It was daybreak. The blinding whiteness of the sun’s rays illuminated the entire valley. She only had a day left. If she wanted to save her, she had to make it through the death wood before dusk. The rays brought hope. A hope that would die along with them.
She had no time to waste. She picked up her things and woke up her companion. The massive gray wolf yawned and stretched. His steel eyes met hers and she knew he understood perfectly. He bowed his head, allowing her to climb his back. She grabbed a tuft of fur and, with bow in hand and supplies on her back, she gently patted the beast on the neck. The wolf howled a howl that pierced the very sky, sending multicolored flocks of birds flying in all directions in a cacophonic panic. Then, he started to run.
The wolf ran faster than the wind. The grass seemed to bow down before him in fear, so as not to get trampled by the extreme force that the wolf was. It was hoping it could avert the fate of the daisies, whose petals were mercilessly being torn one by one by the storm whipped up by the gray behemoth. She paid them no heed. Nature would always find a way, she though, yet only she could save her and only if she ran faster than the wind.
They passed many trees. Still far away from the death wood, these loosely standing trees shook in terror as the duo passed by them. The squeaks of terrified animals could be heard as they desperately sought shelter. She cared not who she trampled over. As long as no beasts hindered her journey, she cared for them even less than for blades of grass.
Finally, a shade fell on her face. The death wood stood looming in front of her, its ominous greenness obscuring the freshly awoken sun. Unlike the previous groups of trees, the death wood was completely still and silent, not a leaf rustling, nor a squirrel scratching. The only sound was that which the wolf made. The smell was also most peculiar. It was not putrid, nor fresh, one could say it wasn’t really there. But it was. She and the wolf could both smell it. It was still. It was death.
She could tell the wolf grew tired, so she patted him on the back. There knew there was a stream nearby, where they could both drink and keep moving. And a stream they found. The wolf drank and drank for what seemed like hours, but afterwards, he seemed completely rejuvenated. She filled sacs with water and hung them over the beast’s back, just in case they could find no more fresh water. She mounted the wolf once again and took a look around the forest. The trees were black as tar, coloring the entire wood ebony, with only hints of the sun’s white rays visible up above, between the thick leaves. There was no time to waste.
The wolf once again ran. His paws seemed to glow in the total darkness of the forest. Many hours passed with no trouble whatsoever. She started to get suspicious. They were getting so close. The sun had already reached the midpoint of its journey a couple of hours before, so the end of the wood should be nearby. And yet, no attackers so far, even though she knew people would try to hinder her journey. Perhaps she was too late, she thought, but quickly brushed away that notion. They ran ever faster, making fewer and fewer stops. The situation seemed to fill the wolf with enthusiasm, as he would not feel the need to stop and drink so often anymore. His fur looked lighter, almost white, almost as if he was a glowing beacon among the black treed.
That’s when she heard a loud, piercing noise. A sharp pain in her shoulder. She put a hand there to see if she was injured – blood. She looked back – four horsemen were shooting at her. The wolf sped up. She pulled out her bow. One, two, three arrows were sent flying towards the riders. She’d hit one right between the eyes and he fell of his steed, but the others missed. Her wound was burning. She could tell it was no ordinary wound. She was prepared for the devil’s poison, though. She had been given a vial with a liquid most precious, one that could heal any wound, even poisoned, but only once and only if there was one. She knew she had to be more careful, so she shot out another barrage of arrows. One shot in the leg, one in the eye, two horsemen fell. Only their leader was left, wearing chainmail and a closed helm, he was going to be difficult to take down. Her strength was leaving her. She could tell the devil’s poison cursing in her veins. She was dying. She could tell the wolf wanted to help, but urged him to press on. In that instant that she turned away to face her companion, she heard an ominous sound of a sword being drawn. He was right beside her, ready to deal the finishing blow. He swung his sword fast and steady, his red eyes glowing from behind the helmet. She covered her face with her hands.
A stream of blood splattered in front of her eyes, dying the black wood a dark crimson. But it was not her blood. She felt a strong jerk and suddenly hit the ground. She could hear the vicious roars emitted by the wolf, accompanied by the panicked cries of a man and a horse neighing in desperation. She could hear the wolf tear limb from limb, she could hear more blood spill on the austere forest bed. She could feel the life leave her arm. When she fell from the wolf, she lost her things. Gone was the vial, her only chance to make it out of the wood alive, and she had no strength left in her to look for it. The curse was devouring her from the inside. She winced in pain, but the pain soon stopped, if only briefly. That’s when she heard there were no more sounds of struggle. She could only hear slow steps. She recognized them immediately and uttered a huge sigh of relief.
She soon saw the wolf approach her, blood dripping from his white teeth, staining the object he was holding between them. His tired eyes met hers as he dropped the vial with the miraculous liquid in her hand. She looked at him lovingly, as words could never express how grateful she was for such a loyal companion. His eyes closed. The beast fell down on its side. That’s when she noticed the huge gash on his side. His fur turned darker and darker. The same curse that was plaguing her was eating him away. The vial could only heal one. And yet he opened his steel eyes once again, looked into hers, as if nudging her to drink it herself. She pondered that for a minute and felt a huge pain, different from the one caused by the curse. She knew there was only one way out. Twilight was upon them, and the place they were holding her was near, but not near enough for a human to reach it on foot. She struggled to get up and forced the contents of the vial down the beast’s throat, disregarding his growls of protest.
“Go,” she told him, as she dropped to the ground. “She is my light, just as she is yours. Now, you can be her light. You can be mine, too. Please.”
The wolf stood up. He sniffed at her face as she ran her fingers through his mane which was now white as snow. He licked her wound, but she pushed him away. After one final exchange of gazes, she embraced his neck one last time. It was soft, warm, comforting. She knew she had made the right decision. He was always there. He would finish the job. She was sure of it. As she let go, the wolf ran. She could hear him stop for a second before resuming his run. That made her smile, if only just a little. She faced the sky. It was a mixture of orange and pink. She knew that meant there was little time. She didn’t know if even he could reach her in time. And yet, that small, weak light was enough. Her job was done, if cut short. As death engulfed more and more of her body and the view of the sky was taken away from her, she remembered the light and warmth of the wolf’s fur. She smiled once more. He truly was always there with her.