A dull 'pop' sounded through the dark empty night, followed by shallow gasping breaths. The woman, who had appeared out of nowhere, quickly looked at her surroundings and let out a strangled sob of relief to see that she was alone... well, almost alone. The woman looked down at the small quivering child in her arms, his frightened eyes and light brown hair shining in the moonlight, and held him closer. After only a second's pause, she returned to a fast run, hobbling as she went, holding the boy tightly to her chest.
"Mummy?" the boy squeaked uncertainly.
"Shh..." his mother whispered against the top of his head, her breath turning to mist on the frigid night air. The land all around was dark and quiet but for the sound of an owl in the distance. The woman's pace neither increased nor slowed as she saw a tall, crooked house come into view, but she again shuddered and sobbed in relief.
The small boy clung to his mother, bouncing uncomfortably in her arms, and dared not make another noise. Though he was young, he felt his mother's fright and it silenced him. He glanced at the house in front of them and again over his mother's shoulder, where she herself kept glancing. He watched for them to appear; she expected them to come, to follow them, but at the moment all that could be seen were a single set of footprints in the snow.
Unable to waste time fumbling with handles and locks, the woman pointed her wand at the door and it blew clear off its hinges.
"Mummy?" the boy cried in fear.
"Shh.. shh.. It's okay, love," the mother answered as she stepped over the threshold into a dark kitchen. She glanced around, hastily taking in her surroundings. The overturned table, upset chairs, and shattered dishes broke her heart and gave her an uncomfortable feeling of emptiness, but she couldn't allow herself to think on such things at that moment. She stumbled forward over a chair leg that had caught on her cloak, but managed to right herself. She then blew out a shaky breath as she placed the boy on the floor in front of her, gripped her side, and leaned back against the wall beside the fireplace.
"Mummy, it's dark..." the boy pouted as he looked around the empty room. A fierce wind whistled over the chimney and a small draft from it whisked the cool ashes into a spiral. The boy took another step closer to his mother. "Mummy, I'm cold... and wet..."
The woman lit the tip of her wand and looked down sadly on her pouting toddler. There was nothing she wouldn't have done for him, but just then there wasn't really much that she could do for him...
"It's blood, Mummy. It's blood..." the boy realized as he held his wet hand up for the woman to examine. He looked down at himself to see that his cloak was covered in it as well. "You hurt, Mummy? You hurt?"
"Mummy will be okay," the woman answered as she tried her best to hide her tears. She wrapped her cloak tighter to her side to help slow the flow of blood and to hide her wound from the terrified child. "No time for that, though." The woman slid onto her knees so that her eyes were level with his. Staring into those eyes caused a twisting pain in her gut. Those eyes... just like his father's.
"They're coming, aren't they?" he cried quietly. At his heartrending look, the woman could no longer hide her own tears.
"Yes, love, but it's going to be okay. You're not going to have to worry about them anymore." The woman reached into her cloak and pulled out a folded piece of purple cloth. He watched as his mother unfolded the material to reveal an odd-looking necklace.
"What is it, Mummy?" he asked as she put it over his head.
"It's going to take you to a place where the scary people can't get you," she answered. The boy nodded in understanding. The woman looked on him sadly and tried her hardest to keep her composure. "Now… take this," she continued as she placed a battered wand in his hand, "and don't let go of it. You understand? Don't let go."
The boy nodded again, tears gathering in his eyes. He could not understand what was happening, but his mother's hidden terror radiated off of her and caused him distress.
"Don't be scared, Aurey. You're going to be alright." He watched as his mother tucked a few things into his pockets and bundled him up tightly in his cloak and scarf. "Look at me…" The boy's eyes met his mother's again and her hand gently cupped his cheek. "Aurelian, I love you."
A few silent tears ran down the mother's cheeks and she slowly took her hand away. She grimaced when she saw the bloody handprint that was left behind. Without another word, she picked up the chain around her son's neck, the ornament hung all the way down near his waist. She held the piece in her palm and stared at the tiny hourglass in the center of the three rings. She held the outer ring and started to spin it. The toddler watched in awe and reached out to touch it.
"No, don't touch it," the mother lightly admonished, still counting the spins in her head. She gasped when she heard the silence broken by the familiar sound of apparition. She was out of time. "I love you, Aurelian!"
Three hooded figures burst through the open doorway through which they had come. The boy's eyes widened in horror.
The boy saw his mother's hand slip off of the spinning ornament and she vanished, along with the world around him.