Run! Her instincts urged her farther, faster, deeper into the woods. Trees passed at record speed in her peripheral vision as she ran for safety. Red chanced a look behind her, the hunters quickly closing in, faces unrecognizable, and intentions unknown.
Branches snatched at her clothes and hair, as if the hands of her pursuers. Breathing heavily, her chest constricted, her lungs on fire, and still she fled. Her fast beating heart pounded in her ears. Almost there. Her home, in view, meant protection and help. Drenched in sweat, her dress clung to her frame and hindered her movements.
Faster! The sound of crunching leaves and snapping twigs told her they were right on her heels. Her gaze frantically swept the area looking for her knight in peasant clothes. Two against three were better odds. The shadows darting between the trees gave away the hunters' position. Three men, still in pursuit a few feet away, but Woody was nowhere to be seen. Then she heard him.
Heart pounding, she stopped, turning in the direction of his voice. She could see no sign of him and she no longer heard his voice. Oh, no ... they must have captured him. Gripped in fear, she turned to bolt once more, only to trip and collide with the moss-covered tree. For a split second her body stuck to the bark. Her arms wrapped around the trunk, she dropped to the ground.
Falling! Air exploded from her lungs and her muscles tightened as her slender frame slammed onto the hard earth. Searing pain ran through her. Salty tears stung her eyes and she could feel a lump already forming where her head had struck a sharp rock.
The light of the setting sun dimmed slowly as if someone were turning down the wick of an oil lamp. The flame colored sky, olive green leaves, and bright red tree blossoms slowly drained of all their color, leaving only different shades of gray. She blinked her eyes and tried to fend off the tunnel vision closing in. Unconsciousness reached a welcoming hand her way. Non-responsive muscles made it impossible to move. Feet still trampling through the underbrush echoed in her ears.
She clenched her jaw and closed her eyes as she tried to push her body from the ground. It had no effect. Her muscles were tightly locked and stiff. She could feel her body, and the grass beneath her skin, but she couldn't lift a finger, limbs frozen in place by an unknown force. Paralysis or something else, she didn't know.
No color around her, Red felt a spider web of numbness spread through her limbs and she knew it was over. She had lost. If this is how it's to end, I must see it.
Staring into the darkening sky, she viewed the scene in horror and wonder. Her world, in black and white, blurred and spun slowly. The haze of the vortex swirled above, closing in, and extinguishing what was left of the light from the sky. Stars twisting and twirling with the clouds and the moon, as if in a mixing bowl of chaos. I can't ... hold on ... much longer. I hope he's close enough to hear my last words. Darkness pressed in harder and harder and she parted her lips to speak.
"Always know, even in the grip of death, your Lady Red loves you."
She felt the cold arms of darkness engulf her and madness take over her mind. Her ears played his voice one last time as she slipped away.
"No! Fight it. Please don't leave me. I need you, I love you!"