She couldn't feel her face.
Winter had snaked through the trees, wrapping itself tight around graying trunks and settling comfortably beneath the canopy. During the day it crept forward, leery of the sun, traipsing around the mottled patterns of light that strained past the leaves. It was not so cold then, in the day. It was bearable: a slavering beast in a muzzle of steel.
For her purposes the day would not suit. She needed it to be unbearable. She needed the killing bite of winter unrestrained.
When night fell, she laid the bait and charged through the underbrush.
Her quarry followed.
It wasn't difficult to pinpoint its location in the darkness. It moved loudly, breath hard and guttural, grunting with the effort. In truth it was a wonder it heard her clearly enough to give chase. The pursuit was a slovenly thing, a drunken thing interspersed with animal's sounds of frustration. A snort. A stomp. A branch snapping and a hollow thud as it tripped and ripped itself amidst barren brambles. Every now and then it would become discouraged and she could sense it slowing, the anger dissipating in the cold, replaced by weariness. Yet she was not so easily dissuaded. She had spent too much time planning this, preparing this.
She shouted. She taunted. She threw another stone.
It shrieked in mindless fury and the chase began again.
Where they ran their noise silenced the forest. Singing insects ceased their strumming, animals froze in their tracks to watch with wide, luminescent eyes. She did not stop to observe these things fully, to take them in, yet she saw them in her peripheral, noted them in the back of her mind. She imagined it all watching – the animals. The trees. The forest itself, as though it were one great collective of conspiring sentience. They cut a swath through its tentative peace and it withdrew at the violation.
Not here. Not here. Turn back.
She ran forward with her prey hot on her heels. Not long now. Ahead she could see the marker she'd put so carefully in place. Behind she could see its silhouette, a thing of gangling limbs loosely attached to a wide-set frame. A set of white teeth glowed in its face, a sneer of senseless rage.
“Come!” She cried, luring. Jeering. “Come on, coward! Come and get me!”
Stooping low, she grabbed a fistful of dirt and aimed for its head. It was close enough now, close enough that she could see the hatred. It sputtered and roared incoherently, reaching out, fingers groping at her as she darted just out of reach. There she danced, she nimble, it utterly without grace. Backwards she bounded.
She leapt clear. It fell short, and tumbled into the pit.
Silence descended. Everything waited with bated breath, even her, though her heart was pounding and her lungs burned from the running. With an aching slowness she crept forward, towards the edge of the trap she'd spent hours digging alone. A pitiful sound oozed out of it, seeping upwards and over the fast-growing vines she'd used to camouflage her trench.
He slurred her name almost beyond recognition.
She could see him now. He lay twisted strangely, his leg askew, the ivory of bone glinting through flesh. His head lolled from side to side, uncomprehending, drugged by pain and drink. She could smell it on him: the blood and liquor. A bitter brew with a hint of metal.
“Althiira, help me.”
He was crying. His chest heaved with sobbing. She could see the glisten of vomit there, over his clothing, yellow and viscous. A hand reached up towards her with twitching, beseeching fingers.
Quick kills are best, a hunter once told her. There's no need to leave them to suffer. Finish it. Let it be done with.
“Aaaalthiiiirrraaaaa.” His hands pulled dirt down upon him and the sobbing grew softer. His breath left his lips in a white plume of noxious vapor. “Help me, pleeeeease.”
Her heartbeat slowed. She searched herself, searched deep, and found no compassion there. No pity. No remorse.
She stood and peered into the pit.
Then she turned and left winter to consume her father.