She ran as fast as her young legs could take her, her shadow that clambered before her slowly shrinking as the distance grew between her and the burning village behind. The light faded as the forest engulfed her, darkness drawing in with every tread that was strode deeper under the canopy. As the stars were slowly shrouded by the treetops so too was the ground gradually covered by a thick brush. Pushing her way between saplings and bushes, thorns bit at her legs as she held back tears. Her panicked breathing and hurried footfalls were all she could hear until, suddenly, a gnarled root grabbed her foot and she was pulled down into the tall grass. Her heart pounded as the silence of the night surrounded her as she lay on her front for but a moment. The cuts and scratches on her legs pulsed in pain, her eyes darted around the darkness to observe nothing, her other senses heightened as she slowly began to push herself up from the ground. Shakily she made it onto her feet. She could barely make out the columns of trees and tangles of undergrowth that surrounded her as her eyes adjusted. Realising she had to keep moving, she put a foot down to continue her run, but as she did the crunching tread of something wading through the forest paralysed her. It was too close for her to run.
The sounds of snapping twigs under heavy boots grew louder. It was too late now, if she ran they would see her and she could not outrun the beasts. Don’t scream, don’t make a sound Ava; the words of her mother when the intruders first stalked their village came to her mind again now. Be patient, and when they pass, run. The girl pushed herself back against a crooked tree, finding a small hollow in it as she knelt down. Scrambling, she reversed into the cramped nook as the footfalls grew louder. Ava could hear the heft of heavy carry, the jangle of chains, the slashing of knives against the brush and between it all she heard voices spit words in some very crude form of language. The creatures argued in hushed tones before the leader of the pack ended the dispute. They were on her trail, and they knew it.
Ava curled herself up tightly into the crag of the old tree, pulling her knees up to her chin and closing her eyes just wishing that the monsters wouldn’t get too close. Her hands smeared either mud, blood or both up her shins. She was upset that the bramble-vines had hurt her even more now; wondering if like other beasts the scent of blood would draw them to her.
Her pursuers growled in agreement. She could hear the rustle of leaves as the haft of a two-handed axe pushed apart shrubs and brambles as its owner looked for tracks. Opening her eyes, Ava could see illumination now in the thicket ahead of her. Some from torches in bright white, others amber from open flames and some in a sickly green glow; they were almost on top of her, searching her out in the dark forest. The brutes trampled through the woodland steadily. Draped in conflicting camouflage fatigues and sporting a mixture of twigged helmets, woollen hats and gas-masks; some brandished axes and crude pistols, others swept with amalgamations of bolts and steel plates that were primitive machine guns. Across their garb were rips, tears and the scorch marks of las-bolts. Blood stains covered the clothing and skin of most.
A thick boot with steel toe plate caked in mud stomped down in front of her and Ava cowered in her hidy-hole. The creature wore clothes like a man, but its form was bulky and taller, the leg in front of her now must have been twice or more as thick as any man’s she’d ever seen. As its hips twisted a trophy on its belt was pulled into view. A mere foot from her dangling from knotted brunette hair the freshly decapitated head of a woman hung. The woman’s jaw mangled from the journey through the forest, her neck ragged and her features covered in splatters and hand-prints of blood, her eyes staring at the young girl. Ava stared back, her eyes widening, her jaw dropping letting out a silent scream as she looked back into the eyes of her mother. The young girl bit down on her lips, holding back the cries that wanted to accompany her tears. The monster still stood within reach of her with its back turned and she could still see the flickering lights of its pack searching through the grass and bramble. Her breathing was quiet but irregular, this was not the kind of hide-and-seek she ever wished to play. Ava could hear them flip over heavy hollow logs, pry through bushes and break apart the crevices of trees as the boss of this mob stood before her, seemingly ignoring the tree where she had hidden. Then, as quick as it started the game was over.
A shout came from one of the brutes and the boot moved away, allowing Ava to not only hear, but see what happened before her: A young man she hadn’t noticed was pulled from a dense bush as he struggled, kicked and yelled, clutching to the foliage hopelessly like a bug being pulled from a leaf. The greenskin thing dangled him from his ankle and showed him to the pack like a shot game bird. Ava quickly turned away and shut her eyes as the axe of another collided with the monster’s hanging prey. Then there was a sound of something being thrown to the ground followed by a couple gunshots. With murderous laughter spilling from the mouths of the hunters they appeared to walk away leaving Ava alone in the dark. After a long and drawn out moment she opened her eyes. Then when she knew they had passed, she ran.
About the Author
Emma is a 40k and D&D nerd. She usually writes in her own worlds, but has recently branched out into Warhammer fiction. You can find more of her work on her Instagram page, linked below.