Stalking was not in the nature of the Broodlord. It is a Leader beast, tall and imposing, uncaring of subterfuge when the Lictors and its Genestealer kin of the Collective where made in purpose for such a role. That was not to say that it was incapable of such acts, only that it was not bred for such acts. It kept itself as low as it could, hunched over, breath rasping in the night air, every inhale teasing it with the scent of pure meat.
Its clawed feet cut soundlessly into the hard desert earth, every step brought it closer, the scent of fresh meat was beginning to overwhelm what little control it had over reason. It fought back, pushed the smells aside with a closing of its scent glands. Another step, and then another. It kept its eyes on the high watchtowers, feeling the human-prey standing within. Relaxed, sleepy. They were of no threat.
Still. It payed to be cautious.
Sand under its clawed feet as the perfect cushion for its steps, it was surprisingly ginger in stepping over the barbed wire fence, great head swinging side to side, taking in the pack-rat farm, the water trough, the tufts of harsh desert shrubs spewing out of the ground, the animal droppings, the signs of the daily fight to scrape away the sand to reveal the parched earth below somehow still capable of bearing foliage only under the most tender of care. The scent of beasts. The Broodlord stalked across the field of brown plants of hoof marks, its own dwarfing those it stepped over. The moon was climbing- a shattered crescent, arching overhead, it silvered the outline of a dusty brown high roofed shed with great sliding doors that creaked when the Broodlord hooked a claw through the handle and pulled them open.
The inside of the barn was silent- fear-scent permeated every inch of it. The beasts, they could smell the blood-hunger of the Broodlord, they could feel its unnatural psychic blanket, probing their feeble minds. They were sturdy beasts, lean and hard, made for tilling even the hardest of grounds, they were not food animals to the prey of many, they were working beasts, all six of them. They were nothing but meat to the Broodlord. Meat to be consumed and converted into biomatter.
The mewling, the braying, the mournful mooing began now The Broodlord reaching into one of the stables and pulped the head of the first beast it could reach. It pulled the stable apart to get at the fresh kill, already long strands of caustic saliva splattered on the ground, steaming smoking strands, its body almost trembled as the fresh blood dripped down its throat, chunks of fat and meat soon pulped and shoved down in equal matter, bones were ground up and swallowed, organs mashed up and slurped down like so much spaghetti. It gorged, and fed, and consumed, and when it was done it tore open another stable- the animals are bucking in their pens, smashing against the gate- trying to escape, trying to survive, they shriek and they whine, the Broodlord kills them all, gobbling them down like so many sweets.
The twelfth one- the last- it wrings its neck, crushes its skull and pull its spine from the body, cracking the vertebrae, crunching them like candy. Swallowing the marrow, smashing in the ribcage, unhinging its jaw, forcing the entire corpse into its mouth, choking it down, letting it become ground up slurry as powerful acids break the offering down in a matter of seconds, its strength becoming the Broodlords.
The Broodlord belched, blood-steam hissed from the vents on its back. Silence ruled the moment save for the creaking of old wood, the continued nervous tension in the air, and ever the nightly winds whispering over cooling sands.
Then, the human began to scream.
She woke with a start, her heart beating fast and heavy in her breast. She pulled the covers over her head, squeezing her eyes shut, trying to keep the monsters out. They wouldn't leave. She confronted them.
The broken-moons light pooled in through the drapes, casting silver shadows across her bed and onto the floor. The whicker-branch tree just outside her window cast skeleton fingers into her room. The chill in the air did not abate when she pulled the covers slightly higher.
She heard the braying of the flock, her heart stopped beating for a moment.
Across the way, in the barn, she could hear the animals screaming. Muffled sounds, high pitched and whinnying, but she could hear them. Mr. Tubsy, Sparkles, and Melforte. She forgot about the skeleton fingers stretching darkly across her room, she through off the covers, pulled on her nightgown and shoved her feet into her ragged bunny-rabbit slippers.
She cross over to her door, making sure to pick up her whack-it-stick on the way out, the poorly greased hinges moaned as she pushed open the door to her room and closed it behind her.
He woke with a start. The rusted hinges to his daughters door grinding open. He rubbed his face with callused hands, the empty spot besides him all the more prevalent; he could still smell her. Her clothes were still in the dresser, he would have to clear them out- eventually- he swung his legs out, the cold wood floor sending ice up his calves, he blinked the sleep away, the moonlight shown bright.
