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Shera plowed through dried branches. Snow plopped onto her head and slid down the back of her neck, chilling her. Arms pumping, she pushed through the burning fatigue and chanced a glance behind her. No one followed, for now.

Her toe jammed into a tree stump, but her torso continued forward. Dark green and white blurs rotated until her hip slammed against a rock, jarring her body to a complete stop. Pain shot down her thigh, and her temple throbbed. She heaved and her breath plumed in white puffs. Her lungs stung with each intake of pine scented air.

The only sound heard above the thundering pulse in her ears, was a distant avalanche.


She pushed onto her elbows and studied the surrounding woods. Tall evergreens, white snow…no dark shadow.

Shera shoved to her knees and stifled a cry. Not only from the pain ricocheting through her ribs, but for the others left behind. Their pleas remained forever etched on her soul. If only she could have freed them.

“I made it.” A hysterical laugh burst free. She slapped her dirt stained hands over her mouth. It was too soon to celebrate. Miles of rocky terrain waited ahead. An icy updraft drilled through every thread of her shirt. But it was only cold, not the damp, bone aching loss of hope she’d existed in for so long.

She crawled to a precipice and clung to the rock face, searching for a path below. The M branded on her hand glowed bright orange. “No. No. No.” They couldn’t have found her only a few hundred yards from freedom.

Her stomach revolted with the thought of capture. A sour taste of gruel seared her throat. The only food she’d eaten in years, besides rats.

She scrambled to her feet, looking for a path to safety. Only the route she’d taken, and Dark smoke engulfed the trees on all sides like a fire monster gorging on half the forest. She stepped back and swayed. Pebbles skittered down the mountain behind her.

Trapped. Her only choice was to surrender and return to the hell she’d managed to escape.

“No, I won’t let you take me back.”

Smoke shot from the trees. Without a moment to reconsider, she leapt backwards. Death was better than eternal suffering.

A sharp rock pierced her arm. Her back slammed against a tree, snapping her spine with a grisly pop. Her legs and body flailed until she rolled to a stop at the bottom of the ravine.

The smoke wafted down and encircled her broken body. She shuttered and choked on blood.

The guardian of the underworld tugged on her soul. Death is not an option. You must pay for your crimes. Those you have murdered and tortured demand justice. If not in this body, than the next.

She fought against the pull, but the sentence was clear. For everyone she’d murdered she had to pay a thousand years.

And for the children, you serve double. The voice rasped.

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