The frost hunters pursued her up the mountainside.
She loosed arrow after arrow, taking down three of them as she backed along a steep ledge with a sheer drop. One arrow pierced a man’s eye and sent him tumbling back down the ridge, where he collided with three of the others and threw them off the edge. They fell to their deaths, not even screaming, consumed by winter’s cold chill until they struck the hard earth and shattered every bone, dead instantly. That left four hunters on the mountain, closing in fast with their blades ready to strike her down. And Lily only had two arrows remaining.
If I use them up, all I’ll have left is a machete, and I can’t fight them off that way. I’m not physically strong enough.
She slung her bow over her shoulder, spun around, and headed farther up the ridge, practically rock climbing in several places, to put some distance between her and the hunters. At a particularly perilous gap in the handholds, Lily made a leap of faith and jumped to her right, barely grabbing on to the one slot big enough to fit her hand. She dangled there for a moment, a forty-foot drop below her, until her scrabbling feet found purchase on the rock. Then she heaved herself up to the next grip, a sharp edge of rock that cut into her skin. Ignoring the pain as blood poured down her arm from her shredded fingers, she climbed up onto a small ledge barely big enough to hold two people.
Rising to full height, back against the lumpy rock, she took a breath, swallowed the vertigo, and peered over the edge of the ledge, down at the approaching hunters. The one in the lead missed the handhold as he jumped the gap and plummeted downward to his death, his winter-cursed eyes locked on her until he smacked the ground and burst into a puddle of broken bones and blood. The remaining three didn’t even give the man a second glance, and the next one to try didn’t fall. He made to climb up to Lily’s ledge. But she wasn’t going to let him.
She pressed her bleeding hand on her pants until the blood flow slowed, then readied her bow again, aiming straight over the ledge, at the approaching man’s face. He looked straight up at her as he climbed, not even paying attention to the handholds. Lily waited until he was only six feet away, then drew back the arrow and released it. The arrow struck the man right between the eyes, piercing the brain. His hands released the cliff face, and he plummeted backward, falling to join his cohort on the ground far below.
Two hunters left. One arrow. If I can get them in a good position, I might be able to…
An earthquake struck.
Lily nearly lost her bow. Securing it quickly on her back, she dropped to her knees and pressed her side against the rocky wall. She gripped her tiny ledge and held on for dear life as the mountainside violently shook, loosening dirt and rocks and vegetation, throwing debris into the air. Mighty cracks and snaps echoed through the valley, bouncing off the peaks, as large chunks of stone broke free and careened into the forests, toppling trees and crushing anything in their path. And as if that wasn’t enough, a frigid gale blew down from the north, searing Lily’s skin with an instant frost burn, fingers so numb she could hardly keep her grip on the ledge.
This wasn’t a natural earthquake. It was an attack. The winter queen was watching, an she didn’t like what she saw.
Lily cursed that monster as the quaking grew more violent, and the sounds of shifting rock and earth grew into a roar in her ears, so loud she almost thought…Oh, no.
She looked up to see a sheet of rock from a higher section of the mountain she was on had broken free and was sliding down the cliff, crumbling into large, rolling pieces of stone with sharp edges that could take off limbs and crush bodies flat. It was a rockslide.
Desperately searching for somewhere to run, Lily couldn’t find anywhere but down. She turned around, rose into a runner’s starting stance, and raced off the edge of the ledge, leaping as far as she could. She cleared the heads of the two remaining hunters, who swung at her with their knives—one blade caught her shin and sliced deeply into her skin—and landed in a rough tumble down the same path she’d used to climb up earlier. Several of her fingers were nearly pulled from their sockets, and her kneecaps barely withstood the impact. But nothing broke, and Lily was able to scramble up and rush down the ridge toward ground level.
Her pace was slowed by the laceration in her leg though. Slowed just a little too much. If she’d been able to make it ten more feet, she might’ve cleared the rockslide entirely. But she wasn’t able. And she didn’t clear the rocks.
Lily glanced up in horror as the rockslide rained down upon her and the pursuing hunters. The two hunters were knocked off the cliff side immediately and vanished into the rain of debris, probably dead in seconds. A large rock hit Lily’s shoulder and almost dislocated the joint. Another slammed into her hip and nearly shattered her pelvis. Yet another, larger piece of stone swept her legs out from underneath her, and the next thing Lily knew, she was falling.
Falling forty feet to her death.