He heard the baying of his flock, one dot connected to the other. His daughter heard it, as well- she was a notoriously light sleeper, the only thing that could motivate her to get out of bed were the animals. He heard the front door open softly, and close just as quietly. He slipped on his boots, and opened his closet- doubled barrels, black iron, it felt right in his hands, he opened the release and fitted two slugs in, a second of hesitation saw him pocket four more.
Then he was out of his room; his son heard the commotion, peeking, eyes bright, face scrunched up and curious. "Get your gun," He whispered, though there was no one else to wake up. "Sumthin' in with the herd." At this the Boy perked up, ducking back into his room, pulling on his shoes and a coat. He waddled out after his father; bolt action slung over one shoulder just like he saw the soldiers do it. He'd have to teach him proper- eventually. "Your Sis' ran out to check," He said evenly. "Told'ya it'd be better 'f she slept in your room."
"Too old fer that, dad." His son replied, it was a conversation his father had been pressing more ever since mom passed. The boy knew it was just because his father didn't want to risk the same thing happening to either of them. "She's fine, les just go get her, I'll take her back, you handle what's' ail'n the beasts."
She heard noises she wasn't familiar with, the sound of snapping, popping. What worried her though was the lack of noises she did know. One by one, the whines and moos of the friends she'd known all her life grew quieter- or just curtailed all together. The stink came next, and she covered her mouth and nose with a hand, her Whack-It-Stick held tight in the other, a breeze rustled her nightgown. She walked down to the barn; the steady beat of her heart picking up a tick.
It was light enough from the moon to see where she was stepping, to see formations in the ground. She did not see the massive set of claw prints as she opened the barn door- it was loose. Something had gone inside.
It took her a moment to register what she was seeing.
It took her a moment to pick apart the various pieces of flesh and meat and blood and bones, to make a shape out of the shadows. To discern a shape she wasn't familiar with.
She cocked her head to the side, a thing pulled the pieces of… of something apart, the sounds of wet smacking, the drip-drip-drip of a liquid, the rotten stench, the rancid stench, the familiar scent of a homely barn desecrated by a do-it-yourself abattoir. She blinked, rubbed her eyes, and opened the door a bit more- to let some moonlight in-
There was an eye. It was yellow and bright. It was looking at her.
It was watching from the barn entrance the Broodlord had so demurely opened. It must have heard the screaming of its cattle. The silence stretched into a quarter minute, each party waiting for the other to make the first move.
The Prey started screaming.
The Broodlord moved.
It was never a contest, the single step crossed the distance to the prey, and the claw cut cleanly through the neck without a hint of resistance. The body staggered forwards for several feet while the head was grasped in the massive talons of the Broodlord.
There was no more screaming, just the creaking of old wood; the tension of a wooden structure, the winds, the dripping of blood onto hay.
It had time now; the Broodlord ran its tongue over its teeth, cleaning the stained yellow bone of blood and viscera. It rolled the head in its lower pair of hands, eyes searching the dumb and dead face of what was once a 'human.'
Except it was not.
The ears were wrong, the facial structure malformed. Genetic triggers stood out from the average human-prey. This was most certainly not one of the Crafted Humans of the Warrior type. It was an Aberrant, the long ears aside the head marked it as such.
It popped the head into its maw, crunching it like a grape- waste nothing- it sauntered forwards, pulling the body into the barn and consuming it whole with a single bite. Bone, clothes and gristle went down without issue; it swallowed and grabbed a discarded piece of Beast that it had overlooked-
Shouting, yelling, screams. Panic- the air tasted of it.
Then there was shooting.
