The doe bent her head to sniff a tuft of green sprouting up through the crust of snow. Ulla pulled back on her bow. The bow creaked with the strain. The doe looked up and saw Ulla. Ulla released her arrow. It sailed between bare trees, shushing the air. The doe flinched and crouched about to spring. The arrow pierced the skin of the doe's neck, at the top back, ripping open a red gash, flying on past. The doe ran. Ulla gave chase.
Drops of red dotted the snow, melting into the crust, bleeding out between the crystals in a spiderweb. Ulla followed the trail. The doe was bleeding out. The doe darted between and around trees, over hardy scrub and fallen logs, erratic and desperate. The doe stopped suddenly and looked back. Ulla stopped and stared back. She pulled another arrow from her quiver, raised the bow. The doe sauntered towards a cluster of trees that had died, rotted, and fallen towards each other to form a triangular arch. Ulla lowered her bow, looking into the arch. It was dark when it shouldn't have been, since the day was sunny. The arch couldn't be big enough to harbor that much shadow. The doe took Ulla's lapse in concentration to leap into the arch, and disappeared from sight.
Ulla walked tentatively towards the arch. A warm breeze flowed from it. It smelled faintly of roses. She stooped and peered in. The snow had drifted in a few feet in a heap and was melting. Beyond was green moss, then shadow. She shouldered her bow and ran her hands across the wood of the arch. It was warm to the touch, as if it had been bathed in the light of a summer afternoon. Ulla crouched and stepped under the arch.
She took a few feet in, then was hit by a blast of hot air. A second later the wind changed direction, and cold air from outside hit her back. She was pulled off her feet, and floated on the wind through a dark tunnel. The smell of roses grew stronger, and the scent of other flowers joined in. The smell was narcotic. Ulla felt relaxed, happy, and sleepy. Her hands drooped and began to drag across the moist moss floor of the tunnel.
A light grew in the direction that Ulla floated. It pierced her waning eyelids, warm and golden. The faint songs of birds echoed through the tunnel, growing louder with each foot she progressed. The light grew stronger wider as the wind carrying her began to die. She came to rest on a spot of lush grass. She curled up then stretched, smiling. She didn't know where she was, but she was overcome with a sense of joy. She began to cry with happiness.
The doe walked over to Ulla, and came to stand over her, dripping blood on Ulla's face. It was icy cold now, and Ulla shivered. Her happiness began to fade. Her head cleared and she sat up, to look the doe in the face. The doe stared at her for a moment, then turned and walked towards a large tree that was covered in moss and infested with butterflies of every species. The tree had leaves of green, but also of red, orange, and yellow. The green leaves turned quickly to the other colors, then fell. In their place grew new buds that in no time blossomed out into leaves. The leaves on the ground didn't stay there for long; they were consumed by the moss, visibly absorbed and disolved.
The ground was also populated by all manner of forest animals, grouse running in circles, grazing rabbits, nervous mice, shambling porcupines, gnawing beavers, climbing squirrels, playful black bears, and chivalrous bucks engaged in a calm duel with their antlers as if they were fencing. The doe lay down next to the great tree, nestling in the roots.
Ulla stood and turned around. The tunnel was gone. The strange, rapidly growing forest extended all around.
"Where am I?" asked Ulla to herself.
Suddenly the great tree shook, branches waving violently. Leaves showered down. Then a large figure leapt down thunderously. Ulla felt its impact through the moss at her feet. The figure was crouched, hairy, and orangey-brown. It stood up, revealing a height of sixteen feet. Ulla reached for an arrow but found that both her quiver and bow gone. The creature had wide spaced eyes, no nose, and no visible mouth. The rest of it was proportioned much like a human, just much larger. It stared at Ulla briefly before turning to the doe. It picked up the doe, cradling her in one arm. It passed its other hairy hand over the doe, and the doe turned to light. It was a glow at first, then it became blindingly bright. The birds stopped singing, and all the forest animals turned to look. Then the light faded. The hairy creature dropped its arms. The doe was gone. The creature looked down a Ulla.
"What did you do?" asked Ulla, her voice cracking. She back slowly into a tree.
"Did you injure her?" asked the hairy creature, a wide, toothy mouth appearing on its face. Ulla was too frightened to reply. "Are you a hunter?"
