The hand in Ravenna’s hair released its grip. Waves of dark brown tumbled free from her untied ribbon, falling over her shoulders. Ravenna was shoved forward. The soldiers marched down the road, toward the small bridge that connected the village to the mountains. The Imperial City waited beyond the snow-covered peaks.
Then she found her voice. Ravenna struggled harder against her restraints and shouted, “I’m not a witch!”
Her vision blurred as the soldiers trudged on. The snow seemed to fall harder, and the ropes around her wrists seemed colder. With each step, each jerky movement, the scratchy material rubbed her skin raw.
“Hurry up,” a soldier snapped behind her and shoved her with the blunt end of his weapon.
She stumbled a bit. Her teeth grit as she regained her footing. She threw her head back and glared at the sky. The memories of past imprisonments flooded her mind. It was impossible to sway the judgment of the imperial soldiers.
This was it, Ravenna realized.
The bridge loomed closer. It looked larger now, as it marked the path of her impending demise. A monstrous arch of weathered stone, covered in sleek ice. Metal boots clanked against the frozen stone as Imperial soldiers started across it. The ice seemed to stick to Ravenna’s leather boots.
When she reached the center of the bridge, it started to shake.
The Imperial soldiers gasped and grunted. Weapons unsheathed, the warriors whirled on her. Pointed spears and sharpened swords aimed at her. “Witch!” the man who condemned her shouted. “Stop this at once!”
“I am not a witch!” Ravenna barked back. The bridge rocked violently, and the wind started to howl. It cut across the air, mixed with shards of invisible ice. Her skin burned with small cuts. “I haven’t done anything! I am not the cause of this!”
The soldiers around her glowered at her. Then a terrifying screech ripped through the air, followed by another sound. It was unfamiliar. It sounded like bare bone scraping against ice. Ravenna’s attention twisted toward the river beneath them.
A scream vibrated inside her mouth. The soldiers around her shouted and scrambled to rearrange their weapons.
The creature lumbered toward them, bony claws scratching against ice. It stood taller than the bridge, its blood-red eyes level with Ravenna’s and colder than the ice beneath her. Patches of wispy fur covered its wolf-shaped body. The darkness seemed to swirl and curl around it, like shadows dancing away from the moonlight. Several spots of skeletal bone poked through its ragged skin. Its rusty stained teeth were exposed and barred. A low growl rumbled through the air.
It reared back, its head angled toward the heavens, and roared.
Ravenna was rocked back, and her shoulder slammed against the ground moments later. Her eyes squeezed shut as grown men screamed around her. Ice shattered as bodies were thrown from the bridge and landed in the frozen waters below. The creature raked a clawed paw across the stones and the bridge crumbled.
Ravenna screamed. Her heart jumped into her mouth as the stones vanished beneath her feet. The falling sensation disappeared moments later, as the entire right side of her body cracked against a wall of ice. Coldness exploded around her. Pain splintered through her veins, replacing her blood with agony. Water filled her mouth before she could close it, and it clogged her throat.
Her eyes snapped open. Darkness surrounded her, except for the whitened moon that swayed across the sky. She attempted to swim toward the surface. Her right arm screamed with pain and refused to move. Her cloak tugged at her throat as if it were tied down with boulders.
The pain moved to her lungs, only this time, it was different. This pain was the heavy, desperate kind of pain that came after you tried to hold your breath. It clawed at her lungs.
Ravenna struggled to fight it. Exhaustion slammed into her, and beat her down like angry ocean waves. With each strike, her determination to reach the surface faded. She stared at the moon. It grew larger, whiter, and seemed to shimmer against the backdrop of a blackened sky. The stars around it were muted –invisible, even.
For just a moment, the moon was replaced by blood-red eyes.
Then it began to fade, until her vision darkened entirely.
As time passed, the ice became whole again. Until one particularly cold night, when a pair of unnaturally bright blue eyes snapped open underneath.