Often the only way to cease being the prey is to become the predator.
|Prologue: Prey for Devils
Runa ran through the forest frantically, no time to take a breath or consider how long she had been fleeing. Although the young seven-year old girl was indeed small enough to slip into the density of the local wildlife, nothing escaped the gaze of her pursuers.
Dark hair fanned before her sight as she chanced a glance behind her and spotted the foliage alive with movement. She turned back and ran with all her might, whimpering at the sensation of tears welling in her traumatised eyes. Why were they after her? What had she done to deserve this?
A burst of gunfire grounded her thoughts back to reality as the bullets caused the bark of a nearby tree to explode from impact, causing Runa to scream with alarm. However, her legs kept her running for her life.
“Hold fire you idiot!” Shouted one of her hunters to his trigger-happy comrade, “We need her alive!”
Runa was so distraught that she didn’t even notice the branches and bushes parting before her as she ran. Everything was so out of control as it was and now they had began trying to shoot her down like some kind of ravenous hound!
“Leave me alone!” She shrieked back, glancing in time to spot one of the men chasing her. He appeared agile and nimble, a navy-blue cloak streaking behind him as he gave chase. He wore a scarf-like face mask and a pair of mechanical-looking goggles, the rest of his head obscured by a hood of the same blue matching his cloak. Under the cloak he wore what looked like a scruffy military uniform and mounted on his wrist was a small burst firearm.
As the man vaulted over a fallen tree trunk, Runa tripped and nearly stumbled on an exposed root. She cried out in exhausted pain but kept running as fast as she could.
“Power level increasing!” Shouted one of the cloaked men, “Get back here little girl! We promise we won’t hurt you!”
“Go away!!” She howled back. How could she believe that after they had tried shooting her? How could she even consider trusting these men after what they did to her family? That was the reason why she had ran as fast as she could into the forest. The village of Havenbarrow was far behind them now but she didn’t stop to consider how she had managed to outrun them this long.
However, she did stop for the cliff edge which closed in ahead, grinding to a halt before the traitorous edge. She panicked, not at the sheer drop before her but at the dilemma behind her. Where would she go now? She couldn’t outrun them, unless…
“Halt!” Demanded one of the men, who had emerged from the foliage and trained his wrist gun on her, bracing it steady with his other hand. Runa gasped as she turned to face him and the other four men who emerged from the forest. They had cornered her against the cliff’s edge.
“You’re coming with us, girl! There’s nowhere left to run.” Said the first man. Runa glanced between them, hoping - no, praying for a chance for escape. When nothing answered her silent plea, she began to break down into tears.
“Please, just leave me alone!!” She screamed at them. A pulse of unseen energy shook over the forest behind them like a gust of wind. One of them men noticed that her distraught eyes - which were once a dark brown shade - adopted a faint blue glow. He inspected her with a glance through his goggles.
“Sir! Power level at a critical stage!!” He cried out, an edge of fear to his shaking voice. All the men armed their wrist guns simultaneously, causing her to step back warily, her foot on the very edge of the summit. Were they afraid of her?
“You need to come with us right now!!” Commanded their leader, who had also noticed something through his own goggles. Runa held her arms before her, shielding herself hopelessly against the guns trained on her. With one last cry of anguish and sorrow, she made her choice clear.
“I’m not going with you!!!” She screamed as the same wind battered at the forest and the men, stronger this time and nearly causing them to be thrown back.
“It’s no use! Eliminate!!” Cried out the leader and they all braced against the wind, taking aim at the girl. Runa screwed her eyes closed and released all the air from her lungs in the form of a scream as the sound of five burst-fire guns open fired upon her. Whatever remained of the local wildlife fled in terror of the dark execution, lest they fall prey to these cloaked devils. Then, after what seemed like hours, the forest fell deathly silent again.
All she could see was pitch-black darkness, and all she could hear was her heart beating like a parade drum. The faint sound of rustling leaves as trees blew in the gentle wind washed over her and nearly took her along with them.
When she slowly unscrewed her eyelids and the light flushed into her sight, Runa saw the five men were still there, stood watching with fear and awe which Runa noticed despite their faces being hidden. Had they missed? Did they have a change of heart?
Then her vision focused, looking at the small objects suspended before her with wary curiosity. They hovered like an armada of angry hornets before her and she could only truly realise what they were when she moved her arm aside to chance a closer look. What she saw she could not hope to comprehend.
No less than forty tiny bullets had stopped in suspended animation between the five men and Runa, held still by some invisible force. She had hardly even begun believing it until an errant thought teased at an idea. Responding to the idea, the bullets twisted in the air to face the men who killed her family.
This idea - this revenge - began eating away at the fear in her mind which soon became wrath, the tears stinging her eyes with pain she let in. The moment the men began taking wary steps back, she knew the tables had turned. She was the one in control now.
With a bellow of rising anger, she flung her arms outwards as the bullets split between two of the men, propelled towards them at lightning speed and shredding through them brutally as they both let loose screams of agonising demise. The blue glow in her eyes intensified as she glared at the remaining three and bared her gritted teeth.
“Evasive actions, all of you!” The leader tried to direct his men but they reacted a heartbeat too late as she thrust her arms out at them with a cry of anger. Some unseen power took them off their feet and flung them back into the forest screaming, one impaled upon an ill-placed branch and the other slammed back-first against the trunk of a tree with the sickening sound of his breaking spine.
Just the leader remained as he glanced quickly to his comrade being impaled on his left, then went to take aim at her again. However, he also acted too slowly as Runa’s unseen force took ahold of the gun arm and held it out to his side, bullets spraying harmlessly aside. He cried out in pain, then in agony as his other arm was grappled as well and the forces pulled him in opposite directions, close to pulling his arms clean off.
As he gritted his teeth to resist the pain, the force suspended him a couple of feet off the ground as Runa approached him calmly. Her expression was closest to that of savage dog - a rather violent face for a young seven-year old girl - her eyes glowing like blue beacons and yet giving the darkest stare the man had ever seen. Her hands were clenched, manipulating this terrible power like strings on a marionette.
The man met her stare with a fragile yet stern glare.
“You can’t control it!” He declared painfully, “This is why the mage hunters exist, damn it! To help you control it! To keep peace!” Runa sneered at her, almost mistakable for a feral snarl as the grip tightened and began to pull him in both directions again. She spoke calmly over his screams of pain.
“Do I really look like I need help controlling this?”
Her hands clenched tightly and threw themselves apart from each other with a yell of anguish as the mage hunter’s arms were torn from his torso, a spray of blood splattering across her face. The mage hunter let out a bloodcurdling scream of agony before she used her newfound powers to fling him over her shoulder and from the very cliff they had chased her to. Five seconds later, the scream was cut off by a loud slamming sound as a flock of disturbed birds flew upwards from below.
Runa’s heart was still beating faster than a sparrow’s and, as she began to calm down, so too did the blue glow in her eyes begin to dissolve. Once again, the forest was deathly quiet, as if the trees were holding their breath for another shocking surprise.
Runa sat with her back against the base of a nearby tree, eyes wide with trauma. Then, she cried - her emotions finally free to catch up to her. What seemed like hours later, she looked out over the cliff edge and across the forest below at the horizon - at the same flock of birds circling the mage hunter’s body. If she returned to Havenbarrow, she would just be taken away by more of them, or even her fellow villagers.
The horizon wasn’t too far away - not as far as her home. Runa wondered what it would hold in store for her.
“Let’s find out.” She muttered to herself as she pulled herself to her feet, looking for the closest and safest way down from the summit.