Patrice crashed blindly through the forest; her scream piercing the tranquility of the late evening before being swallowed up by the trees that seemed to press in on every side. Brush and low-hanging branches reached out for her, at first causing rips and tears in the young woman’s dress, now leaving angry red welts on the gradually increasing patches of delicate, exposed skin. She risked a glance over her shoulder, turning back just in time to see the tree before her. A last-second attempt to change direction failed and stars exploded across her vision as she collided with the rough bark of the tree’s trunk at a full run. Carried to one side of the tree by her momentum, Patrice fell to the damp leaf-strewn forest floor.
Head swimming and with darkness creeping in from the edges of her vision, Patrice found it odd that she should be so comfortable on the wet ground, despite the rain showers that had passed through earlier in the day. She also found it odd that she should be thinking such things when there was something important she needed to remember - what had she been doing up to this point? A breaking branch in the direction from which she had come snapped her mind back into blurry focus; she was running for her life.
Far too slowly for her satisfaction, but as quickly as her weary body would allow, Patrice climbed to her feet and began to put one foot in front of the other, faster and faster. Each step sent a throbbing blue sensation echoing through her skull, as if some tiny devil were drumming mercilessly on it from within. She tried to scream again, but the sound, to her ears, was as if she were doing so through a mouth stuffed full of cotton and only caused more pain in her head. Patrice imagined - or was it real? - that her pursuer was now just behind her, claws reaching forward to encircle her in a deadly embrace. The panic gave her a quick burst of speed.
A row of large bushes rose up in front of Patrice and, instead of spending precious seconds going around them, she leapt through them. The momentary fear of colliding with another tree was quickly forgotten as she emerged through the other side of the leafy barrier and realized that the ground was considerably lower than before. The bushes had been running along the top of a small but steep hill. Patrice landed off-balance, pitching forward to tumble down the incline and collapse in a heap on a flat and muddy stretch of ground. It took her wits a moment to catch up and Patrice suddenly realized that she had reached one of the roads passing through the forest. Relief washed over her, warm and reassuring, giving her a moment’s hope of salvation. Just as quickly, though, it was once more replaced by the gnawing chill of fear as the young woman realized she was not alone. Dirty, disheveled, bruised, and bleeding, Patrice tried to assess the figures before her as she rose unsteadily to her feet.
Two men stood on the road watching her. The nearer of the two appeared to be an English gentleman, though his clothes were just a bit too travel-worn for him to have been an aristocrat. Patrice judged him, based on the plain leather handbag he carried, to a be a journeyman of some sort, or perhaps a country physician. In the later case, his presence would be most welcome, she thought. In all other respects, the stranger was average: average height, average build, with plain brown hair peaking out from beneath a bowler she’d seen hundreds of times before in the streets of Paris framing an average face. This was a person who would be difficult to find in a crowd.
Patrice’s eyes darted over to assess the man’s companion. He was taller and could have been English, or perhaps German, despite his strange attire. At first glance she assumed him to be bald; upon a closer inspection, she realized his head was shaved. Despite this, he was not altogether unattractive. Beneath his mundane brown traveling cloak, which in itself was years out of date with the latest in travel fashion, he wore what appeared to be the robes of a spiritualist of some sort. Not the drab affairs so commonly associated with the European ascetics, but a brightly colored orange tunic, cinched at the waist with a belt of dark fabric over a matching pair of loose-fitting pants. Instead of the sensible leather shoes worn by his companion, this man wore a simple pair of sandals that, even now, he was removing to stand barefoot in the cold mud of the road.
“May we be of assistance?” The nearer of the two spoke first.
“Aidez-moi!” The yell was more of a croak, as Patrice’s throat was already raw from screaming and the hard breathing brought on by her headlong flight through the forest. The shorter man in the bowler glanced over at his strange companion, who shrugged and shook his head incoherently in reply. He turned back to the woman.
“Erm, my French is not good. Parlez-vous anglais?” His accent was clearly that of an Englishman.
“Oui ...” Before she could finish, a rustle in the bushes from whence she had come drew their attention. Patrice whirled around to see a shadowy figure creep through the ragged opening she had left in her passage through the hedge. The sun was nearly set by this time which, despite the unnerving prospect of having to fend off the dangerous creature before them in the deepening gloom, made Patrice glad that she did not have the full light of day by which to make out the beast’s gruesome visage.
The thing which now stood on the embankment above the three strangers had once been a man; it stood on two feet and still wore on its pale, emaciated frame the tattered remnants of a forgotten existence. The hands and feet were bare, each bony digit ending in long, ragged nails that were black with grime and were little more than crude talons by this point. Glimpses of bone at each knobby protruding joint could be seen poking through the creature’s papery skin.
The ruined face was easily the most disturbing aspect of the creature. The skin was so pale and drawn as to show every vein, black with cold, dead fluid; the cheeks and temples of the skull were sunken and gave the head a fleshless, skull-like appearance. The nose was nearly rotted off, a black hole bisected by deteriorating cartilage in the middle of what, in life, might once have been a handsome face. Bulging, bloodshot eyes - filled with the same black veins that crisscrossed the skin - stared down, unblinking, at the young woman, causing her to shudder involuntarily. Upon spying its prey, the creature sneered hungrily, the expression revealing receded black gums and a set of unnaturally long teeth; chipped, broken and yellowed with age where they were not covered with the remains of previous meals. Dry, wispy strands of hair fell about the blotched scalp in bunches; when stirred by a breeze, the creature’s hair produced the effect of a dark halo about it’s head. That same breeze carried to the three observers the foul stench of rot and decay mingled with freshly spilled blood - and indeed, there was red blood smeared and drying, around the ragged mouth and running down the bony chin and spattered across those filthy rags that had managed to remain intact up to this point. The girl’s stomach turned at the sight of the blood; she knew from whence it came.
