They shout foul curses at me, the more daring of the bunch going as far as to throw rocks at my body. Lunging to the right, I manage to dodge a particularly large stone, my arms coming out to catch me as I stumble and fall.
The crowd lets out a massive cheer as my body makes contact with the hard ground, a small hiss falling from my lips as my wrist twists painfully beneath me. I refuse to look up at them, unable to bear seeing the faces I only ever seen look at me with kindness and love now filled with hatred and disgust.
Our leader steps forward, quieting the others, and I look to him in desperation, hoping for forgiveness. He offers me none as he approaches, his face stoic and calm, my wrongdoings outweighing any semblance of friendship we once had.
“Áine Ladhe, you have been sentenced to death by Beast as a result of capital murder.” He announces, voice loud to ensure that all can hear.
A ragged sob falls from my lips as I lean back onto my hands, feet kicking out to move me back a couple of inches.
“I’m sorry,” I beg, ignoring the angry shouts of the crowd. “Please.”
Our leader shakes his head as he scrutinizes me, looking me up and down with contempt. The dogs begin barking to my right, and I swivel my head to watch their actions. They will be released in only five minutes to hunt me down, their only job being to ensure that death finds me should I manage to evade the Beasts.
Their large jaws snap in my direction, eager for their dinner, my blood running cold at the sight. I spent years running around with and loving these dogs, and at the snap of a finger they are ready to end me.
Our leader steps towards me, his large frame awfully imposing from where I sit on the ground. I remain still as he circles me, slow, calculated footsteps that bring him around to the back of my body. Hope floods through me at his actions, the dream that he will find forgiveness still alive within me.
A sharp scream rips from my throat as his foot abruptly stomps down on my arm, the bone cracking underneath his weight with a painful snap. I fall back as my arms buckle beneath me, but large hands grip my biceps and pull me up off the ground.
I turn to face our leader once more with teary eyes, wetness pouring down my cheeks as the memory of running around with him when we were children filters through my mind.
“Go.” He commands, voice rough as he pushes me back towards the woods.
Scrambling to regain my balance, I lock eyes with my father for just a moment, ingraining the picture of his face into my memory before turning and taking off into the woods.
My broken arm hangs limply by my side as I run, the tears pouring from my eyes blurring my vision. I can hear the dogs' barks behind me, their handlers waiting for the command from our leader to release them. Jumping over a small log, my knees buckle momentarily as I land painfully in a bundle of sticks, the soles of my feet ripping open in response.
I ignore the pain and continue running; my good arm raised to push away the branches as I storm through the woods. There are no Beasts present in my location, but I know that they have likely heard me by now or at the very least caught a whiff of my blood.
Nobody has ever encountered a Beast and lived to tell the story, but judging by the mangled mess that the animals leave our bodies, I assume that they are met with a quick death. That thought alone is what pushes me further into the forest, the hope that I will meet a more rapid death at the teeth of the Beasts than I will with our dogs.
My lungs burn as I continue on, breaths coming out in pained gasps. I notice that the animals go silent the closer I arrive to the Beasts, my eyes darting back and forth as I search for this large wolf I have never seen before.
Out of the corner of my eye I catch some movement and crane my neck to the left to see, blood running cold at the sight of what I assume to be a Beast. It watches me lazily as I run, its long legs moving to jog behind me, blocking off my exit and forcing me forward towards its pack.
Distracted by the large, dangerous animal, I don’t spot the fallen tree that lies in my path until it’s too late, my toe catching on the wooden log and forcing me into the air. My arms flail as I fly towards the ground, a loud scream tearing out of me as I land on my injured arm.
I scramble to stand, but the Beasts begin circling me, jaws snapping as their bloodthirsty eyes run over the length of my body, lingering on my bloodied appendages. A smaller one moves forward suddenly and bites at my thigh, ripping off a chunk of my flesh and forcing another scream out of me.
Loud sobs fall from my mouth as I struggle to stop the bleeding of my thigh, my fingers pushing pathetically at the skin in a sad attempt to press it back together. My hope that the end out be painless vanishes as another launches forward, sharp claws tearing into the skin of my good arm.
A rough growl reverberates through the forest as another moves to lunge at me, and the Beasts immediacy fall to their haunches at the noise, eyes locked in on me as they wait for their leader to show. I've never heard such a sound before, but don't have much time to dwell on it as my mind goes hazy at the blood loss.
I continue to cry as the Beasts sit around ogling my injured body, regret washing over me at the actions that led me here in the first place. A large wolf approaches on my left, stepping carefully over the rocks and sticks as its massive body moves toward me.
Sagging forward slightly another wave of dizziness strikes, I instinctively put my arm down to catch myself but the muscle fails, crumbling beneath my weight. The wolf continues to approach, letting out an ear-piercing howl as it arrives at the soles of my feet.
The animal hunches forward suddenly, its body quivering and bones breaking with painful, wet pops. I let out a small shriek at the sight, confusion filtering through me as the Beast transforms into a human man. He sits on his hands and knees in front of me, his large limbs stretching as he slowly stands.
I watch his movements with terror, unaware that the Beasts could take our form.
The man comes to stand at my feet, his dark eyes boring into mine.
“End her village.” He orders, voice a cold timbre that brings goosebumps to my skin.
Most of the Beasts leave at his command, happy yips falling from their mouths as they run in the direction I came from. My eyes roll back slightly as a dimness comes over me, but I shake it away, forcing myself awake.
The man moves towards me suddenly, and in sheer desperation I scramble back, not ready for death. He seems angry as he watches my actions, his eyes rolling back slightly as he snatches my arm and pulls me to my feet.
My injuries scream at the movement, and I stumble forward onto him, unable to support any of my weight. The remaining Beasts watch, quiet whines falling from them as the man wraps his arm around my waist and yanks me back up, his arm holding me upright.
“Take her to the healer.” He speaks once more, passing me off to another as if I am a small toy.
I feel my body jostle as I'm handed off, my head lolling forward and smacking against a hard chest. There's a loud commotion as I'm pulled away, toes dragging painfully against the ground, but I hardly feel it as my eyes drop closed, finally accepting my death.