Something punched into its shoulder, ricocheting off and then two more light impacts that failed to even dent the heavy carapace of the Broodlord. Almost with a sense of leisure it raised its great head from the ruined carcass gripped in all four hands, and stared at the pair of prey-things. Two of them, armed with what appeared to be weapons. Long barreled instruments of wood and metal; they were aimed at the Broodlord respectively. It cared not. They were useless,
Ballistic-explosive-combustion weaponry, common to the human-prey and fungus-prey that resisted the pull of the collective, they operated on the principle that a fast moving metallic-type object would be able to terminate or incapacitate a fraction of the collective. It was partially viable, but it was nothing that a solid plate of ablative chitin-armor couldn't solve, as was now demonstrated. A flash illuminated the interior of the barn- subtly different from the regular bullet-weapons so favored by the fungus and human preys. The round snapped through the air, closing the distance between the half-human-prey and the Broodlord in the course of an instant. It crumpled against the bony carapace of the Broodlords chest, flattening and shattering before falling away. The Broodlord let its tongue slither out of its mouth, tasting the fear, the despair, and the hate.
It walked forwards.
The smaller not-human-prey tried to run, rather than fight, self-preservation taking charge in the end. The older prey fired again, projectile winging out and crumbling against the front of the Broodlord. The Broodlord lashed out, spearing the prey on one of its claws and lifting it up to regard it closely. The prey shared a passing resemblance to the child-aberrant; it must have been of the same brood. The blood confirmed it, genetic triggers pulled from the Aberrant-prey by its tongue told of direct heritage.
Its maw extended, the prey screamed past bloody lips, and the Broodlord ate it in three short bites, its legs slithered down its throat last, it could still feel the preys strangled cries in the pit of its stomach before stomach acid dissolved the preys vocal cords and tongue.
Something hard and fast struck its shoulder. A crack sounded to its left along the walls of the village. Another crack, something pinged off a rock just by its feet.
Another, and then another.
It turned, its eyes piercing the gloom. It saw the watchtowers in the distance light up as automatic weapons panned over towards its location. In the village a bell begun to ring, and soon there were several answering bells. Another crack, a round flattened itself against the Broodlords bony chest.
The volume of fire increased, a constant chatter hammering down from the nearest three watchtowers. Loud wailing screams mechanical in nature began to shrilly screech from the village dwellings. The Broodlord tucked its head down close to its body, its arms folding over it, bullets spackled off of its hide. It grunted and sniffed as a lucky round ledged itself between a break in the plates. A trickle of blood was instantly clotted. Sounds within the city, voices, alarms, crying, fear.
Heavy caliber bullets spacked against its back, without looking it stepped forwards, knocking through a fence, trampling seeds tended to with a fanatical discipline, it reached the watch tower, the shouting from above inside increased. It ripped a support strut out with one hand, the structure shuddered, leaning heavily, screaming from the cabin up top, more shouting, the Broodlord pulled, the structure began to list- and then it began to fall. It hit the sand, breaking apart, metal and glass mixed together, -more shooting- bullets impacted off its back,
It could smell them- the familiar scents. The scents of a world before it was consumed- brought into the collective. The scent of burning cordite, of blood drenching the ground, of smoke on the wind, the fear stink of the prey, the sweet saccharine odors of sweat and feces, the smell of burning metal and splintered bones, of roasting wood and shattered homes, the sweet fragrance of harvest. The Broodlord didn't even realize it had been moving when it tore the gates to the city off its hinges.
They talk of the day Asernyl died. The day the frontier city of Asernyl on the border between Vacuo and Vale went silent. The day when its people were found devoured, how the cities streets were filled with blood and brass, shell casings and strips of torn clothing and strips of mangled flesh and bits of bone. They talked about the carnage, the destruction, how there was so much gore, so much mayhem, but only did certain channels talk about what else had happened to Asernyl.
Asernyl was raided. Every house, every store front, every market and emergency vault- every single one was smashed in, torn open, ransacked of anything worth eating. The entire city was an empty- bloodstained- pantry. It was like some malignant force tore its way through the people, cutting them down and devouring them, before moving on to the sweets. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, desert, an entire frontier town of four hundred people silenced in a single night. Their legacy was a severed hand still gripping tight the trigger of its machine gun.
They blamed the Grimm- some new type of predatory beasts that eats what it kills and everything else- a denial organism that leaves nothing to be scavenged for the parched land of Vacuo. It was just another trial for its people to overcome, the CCT was down, the world was on the brink of another war, Grimm beasts attacked in ever increasing numbers, the white fang struck relentlessly, and a new faction of evil was rising. It did not matter to the people of Vacuo- they endured.
Nothing would change that. Not the Grimm, not the White Fang, not anything spawned from Remnant.