Morning cloud rolls down the mountain, clammy cold to the skin, and the trees loom out of it at random intervals like teeth. His breath frosts the air as he climbs, snow and dirt crunching under his boots. On his back, the great sword is a familiar weight.
The village is far below him now, its black-scarred timber gates firmly closed. They were open when he left, the elder standing bowed in the road, the villagers clustered behind him.
“You won’t succeed,” the elder told him. “You are a criminal, not a hero. You cannot save us: at best, you have another few thousand breaths before the death you deserve.” The compulsion is hot in his stomach, a roiling, irresistible knot. He could snap the old man with one hand and the village’s strongest man with the other – he’s already done the latter, which is why he’s here – but it would achieve nothing. The stick-like ancient is clearly a perfectly competent wizard.
He knows how these things end: his breath rasping in his chest, his muscles numb and slow, his armour scorched and the blood sheeting from his wounds. He can’t tell whether he will be finally helpless before the great claws piercing his ribs or the savage heat of that ultimate exhalation of poisonous flame. It doesn’t matter.
He sets his teeth in a fierce grin, and quickens his pace.