Moaning, she slowly got to her feet. The fall must have knocked something right, because her headache was gone. Looking around, she still felt uneasy. Although the forest here was not burning and felt cool, the deathly stillness unnerved Shar. Billea’s voice echoed in her head. He said to keep running against the wind. But down here, there wasn’t any. She turned slowly, her movements like explosions in the woods. Listening to the echoes, she bit her lip. A cool breeze gently swept along her sweaty face. Turning against it, she started to walk, hoping it was the right direction.
She had only taken a single step when she heard it. The crack of a twig, the scrape of fierce claws against bark, the rustle of leaves concealing danger. Then she heard the hissing. She tried to control the panic racing through her blood. Spinning, she desperately searched the forest for signs of the intruders. There, a bush a ways back, it was gently smoking. So was the tree to the other side of her. Every way she turned there appeared to be a thin smoke screen slowly creeping its way forward, closing its trap. Shar looked around, trying to find something, anything she could use as a weapon. Nothing. Turning, she quickly scrambled up a tree, thinking she could hide. The smoke blocked her from them as well. Maybe, if she kept very still and quiet, they would simply pass her by. Faulty footing brought Shar back to reality and the ground. She hit it hard, the broken branch falling a few metres from her.
Gasping, she held her chest. Everything she did today seemed cursed. Bringing her gaze up, she saw the fire lizards were very close. Climbing to her feet, she rushed to the branch, gripping its rough bark with sweaty hands. It was big and clumsy but she didn’t care. It was better than nothing. Slowly creeping through the bushes, the first wave of salamanders began to appear. There was so many, a lot more than Shar saw Dazzaroth call. Swinging the branch around, she managed to get three of them, knocking them back into each other. She struggled to keep the beasts away but for everyone she hit, she lost a little of her stick. Their burning skin was slowing turning it to ash. Shar could see this wasn’t going to last long. Desperately looking around, she tried to find the direction to run again, but it was impossible to tell the difference between the trees. Down to a mere wood chip, Shar knew she had to guess.
Looking down, she spotted a gap between two lizards. Both looked a bit beaten up so it was definitely her best shot. Throwing her branch hard at the lizards, she slid quickly between them. One was faster than the other. One snapped at her and missed, but the other latched onto Shar’s ankle. Shar didn’t stop. She couldn’t. The pain was intense but she knew the only way to survive was to keep running. It seemed like forever until he lost his grip and fell into the underbrush. Angry hisses followed her. They were hungry and gaining. Her heart pounded as she ran. She didn’t care which way she was going as long as it was away from them. Then she saw it, a bright light breaking through the trees. Finally, she was coming to the edge of this accursed forest.
Hope came with a renewed burst of energy. A tentative curve crept its way onto Shar’s lips. Surely, the lizards wouldn’t follow her into the crowded city. Roughly tearing her way through the last few branches, Sharrlette burst into the clean open air.
“No!” Shar screamed in horror. She ran the wrong way. Instead of going out, she ran further in. She came to a giant cliff on the top of Mt. Colt. She skidded to a halt just shy of the edge. Turning slowly, her lips trembling, she saw the salamanders surround her. They knew she was defeated now. Even if they missed, the cliff wouldn’t. It was a long way down. A hiker died here a few years ago. It wasn’t pleasant. Shar knew she wouldn’t survive. One of the vicious creatures lunged forward, delighting in terrifying her. It snapped eagerly at her ankle. Yelping in fear, she took a step back away from its jagged teeth. Her foot slipped off the edge, the loose dirt crumbling down the cliff face. Balancing on her other leg, she turned, looking down the cliff. She could see Billea. He was at the bottom, looking up at her. It was a pity he had to see this. The dissolving edge wouldn’t be able to hold her for much longer, but the salamanders weren’t in the mood to wait. The closest beast launched itself at her, screeching for her blood. Time slowed and Sharrlette knew it was over, but at least she had a choice. A fast painless fall from the cliff or the creatures’ razor claws ripping her body apart. Neither appealed but, if she must, she wasn’t going to submit to the salamanders. She couldn’t prove Dazzaroth right. If she must die, it’ll be by her hand not his.
Shutting her eyes, she took a deep breath in and threw her body backwards. She heard the hissing lizard fly past her head, narrowly missing her neck. At least one would fall with her. She could see the rugged cliff face rushing up. Tears flew from her eyes as gravity savagely pulled her down and the wind screamed in her ears, then . . . nothing.