The Clearing--Age of Sigmar Flash Fiction
Leaves of dead corn and frost biting at his bare ankles, Derren shoved his way through the Villowscythe Forest. In the summer, his surroundings would be ripe for harvest and foraging, veritable Azyrite paradises. Now, at the height of night and winter, the farming fields and orchards lay dead and defiled—only the occasional rabbit or rose brush persisted against the cold. Derren only added to that desolation as he ran, sweat freezing across the rim of his eyebrows, breath sculpting mannequins in the air—he had no time to pay heed to the wilderness as he trampled it. Only one thought remained, and that was that he had to run.
He could still hear the voice scratching in the distance behind, and on the occasion, reaching out to the back of his head, burrowing in and out of his thoughts. He was becoming increasingly aware he’d seen something he wasn’t supposed to see—that no one was supposed to see—that the mortal brain hadn’t been forged to comprehend. But unlike the heroes in the fairy stories, what he’d encountered hadn’t maddened him. He’d been transfixed for a moment. And then he’d bolted.
He passed cabbages and cornfields, tree stumps and tombstones. With every metre, he worried the newly formed cuts across his feet were going to give the game away, their scent would attract something worse. But as the moments passed, he grew relieved. There was a clearing up ahead, he remembered when his father had taught him to snare a deer as a child. Not far from there, there lay a small meadow where sheep grazed in the spring. He would hide there amidst the dead flowers, wait until the first hint of daylight allowed him the security he needed to return to the city gates.
A fence post grazed his arm. Before Derren, in the distance—there was the low growl of hounds. Hounds! Human-owned hounds! What he would have given a night prior to outrun such ravenous dogs. Now he embraced them, a sign of humanity and safety.
The forest disappeared behind him. He found the clearing, and with it, the hounds—half a dozen of them, forming a semi-circle to encase him. Derren felt no relief, though.
They weren’t like the butcher’s dogs back in the city he’d grown up with. These, though similar in size, were malnourished and their eyes glowed white long after the moon passed behind cloud.
Had it just been them, Derren likely still would’ve embraced them. But the dogs weren’t alone. Standing behind them, there was a small gathering of townsfolk—farmers, traders, carpenters, standing silent in the frost. But, like the dogs before them, they were unmoving, just watching him, their eyes too made white. He didn’t recognise any of the faces, but by the way they stood, their pitchforks and holy wards held high, it had been as though they were expecting him.
Fear exited him, and there he waited, moments passing by, for a response.
When it was clear none was coming, he whimpered to himself and shot a look back to the forest, the dark. Whispers. Something was coming for him—chills down his spine.
He turned slowly back to the crowd, noticing they were ever so slightly closer. Without having moved. They had grown more numerous somehow, too.
Cold breath against his neck, hounds baying quietly, Derren stepped forward to join them.