The gaunt trees of Las Wolski scratched at the darkening grey sky with skeletal hands, grouped close in together on a carpet of leaves and rotten wood. Angular shadows fell, jagged, cutting over the forest floor, painting the staggering woman a filthy, dark colour. Leaning against a tree, she panted, grasping her side and watching blood seep through her dirt-caked fingers, the deepest of the gashes from crawling through thick, thorny shrubs. Closing her eyes for a second, she listened deep, the sounds of the forest resonating in her ears. A vixen's scream, the ancient creak of trees whispering. Footsteps through leaves. She held her breath and sunk down small, cursing herself for not thinking of grabbing something to protect herself with earlier.
Lights searched, whispers in a language she'd never heard. Her muscles tensed, she sprang and raced off, hearing the cries of anger behind her as she darted from shadow to shadow to shadow again before charging over a branch and slipping. A sickening crack filled the frosty air and she bit her lip in an attempt not to scream, more blood trickling in rivulets down her chin. Her teeth dug in deep. The effort was lost, the lights landing on her pale face, slick with sweat and blood where the thorns of the thicket had tried to snatch her back and snare her.
Four or so obscured figures surrounded her, and the click of a gun could be heard.
"You made it easy for us; how nice," one said in slow Polish, his tongue tripping the words.
Tears joined the sweat and blood now as her fingers clenched in the dirt and leaves of the forest floor.
"Fuck you!" she screeched, throwing the handful of muck.
Laugher echoed through the woods, and the click of a heat pen could be heard, the low buzzing sound as it began to warm through rapidly. Another click, a radio collar being prepared this time, she knew it, seeing the glint of gunmetal grey under torchlight, seeing the sharp edges of the contraption.
"Get lost!" she yelled, attempting to move, and groaning as her leg was jolted.
More sounds now, bright flashes assaulted her eyes. A hard mechanical bang, low growling - like the forest cat she'd disturbed earlier, a scream, a metallic tang filling her nose, screaming in some dialect she hadn't heard of before. The fallen torches reflected eyes between the trees, yellowed teeth bared, blood pooling on the forest floor. More muttering in that thick accent, the words different to what she was used to.
"I-I don't understand," she said in standard Polish.
Her vision wavered and she trembled as pain throbbed through her lower leg.
"You didn't need to, we were discussing what we do now. You're a human, not even a tribal human," a low voice answered, the words quiet despite the growl behind them.
The words of the tribals between the trees began to sound almost lyrical now they were devoid of anger, although that snarl stayed behind closed scissor teeth, held at the back of their throats. Her vision wavered and her nails dug deep into the soil again. Better the soil than her own skin.
"My leg's broken," she said, trying not to stare straight at the cat-like, reflective eyes.
Eyes flashed in her direction and then ignored her, before someone was pushed forward to pick her up.
"Careful!" she yelped as she saw the thick claws, and her leg was jolted in the grasp of the tall tribal man, his thick brown hair in braids at places. She cried out a bit as he began to walk. "That hurts!"
She turned her head to the woman at his side, three claw-mark scars marring her cheek, her gun in her arms, his over her shoulder. She muttered something which made the man chuckle a little and nod.
Finally, cracked tarmac. Boots and claws clicked against it, grass sprouting freely from the cracks and bumps. Now it was just the man with the braids, the grizzled woman, and the girl. Her eyes traced the clouds obscuring the moon, the weathered lines of the path, anything to distract herself from her leg. Light glowed, distant as the pale stars, silhouettes of buildings jutted from the horizon and loomed closer and closer with every step. Cold concrete and metal met the tribals, lights burnt merrily from windows.
"You're freezing, why aren't you wearing a coat?" the man carrying her asked, looking at her with his fox-brown eyes as he headed inside, the dull lights illuminating his harsh features.
"I-I didn't... I'm not... I'm from the city," she muttered, shaking.
"Of course. Unarmed, half undressed, no idea on how to lose someone pursuing you... I should have known right away," he said, chuckling. "We'd better take you to see the doctor."
Down across the vacant lobby now, haughty eyes from battered old paintings upon them, to a room designated as "nurse's room" in faded letters. The female tribal didn't follow, and instead waited by the stairs, leaning on the scratched and scarred bannister.
"She's my girlfriend," the man explained, "and she really doesn't like humans. The Warsaw Sharks, you know them? They killed her brother and mother last time there was a big fight between us two tribes."
With a scarred hand, he knocked on the door until a shirtless woman answered, rubbing her eyes and pulling on a top. The man holding the girl didn't bat an eyelid, talking rapidly in that funny dialect once more whilst the girl stared.
All those markings and scars. That big old scar on her breast ... how does a doctor even get that badly injured? What person walks around topless, even indoors, when it's nearly winter?
She nodded and ushered them in, and the girl was taken to a largely unfurnished side room, through a half-painted wooden door, and placed on a bed which creaked under her weight. A yip escaped her mouth as her leg was moved. She glanced around, squinting against the bright, white light that burnt her eyes, reflecting off of the polished surfaces of old-looking tools and a dozen pots of medicine and balm up on a steel shelf.
"Dr Ania will fix you up," the man said with a small smile before quickly heading out.
The girl looked over at Ania, checking her leg and wounds, a full syringe in her clawed hand.
"I'll knock you out so that I can set your leg better, and see to those cuts," she said. "Just lie back and relax."