The cold bit at his boots as he ran. His breath steamed the air in front of him before crashing onto his beard where the moisture froze to add yet another layer of ice to the thick frost around his mouth. He didn’t know how long he’d been running, but his thighs and calves burned and threatened to quit on him. He was sure the only reason they hadn’t was the knowledge that if he stopped running he’d be dead. Night was falling and the temperature was dropping rapidly, and the creature behind him would be unhindered.
For now it kept to the trees. Hrothgren’s instincts had kept him in the open snow where the only sound was the crunch under his boots and the faint crunching of the snow and ice beneath the claws behind him in the trees. An occasional grunt from the beast let Hrothgren know how much ground he was losing. By his estimate, he would make it to the hut only a few minutes before it reached him, and that depended on how much longer the sun would remain on the horizon. He thanked Blessed Dagr for staying with him this long and prayed he stayed with him until he reached the hut which came into view as he crested the hill.
A loud roar shattered the quiet air and Hrothgren turned without breaking pace to see the creature, four times the size of the biggest bear, pierce through the edge of the treeline behind him. Its fierce eyes burned through the failing daylight and it quickened its pace at the sight of its prey. Hrothgren in turn pushed himself faster. His already numb lungs heaved in and out.
“Ghran!” he screamed between lungfuls of air. The hut was getting closer but not fast enough. “Ghran you bastard!” His only hope now was if Ghran and Brak could get him his battle ax before he was eaten. Then he could at least go down fighting. He only had his hunting bow with him as he ran and it wouldn’t be enough to scratch the beast. He wasn’t even sure the ax would either.
“Brak! Ghran!” He was nearing the hut and he felt the exhaustion in his body even through the adrenaline. When he was a few hundred feet out, his screams were finally answered as Ghran stepped out. His face quickly turned from annoyed to terrified and he ran back inside. Hrothgren was a hundred paces out, fifty, twenty, and Ghran stepped back out in his leather armor and carrying his crossbow. Brak followed with Hrothgren’s armor and battle ax which he threw on the ground next to the hut and took up his own spear.
Ghran took aim and fired a bolt past Hrothgren. Hrothgren heard a grunt behind him as he stopped and started putting on his armor. Ghran reloaded and Brak ran forward to distract it. Hrothgren picked up the battle ax and turned to see Brak tossed twenty feet away. The spear hung loosely from the hulking chest of fur. Hrothgren charged forward. Ghran shot another bolt hitting it in the neck. The creature howled and crouched, preparing to lunge, but doing so pushed the spear further into its chest. Its yelp changed to a growl as Hrothgren fell upon it, his ax cleaving its shoulder. The large teeth retaliated, piercing through his leather guard and lifting him off the ground.
Another bolt flew and the jaws relaxed, dropping Hrothgren back to the snow. He clutched his side but felt the cold seeping into his blood. Drops of scarlet scattered the white landscape. Brak was by his side holding the ax. The creature had fled.
“Shall we gather our gear?” Ghran asked.
“No,” Hrothgren said, “No. Night is here. We will track it in the morning. He won’t go too far with that spear in him, I hope, and I’ll need some stitching.” He clutched his chest but blood continued to seep through.
“I’ll make the fire to last through the night,” Brak said before going inside.
“We leave at dawn.” Hrothgren made toward the hut and Ghran followed.