Panting and grunting, snapping and breaking of brush and small trees on both sides of the path sounded behind her. She must not look. She gasped for breath. Her heart thundered in her chest. Fear-sweat streamed down her face. A grunting cough sounded right behind her. She dropped the yoke and took off running. Baskets shattered, releasing food and goods across the path.
She burst out of the trees into the meadow that fronted her family's Steading. Fear gripped her muscles as she tried to run faster. Standing at the gate through the wooden walls of the Steading, her father and two brothers held lit torches against the gathering darkness. They gripped old swords and spears kept from the last war, other weapons standing sentinel behind them, thrust into the ground within easy reach.
Marta heard grunting and heavy panting closing in behind her. The thud of many feet shook the ground.
“Run, Marta! Run!” screamed her father.
She shrieked voicelessly in fear as she hurtled towards the gate.
Her brother drew back his arm and launched the spear that he held towards her. It flew over her right shoulder. A howl sounded almost in her ear. She ducked away and found a little extra speed.
She raced towards her father. As she reached him, she grabbed his left arm. She used him as a pivot, swung around and grabbed the spear that stood upright behind her brother. Arrows rained down on the Demons from behind the palisade walls, loosed by the men and women on the rampart.
The Demon horrors that they faced stopped to eat the thrashing, dying members of their horde. Course grey hair obscured loose black skin covering hunched bodies the size of . Black claws sprouted from all four feet. Long muzzles filled with serrated teeth snapped and tore at the screaming, dying demons.Upright ears projected from large rounded heads. Enormous deep red eyes glistened, pupils huge in the twilight. There were at least twelve left standing.
Feeding done, the Demons turned towards Marta and her father and brothers. Her father hissed, “Back, back into the palisade. Quick, don't turn around, just step back.”
The Demons milled in a hideous hissing growling mass, darting forward, trying to get behind them. The defenders backed through the partially open gate, stabbing at the Demons as they tried to slip under the spears and swords to get at the meat they craved.
Marta's mother and brothers heaved the gate closed as her grandfather slammed the crossbar into its brackets. Bodies thudded again and again against the gate, making the wood flex and groan.
“Up on the rampart. Start the fireballs,” her father barked. The holders desperately obeyed their Steader as quickly as they could.
Everyone in the Steading still on the ground ran up on the rampart and grabbed the pitch soaked balls mounted on arrows. The balls were touched to braziers kept lit for the purpose and burst into flame.
Shooting down on the beasts, the pitch-covered balls stuck to skin and burned into flesh. Once ignited, the Demons could not put out the fires.
They broke off their attack and threw themselves to the ground, rolling and spinning, trying to dislodge the burning pitch. They fled shrieking back into the woods, setting small brush fires as they ran. Rain would soon douse the fires.
With a sob, Marta put her back to the palisade wall and slid down. How could they survive another attack? How could they survive?
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