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It appeared that day dreaming of other various ways the imprint of his body could have been mistaken for a murder could lead to sleep, for Mathew was awoken by a strange snuffling sound. Stretching his arms above his head he cracked open his tired eyes. Through the hazy darkness he spotted the fuzzy outline of something illuminated by the dim fire. Squinting through the darkness his bleary vision focused on a moving creature.
The thing appeared to be hunched over, sniffing at the empty bowls they had earlier eaten from. He slowly lowered his arms as he realized it was shaped like a human. Trying to keep his breathing even and not scream like a girl Mathew tentatively reached for his penknife.
Something wasn’t quite right with the shadowy figure, it moved crouched on all fours and wore what appeared to be rags. Its breath turned to mist upon coming into contact with the chill air and Mathew found himself wondering how it couldn’t be cold.
It wore no shoes or furs and moved with a predatory elegance around the camp past Liam’s tarp pausing to sniff at Tuliou’s boots, jerking back and snorting in a disgruntled sort of way. Heart pounding Mathew slowly shifted to sit up a little straighter. His fingers fumbled in the dirt closing around a pebble. Rolling it between his fingers he sucked in a breath as the creature moved off towards Tuliou’s tarp. Flicking his gaze away for a split second Mathew aimed and threw the pebble at Liam. It hit the back of his head.
He started half sitting up “What did y-” Mathew pressed a finger to his lips and pointed. Liam closed his mouth giving Mathew a curious, questioning glance. Mathew pointed more forcefully in the direction of the creature. His eyes widened as they laid upon the creature. They watched in tense silence as the humanoid being lent down by Tuliou and peered curiously at him. Tuliou rolled over grunting in his sleep, arm flopping over his chest.
The creature darted backwards, a low snarl rippling through its body.
When Tuliou’s breathing evened out it cautiously moved forwards. Lip curled in an inquisitive way it cocked its head sideways and Liam had to suck in a breath as its face was illuminated by the fire. It was a girl. Leaning forwards she sniffed at Tuliou’s dirty face, with delicate touches prodded his forehead. When he didn’t react the girl batted his cheek a little more forcefully. Tuliou snorted. Dirty fingers poked his nose and peeled his eye lids open.
The mysterious girl’s face wrinkled with distaste as Tuliou rolled over and snored. She stretched out her body to touch his hair. Recoiling with a hiss clutching her stomach.
Frozen in terror Mathew attempted to calm his heart as the girl screwed her eyes shut and placed her hand on her stomach. A bought of coughing ensued. Liam watched through squinted eyes as the scrawny girl lifted her hand up to the fire, fingers coated with blood.
In that second both males knew this was the killer of the boar.
The boys glanced at each other. Liam mouthed “Follow me.” at Mathew who nodded, eyes wide. Liam pointed to himself then the wounded girl. He moved into a standing position as did Mathew gripping his knife tightly. The girl was moving around near the back of Tuliou’s tarp. Liam advanced swiftly. His boots trod carefully on the earth all tiredness leaving him, the thick moss absorbing almost all sound…
His boot crunched on one of the nut shells Mathew had been throwing around, only two metres away from their quarry. The girl’s head shot up a pair of glowing red eyes illuminating the shadows hair falling across her pale face. For a split second their eyes met and Liam knew in that instant she was the demon. The light in her eyes wasn't human.
She was running before he could get over his shock. Mathew sprinted into the undergrowth after the girl leaping up the slope with ease, his sharp toothed grin signalling the beginning of the hunt.
She ran, scrambling around on all fours before careering with all her worth through the forest. In that moment she didn't care that blood was currently pouring from her side all that mattered was getting away from them. Her hands clawed at the dirt her bare feet tripping painfully over roots and jagged rocks. The undergrowth was sparse comprised mostly of withering ferns and knotted brambles, leaving nowhere to hide. She had to get away from her pursuers, going into the camp had been a risk anyway, but she had needed the medical supplies. Her ragged clothes snagged on the low hanging branches, trees loomed from the shadows sending her in scattered directions.
Reaching the river was her only option, there she could wash away her scent from the demon crashing through the trees behind her and escape to the caverns. Her breathing came in shuddering gasps as she stumbled through the forest, one hand bracing the trees the other clutching a hand to her stomach. The trees thinned as the river came into view. A savage bark echoed through the forest behind her. Demon instincts spurring her on she burst out of the cover of the trees and hurtled towards the river. Her side burned, her vision swam, looking over her shoulder she saw the pursuing demon erupt from the trees.
It was larger than a wolf with black gums and green eyes. Its fur was scruffy and unlike a wolf's a dirty, sandy brown. It advanced with a drooling growl. Backing away the girl turned and fled through the shallows of the river, the dog launched into a charge loping easily through the water, knocking her down with one swipe from its mighty paws.
