The hunter runs through the forest, his shotgun in hand, and cold sweat running down his neck. The full moon overhead lights his path, twigs and branches crack under his feet. Tears stream down his face – tears of fear, anger and regret.
In the distance he can hear the whines of his hunting dog, his friend, his companion – he can only imagine what that monster is doing to him as his whines grow more horrid, more sorrowful.
He had no choice but to abandon him. He can't stop his sobbing as the dog's dying cries grow more pitched.
The hound gave his life so that he can run, only when the crying stops does he have to worry, because he will be next.
He grits his teeth as he runs. The canine's cries will forever haunt him in his dreams, and his nightmares.
What started as a simple hunting trip turned into a nightmare; he was only supposed to shoot some late-night game, but then they stumbled across her territory.
He was given so many warnings, so many people told him not to come here, especially at night.
He thought they were just tales, legends, folklore meant to keep children from misbehaving. He pauses for a brief second behind a thick oak, checking his gun to make sure he has ammo left, sliding down to the frosted forest floor. He dropped his pouch somewhere back at the cabin, and he sure as hell isn't going to risk going back.
The dog's cries stop.
Panic sets in, but the hunter tries to breath quietly to calm himself. Overhead, through the smattering of clouds, the stars shine in the deep blue. There's still the chirping and ringing of crickets and nightly birds. The town is only half a mile. If he can sneak his way across on foot –
Twigs snaps only five feet to his right.
He immediately pushes to his feet and bolts forward.
Rows of trees and thick underbrush rush past either side of him, the surroundings of the forest grow. Overhead, the interlocking patchwork of hanging boughs work to transform the path into a darkening tunnel. Through the lacework of limbs, thick clouds inch by. If he can just make it back to the path of the forest preserve, he can follow it back to the main lodge. He'll know he'll get help, and if she's willing to follow, he can attempt to make a stand.
Darkness creeps in around him, spreading its fingers through the trees, working to smear them into a single black blur. He keeps running, a churning sense of determination roiling in his stomach. His breath is the loudest sound in his hears.
The only sound.
He slows his steps to a steady jog. As his ears tune into the silence of the forest, chills run up his spine.
Any animal that has been out for the night has made a break for it; they are ducking down in their holes or flying as far away from this place as they can. He looks up and find the tree limbs motionless, their leaves immobile and still. Not one bird.
He picks up his pace again, unwilling to look back.
The chilled air stings his lungs, and as he runs he can feels his body entering that uncomfortable place of being warm on the inside, but cold with sweat on the outside.
As he looks on either side of him, the tangled black limbs of the trees encasing him, he can't ignore the feeling that somewhere among them, something watches him, waiting for him to stop, or to trip.
A black shadow moves between the trees, followed by a heavy whoosh. The hunter whirls, his throat constricting and his chest tightening. He hears the pop of a branch and the crunch of pinecones.
Suddenly, there's a shift in the air and an instinct drives him to duck and roll right. As he does, the edge of a hatchet scrapes by his head. He screams as he feels a pain at the side of his head. Warm blood leaks into his ear, the pain making it muffled from the roar.
At least he still has his ear. Or maybe most of it.
As he comes up on one knee, he aims his shotgun and shoots blindly. He doesn't care where it goes – if it hits, he'll be lucky, and if it doesn't, hopefully it'll scare her away.
But then he hears it – the gentle voice as it twines through the trees in a haunting melody. It twines through the trees, as the wind carries with it the smell of blood. He hears the change within the melody: the off-key notes, the wavering of the hum, and the soft chuckle following it.
The hunter turns and breaks into a run once more, smoothly ejecting the shell. He wills strength into his knees, running as fast as his legs can carry him.
Out of the corner of one eye, he thinks he sees the edge of a dark something. Then there's another at his left. Figures, tall and long, rush through the black gate of trees on either side. Their movements are too fast. Impossibly fast.
He manages to burst into a clearing, the space exploding in a wide bath of silver light, the black figures seemingly gone. He keeps running until he is at the epicenter, and he turns in a circle. Nothing.
Silence. The humming has stopped.
He digs through his pocket and pulls out the final slug shot and loads it into his shotgun. He rotates in a circle, watching the tree line, and then allows himself to breathe, surprised to find that he is a little disappointed, but a lot angry.
Huntress indeed. He even chuckles as he aims down the barrel of his shotgun.
And then she appears.
She comes through the fog, no more than a sliver of darkness. She doesn't run – just walks with a predatory swagger. The hunter surveys the opens space and the trees surrounding them.
One step at a time she approaches. He would really, really enjoy making her suffer just as she did to his dog.
Still she approaches, and the large broad-axe in her hand whines as she twirls it in her hand. The moonlight glints off the large blade.
And there, strung on her belt, still freshly dripping with blood is the head of his dog. The golden fur recognizable to him, even in that state. Its eyes have been gouged out, and it's tongue hanging from its mouth, like she pulled it out, and left the tendons to dangle.
She doesn't say anything as she nears, but he can see a smirk across her blood-sprinkled lips.
And the hunter doesn't say anything as he aims his shotgun and fires.
Faster than a striking asp, the blade of her axe sticks into the barrel and knocks it aside as the gun goes off. The next moment the gun is ripped from his hands and the butt is rammed into his throat, and she slashes her axe across his shins.
He hits the wet ground before he feels the pain. The world flashes black and grey and red, and agony tears at him. A hunting knife is still attached to his belt, he scuttles backwards. But his legs won't respond, and his arms strain to pull him through the damp grass.
"Bitch," he hisses. "You fucking bitch!"
Blood is pouring from his legs. Bone has been split. He will not be able to walk.
She stops a few feet away from him and thrusts her axe into the ground, the elongated hilt pointing towards the sky. She draws a hatchet and a hunting knife from her belt.
He swears at her, the filthiest word he can think of.
She chuckles, and faster than humanly possible, she has one of his arms pinned against the ground, the blade glinting.
Pain rips through his right wrist, then his left as it, too, is slammed into the grass.
The hunter screams – truly screams – as he finds his arms pinned against the ground by two knives.
His blood is nearly black in the moonlight. He thrashes, cursing her again and again. He will bleed to death unless he pulls his arms from the ground.
With otherworldly silence she crouches over him and lifts his chin with a hatchet. He pants as she brings his face close to his. There is nothing beneath the white mask – nothing of this world. She has no face.
Maybe he can feign innocence. He can talk his way out, convince this arrogant whore he didn't mean to stumble across her territory.
But, without even an intake of breath, she buries her hatchet into his thigh. So deep he feels the crack of bone and the harsh poking of the bone through skin. His scream shatters out of him, and he writhes, his wrists rising farther on the blades.
Her face remains indifferent.
Calm, so calm.
She draws yet another hatchet and hacks at the other thigh, just above his knee. He shrieks – shrieks to God, who will not save him. He can feel vomit rising at the back of his throat.
"Please," he weeps, swallowing back the gross vomit, trying to see her through his blurry eyes. "Please, I will go away. I won't bother you again. I promise."
She sits back on her heels and stares at him. She cocks her head and he can see her black, soulless eyes blink behind her mask. And for a second, he thinks he might be getting to her.
Until she brings up another hatchet, its edge gleaming and sharp, and hovers it close to his hand.
"Pick a finger," she says, her voice like gravel.
He trembles as he shakes his head. "P-please."
A wet warmth fills the seat of his pants.
She brings the blade closer, until it rests against the base of his thumb.
"No! No, please!"
His scream echoes throughout the wide, empty forest.