PodCastle 221: A Hunter in Arin-Qin

by Daniel Abraham.
Read by Amal El-Mohtar.
Originally appeared in Leviathan Wept, and Other Stories.

At first, when the lights of my home still glimmered in the darkness behind me, the cold only chilled. Then, pressing through the snow with the effort of the chase keeping me warm, the cold bit.
At the end, it comforted.
It meant the worst kind of danger, but with fear itself a distant thing, even danger failed to seem dangerous. Snow cracked under my feet and caked the wool of my leggings. I wrapped my father’s hunting cloak tight about me. I walked because I could no longer run. Before me, the beast’s tracks softened under new-fallen snow, and with every moment, new flakes conspired to hide them further. The sword strapped to my back grew heavy, and I doubted my strength, even if the opportunity came. My daughter’s doom whispered with every pine branch that brushed against me. Gone. Gone. Gone.
Slowly, the hunter within me–hard as stone and untouched by years of a different woman’s life–woke. Her eyes saw the fading edges of the beast’s track as time: two hours ahead of me, then three hours, then four. Her mind evaluated my shuffling stride and leaden hands. She tried to smile with my numbed lips; I felt her grim amusement. She knew a dead woman when she saw one.
I fell without knowing that I fell. My foot touched the snow. My knee touched it. My hip. My shoulders. The soft white filled my mouth and nose and eyes. It tasted like rain. I pressed my hands down, trying to rise, and the earth passed through my fingers like fog.

Rated R for violence.