"Yes," said Ulla quietly.
"A female hunter?" asked the creature. Ulla nodded. "That is unusual."
"What are you going to do to me?" asked Ulla.
"I will not hurt you," said the creature. "I learned my lesson a long time ago."
The creature sat heavily against the tree, shaking loose more leaves.
"What--what is this place?" asked Ulla.
"It's a sanctuary, for the injured, for the sick, for the dying," said the creature. It patted the moss next to it. "Come, sit by me."
"No thanks," said Ulla quickly.
"As you wish. I was frightened by this visage once too. But I got used to it."
"How do I leave?" asked Ulla. The creature did not respond. "Am I a prisoner here?"
"The doe brought you, evidently," said the creature. "You came willingly. Did you not enter the arch of your own accord?"
"But I can't see a way out. The way I came in...doesn't exist any more."
"No, it doesn't. But that doesn't mean you can't leave."
"Show me how to leave," said Ulla, gaining confidence. "Please."
"I cannot. I am the prisoner here. I am also the keeper of the sanctuary."
"I can't. It is impossible for me. The exit is hidden from me until my time is up."
"When is that?"
"Soon. Come sit by me."
"No," said Ulla. "Why are you a prisoner?"
"I'm intrigued that you are a female hunter," said the creature.
"Why are you a prisoner?"
"Womenfolk usually tend the fires at home."
"Sometimes we have to feed our families," said Ulla. "Answer me. Why are you a prisoner?"
"Do you have a family?"
"No. I was going to sell the meat I got to the butcher. Why won't you answer me? What are you hiding?"
"So you hunt for money. What were you going to do with it?"
"Move on. Travel further. I want to see things."
"You have ambition."
"Is that wrong?"
"I had ambition," said the creature. "I don't know if it's wrong. Perhaps it's in how it's applied."
"Why are you a prisoner?"
"Come, sit by me."
"If I sit by you, will you answer my question?" asked Ulla. The creature stared at her a moment, then sighed.
"Yes. Yes I will."
Ulla slowly walked towards the creature, stopping at its feet. She started to sit when it spoke again.
"Closer. Here, by my arm."
"So we can chat more amiably. We can be friends." It smiled a toothy grin.
Ulla paused. The creature patted the moss next to it.
"I don't know," said Ulla.
"I may have a lot of teeth, but I don't bite. Come on. Sit."
A warm breeze stirred the leaves of the trees. They swirled down in whorls. The scent of roses was overwhelmingly strong again. Ulla began to feel happy and joyful against her will. Her feet walked for her, towards the arm of the creature.
"You're drugging me..." said Ulla, her voice slurring.
"Is that such a bad thing?" said the creature.
"What do you want...from...me?" asked Ulla. She sat down, and burrowed into the creature's warm fur. It somehow smelled of chocolate and cedar. "You smell...good..." she said.
The creature laughed, a great whooping barrage of breathy HAHs.
"I can tell you why I'm a prisoner, but I should tell you about the sanctuary first," it said, when it was finished laughing.
"Why..." said Ulla sleepily.
"Because you're going to take care of it now," said the creature.
"When you see a animal seek refuge here, you must hold it, think of pleasant things, and the healing light will come."
"The animal will be returned to full life, and its place in the forest out there. Sometimes an animal will come here, and not want to leave. That is fine. The sanctuary is haven to any animal that wished to stay. But they, like me, can find it a hollow life. Too pleasant. Life needs conflict." The creature sighed.
"I was a hunter, like you. I did it for sport. I had the animals stuffed and mounted. Then one day, I rode my horse too close to the sanctuary entrance. I wounded a bear. It led me here. The keeper of the sanctuary...touched me. Look know..."
Ulla gazed up, blearily. A man of normal size sat next to her, relatively hairless. He looked at his bare hands, smiling, his massive teeth shrunk.
"What..." she said slowly.
"Don't worry," he said. "The time will pass before you know it. I feel that you will be here for only a few years perhaps."
The man stood and walked towards a dark tunnel. He ducked in, then turned back to Ulla.
"Make sure to brush you're fur regularly. It's itchy when it gets matted." He turned and disappeared into the tunnel before it closed up behind him.