that were blanketed with fear. It’s better to be prey to wild animals than to be humiliated and murdered.
While the soaked hem of her dress dragged across the ground, it clung to her ankles and between her legs, but she put her weight on her toes and didn’t stop. Then, when the dark forest rustled, she stopped breathing and clenched her fists in case an animal or monster attacked. The more time went by, the tenser she became and her mouth had gone dry.
Unexpectedly, the steep ridge showed its limit. Emma kept an eye on the darkness ahead. I have to go up to get over this hill. There was no other choice. She had to keep digging into the depths of the mountain range as long as her stamina allowed her to.
She wanted to continue up the slope, but suddenly her foot slipped and she screamed reflexively. Emma hurriedly covered her mouth with one hand, but the damage was already done; the scream wasn’t fully blocked. Suddenly, her body began to fall towards the ground uncontrollably. For a split second, she was airborne, and then, with a loud clunk, her body slammed into the ground.
As soon as she hit the ground, she slid on wet fallen leaves, bounced off the ground, and rolled down the slope. Thankfully, the fall was short and she landed in a shallow pool that was full of fluffy fallen leaves and leaf mold. Emma, landing in the soggy pit, was silently relieved that she hadn’t hit a tree or any rocks on the way down.
Whew. Her whole body was in agonizing pain, but she didn’t have time to moan because the scream from just a short while ago, might have given away her location. Any more delay and she’d be caught by her pursuers. She hoisted herself up and limped forward. I have to get out of here! But where do I go?