Patrice turned to once again flee for her life, but was so surprised by the calm demeanor of the two Englishmen - for that is how she had come to think of the second man - that she stopped short. Instead of fear or panic or hatred or disgust or any of the other possible expressions she expected them to wear, they simply stared up at the creature who had only now taken notice of them. The man-thing at the top of the ridge began to pace slowly along the top of the ridge, sniffing occasionally in the direction of the two strangers. A low hissing noise began to emanate from it as it turned to face them and slowly lowered itself into a squatting position.
The man in the bowler turned to nod at his companion, who began to slowly undo his cloak, and took a step away from Patrice. At the movement, the creature sprang from its elevated position, arcing downward with talons extended and its bloody, gaping maw open wide. Patrice opened her mouth in reply, but nearly choked on her own scream, as the man in orange dashed, quicker than she could follow, between her and the other man. Without missing a beat, he turned sideways, hopped forward while whipping his leg - first up, then outward - and drove his heel between the pouncing creature’s arms and into its shoulder. The result was a muffled ‘pop’ as the brittle collarbone snapped. The kick, which had struck at an angle, did not counteract the momentum of the attack, but instead used it to carry the creature off to the side, away from the other two observers.
The creature, surprised by the attack, hit the ground, rolled onto all fours and quickly regained its feet. It glanced for a moment at the broken bone protruding from the top portion of its chest, hissed angrily at the man in orange and charged. Still calm and collected, the man in orange met the creature with a charge of his own. To Patrice’s surprise, the two combatants. despite being a blur of motion and fury, were surprisingly quiet. No yells accompanied the battle, no curses or cries of anger - only the occasional grunt from the man and the eerie hissing noise made by the creature. As the fight continued, Patrice became aware of a low, throaty growl rising out of the swirling melee. A hand on her tattered sleeve caused her to jump and she turned to see the man in the bowler tugging at her arm.
“It’s not safe here, we have a coach waiting for us up the road a-ways, out of harm’s reach, you should wait there.” his casual smile struck Patrice as absurd in light of the violence happening a few paces a way.
“Mais, votre ami…” she began, then remembered that the man’s French was weak. She started over “But, your friend - he is in grave danger, no?”
“I assure you, madam, Wendell is quite capable of handling this creature.”
A sudden roar accompanied by a wet ripping sound caused the pair to jump and turn back towards the fight, which now appeared to be over. The body of the creature lay in the mud of the road, it’s arms bent at unnatural angles, even for a creature which was itself unnatural. The right side of it’s pale, sunken face was covered by four large gashes. A few steps beyond, the man in orange - Wendell - was doubled over and appeared to be shaking.
“Wait here.” The bowler hat man turned and started to approach his companion. Patrice noticed that he did so cautiously.
“Wen, did it get you?” Wendell shook his head, but said nothing.
“Do you require a dose?” A short nod.
The man in the hat stepped gingerly over the mangled form sprawled in the mud and made his way to his companion, undoing the buckle on his bag and reaching in to remove a syringe as he did so. Setting the bag on the ground, he pushed up one of loose sleeves on the bright orange tunic and injected the man he addressed as Wendell with ... something - Patrice could not tell, as the man had turned his back to her, blocking her view. She could have sworn, though, before he stepped into her line of sight that Wendell’s arm appeared to go from being a normal at the shoulder to exceptionally hairy beyond the elbow. The young Frenchwoman shook her head, enduring the dull ache it caused in an attempt to restore some semblance of order to her scattered, frantic thoughts. The things she had witnessed this ill-fated day had surely laid waste to her sanity.
A short, whispered conversation passed between the two men, Wendell straightened, seemed to regain his composure, and turned to face Patrice, bowing slightly. She noted that everything about him appeared to be normal and in good health - discounting his strange attire. The man in the hat squatted by his bag and began to rummage through it as Wendell made his way over to the woman, who was suddenly very aware of how ragged and filthy she must have appeared.
“I am Wendell,” The man spoke softly with an unfamiliar accent; mostly English, but something else, as well, “And,” he nodded to the man in the bowler hat, who appeared to have found what he was looking for in his bag, “Mr. Theodore Baine, at your service.” Patrice noted that the other man had not been introduced as a doctor.
"Were you harmed by this creature?” He indicated the body on the road. Patrice shook her head. She opened her mouth to speak, to thank the two men for rescuing her from certain death, when she noticed the man called Theodore stand with what looked to be a flat metal implement with a handgrip not unlike a pistol.
“What is that?” she asked.
“Bonesaw.” Mr. Baine answered, looking down at the pathetic, mangled specimen on the road before him. Something in the tone of his voice sent a chill down Patrice’s spine.
“What do you intend to do with this ‘bonezaw?” she asked, nonplussed.
“I intend to cut off its head.” With that, Mr. Baine knelt down, set the teeth of the saw to the creature’s scrawny neck and pushed forward. It was at this point that Patrice Deline Benoite d’Chartres lost consciousness.