She was going to die. There was no avoiding it now, no more fighting it.
She sat alone, in a one-room cabin, watching a flickering fire slowly die. When its light went out and its warmth vanished, the frost elves would take her. She couldn’t stop them now.
She could hear them, moving just outside the cabin. They sounded like frozen rain rattling against a windowpane. She shivered and clutched the hilt of her broken blade. Her hands shook. Her head pounded. Her legs were frozen from a dozen nips – sharp little bites from the elves she hadn’t been able to escape.
The cold storm had come early. She hadn’t been prepared. She’d been caught out in it, and the frost elves had come, lured down from their lofty mountains by the plummeting cold and the promise of fresh game.
She fought. It was the only thing she could do. She ran blindly through the white blur of the world, her long knife drawn and ready. She knew they were there. She knew they were hunting her – they hunted whatever was in their path, with no regard for the size or ferocity of their prey.
They always triumphed in the end.
She saw the first one coming. She stopped and cut it down as it leapt at her face. Blue stained the falling snow and turned it to ice under her feet. She slipped, stood and fled.
Where there was one, there were more.
They came, singly at first, pouncing on her from the left or right, quick little white-blue devils hidden in the blowing snow. Their claws were sharp and cold as icicles, and stung when they hit their mark. Their blood was frost, so cold it burned when it touched her skin.
And no matter how many she slaughtered, they kept coming – in pairs, in packs. Their icy wrath would not cease. They came and came as she fought and ran through the furious blizzard.
The first bite nearly brought her to her knees. An elf latched onto her calf, and its sharp teeth sank deep. She screamed, and the sound was swallowed up by the wind. Tears coursed down her cheeks and froze as she stabbed the creature in the neck. It fell away, dead, but others took its place. She lashed out with her knife, but with the next blow the blade shattered, made brittle and fragile by the cold.
She hobbled along. She had to be close to the cabin by now, close to refuge, to safety. She clung to that hope as she stumbled through the piling snow, the frost elves snapping at her heels.
The cabin’s sturdy, blocky shape loomed out of the snow. On a cry of relief she threw herself forward. The elves nipped – one at her ankle, one at her shoulder. She tossed one away, grabbed the other by its neck and strangled it. She collapsed through the cabin door and kicked it closed.
Her legs were clumsy and stiff as she barricaded the door. The elves pounded against the walls, rattling the little cabin. They knew their prey was inside. They wanted her.
She crawled to the hearth. Trembling, she lit the fire. She huddled over its warmth, soaking it in.
She glanced at the woodpile, and her heart fell.
There was not enough fuel to last through the coming night.
Darkness came quickly, and the storm howled on. She could hear the elves clattering against the windows and walls. As soon as the flame was dead, they would come. Her knife was broken, nearly useless. She couldn’t run – her legs were numb from the frost elves’ nips. And there was nowhere to run, no safety to be found in the storm.
She was going to die.
She could see them as they crept into the dark corners of the cabin. Their eyes glowed blue like frostbitten stars – dozens of them, crawling and scuffling inside. The flame flickered. She got shakily to her feet. She clutched her broken blade and bared her teeth.
She wouldn’t go without a fight.
“Come on, then, you devils, and let’s be done with it.”
The flame died. As darkness filled her vision, she felt their icy breath leeching her warmth away as the frost elves swarmed her. The bone-breaking cold overcame her, and the elves took her.
Illustration by Blain Hefner.