Her head hit the rocks with painful force and black dots obscured her vision. It would be easier to give up, she would bleed to death anyway. The mutt lowered it's head hackles raised, stealthily coming towards her. The night sky gazed down on her the moon set in a thin lipped, lopsided grin. So this is how she was to be punished. Death by her own kind. To be left mutilated, to rot in the river like the boar and forever roam as a lost spirit.
But that wouldn't happen to her. They wouldn't let her die. They would take her away and hurt her, she couldn't go back to that life. She wouldn't go back to that life. Not now, nor ever again.
The energy surging through her was fuelled by the memories of what they did. With new strength she lifted herself up by the elbows and stood on shaky legs. The dog snapped its vicious jaws, spittle flying in all directions. As it lunged in to take another swipe at her, she snarled revealing sharp teeth, her eyes ablaze like glowing coals. They grappled, the heavy weight of the beast toppling them back into the water.
Spluttering for breath the girl seized a handful of the dog's fur and tugged. Yelping the demon retreated, only to hurtle back at her, with hungry eyes. Everything was heightened in that instance, with energy she didn't know she possessed the girl kicked her legs upwards into the dogs gut. It yowled it pain, caught off guard as the girl sunk her teeth into its foreleg. In a frantic attempt to throw her off the dog shook its head, rearing and snapping viciously.
They fell back into the water, this time the girl pinning the beast down by the throat. Her eyes seared with unquenchable fire, the urge was screaming to be let out. She hissed angrily baring her unnaturally pointed teeth. The dog who moments ago had been attacking her with vigour now whimpered beneath her as it sensed the urge about to take over. Bile rose in the back of her throat and she rose up preparing for the finishing strike, when a shout sounded behind them.
Her eyes dimed as the fear overruled the urge. Head twisting over her shoulder. She saw two figures standing on the shore. Her heart pounded with revived terror and she fled leaving the dog winded on the ground. Everything was fuzzy, her head pounded. The river gurgled and foamed, the cavern opening was in her sights.
The gaping hole in the ground came into view and still filled with panic she toppled down the slippery slope into the darkness.
"Tuliou stay here with Mathew," Liam ordered already halfway towards the river, turning briefly back to Tuliou who -still half asleep- nodded squinting his eyes to see where the dog lay breathing heavily in the river "I've got a demon to catch." he muttered eyes set on the boulders the demon had only just managed to clear.
Chasing after the demon proved harder than simply following the trail of blood. She had somehow managed to climb over a series of jumbled rocks in her condition and Liam found them hard to navigate. Twice he slipped and bashed both his ankle and knee on a particularly slippery rock. Once over the rocks he followed the trail of glistening blood into the depths of an ominous looking cave. His vision was limited to the thin light of the moon. Treading carefully he made him way down the treacherous slope. It was smooth as polished gemstones.
Once at the base of the slope Liam squinted through the blackness trying to track the trail of blood. It was futile, the shadows pressed in. A malicious grin spread "So you want to hide from me, do you demon?" He grinned rolling his shoulders and rubbing his hands together. "Well, sorry to disappoint you, but you can't hide from me." Closing his eyes he allowed his mind to wander, the demon's presence was closer than before. This time the trace snagged at his wavelength sending vibrations throughout his mind, like a leaf sending ripples across water.
His hand reached up and touched the rocks drawing back with a strange semi-transparent darkness within the palm of his hand. On the tip of his finger he held it in front of him and blew. A cold wind ruffled his hair seemingly coming from deeper within the cave. Opening his eyes the cave was filled with dappled light. An orb of moonlight sat in his palm encased in forever moving shadows.
Holding it above his head Liam walked further into the cave the floor gleaming like shimmering pebbles underwater. Following the blood he soon discovered the cavern, but no trace of the demon. A small drop below him ran what appeared to be the flow of the river heading towards the sea. A crack in the rocks allowed a single jagged beam of blueish light to hit the sparkling stone. The demon was unbelievably close.
He heard a splash and looked down, the light emanating from the orb dimming as more shadows collected around it. Immediately across from him a little to the right the demon clung to the opposite bank, in a weak attempt to heave her exhausted body to apparent safety. Staggering upright she clutched her stomach, hand braced on one of the rocks.
Her panting breaths were punctured with pained winces. Forgetting all pretence Liam made his move and clattered down the second slope, pebbles scattering as he belted towards the demon. Her head jerked up as he made contact with the icy water of the underground river. "Give up demon," Liam shouted menacingly "there's no escape." Her eyes darted from him to the only exit in the cavern. Setting her jaw the demon charged towards the stone slope the last dregs of energy making up her leap of faith off of a rock and into the air, black smoke briefly bursting from her back before Liam had knocked her back with a powerful swipe of shadows.
She hit the rocks with force, the sharp, talon like nails grating on the rocks as she fell, leaving a deep scrape. In one final attempt at freedom she raised herself up by the elbow dragging her body an inch before Liam was upon her, pressing her down with his boot. She collapsed, all fight fleeing her frail body. Eyelids closing she kept her gaze on him desperately, vainly hoping for something before they closed and a breath signalled her sinking into unconsciousness...