The horse greets me when I come into the barn to feed him. We only have each other now, and we've developed a sort of friendship. I've been tempted to bring him into the house, but I really don't know how he'd get inside. He's an uncommonly large horse. My husband once called him Abelard, meaning brave, but those memories are too painful. I do not call him by that name any longer.
It has been many days since I was afraid to step outside. The forest swarms with terrible things since the kings fell, and I have not seen another person in an age, but the horrors have left me alone. I don't really care anymore. It's too lonely. I don't have the courage, nor do I think it right, to take my own life, but I am not averse to death anymore. I am tired of being alone. But I'm not stupid. My only times outdoors are my walks to and from the barn, hardly twenty paces. I'm not so foolish as to go wandering through the woods, seeking my death.
The sun is shining as it hasn't in an age. There are often hoards of possessed crows that crowd the skies and block the sun, but they are not flying today, not in this region. Perhaps they have moved on. Perhaps they have found a place to feed.
I believe in God, who has made this earth. I know He has a plan for this part of the world being taken over by beasts and demons. The rest of the world is safe for our sacrifice. Because of my faith, I do not fear possession by the ghouls or other demons. My soul is safeguarded. I only fear now the Aswangs and the Elns, and even the Elns were here before the fall of the cities. They helped to usher in the fall.
Though I know my death by these creatures would be decreed by God and thus good, I don't pretend that I'm not afraid of the pain that would come through these creatures. Aswangs are bloodthirsty beasts that walk about looking like humans in the day before changing into horrible winged creatures at night. They feed on the dead. They prefer the dead to have been gone several days, so they have made nests where they stockpile the bodies of their killed and wait for the proper time. They have killed thousands, so I'm not really surprised that they haven't come for me. They have food for an age.
Elns are large, about a human and half a human in size. Their flesh rots all the days that they are alive so that they stink most terribly. They are also blind and sometimes take to running on all fours so that they are closer to the scents of the ground. They can also walk upright, however, and I have heard that this is a terrifying sight because you can see how large they truly are then. The senior officers of their armies ride on great black beasts that would just as soon turn on their masters as on a human. They are kept in line through electric prods that are administered every so often.
I spend my days in the barn talking to the horse, who is my only company, but I take care to secure the barn and lock myself in the barn an hour before nightfall. All Aswang attacks, and most of those by the Elns, occur at night. I have no candles anymore, nor matches for a fire, so I eat my roots and berries in darkness and silence before taking myself to my bed in the cellar, where I sleep with the knives and swords my husband left behind. I am relatively safe, I suppose, but I never feel it.
It is during the afternoon, on the first day of my third month alone, when I hear a voice. I start so violently, I send the horse into a frenzy, but there's no time to calm him or lock the barn. Already I can hear more voices, and I run into my home as fast as my feet will carry me, shutting the door just as I see something exiting the forest into my clearing. It shouts, and I hear the rush of feet and swords approaching my home.
I race to the cupboard where I keep my husband's best sword, and I situate myself in the corner behind a large bookshelf, desperately praying that I won't be seen. I stifle a scream as the door is kicked in.
"Hello!" a voice shouts.
A human voice! My mind races as I frantically try to figure out what to do. I can hear the horse shrieking in terror in the barn, and more and more footsteps enter my house. I am at the mercy of whoever this is.
"Stay where you are!" I shout, jumping from my hiding place and holding the sword straight out in front of me. Lord knows my husband tried to teach me how to hold the weapon, but all sense and thoughts are leaving my head in this moment of fear. My voice betrays me by quavering fearfully as I take in the huge men standing before me.
There are about five or six of them crowding my front room, all burly and strong and scruffy. If I had my way with them, I'd send them all packing down to the stream to shave and clean themselves. The house already stinks of them. This thought is so incredibly wrong for this situation, I can't help but chuckle to myself. The leader of the group, the largest of them with a thick black beard and braided hair, looks at my strangely at this sound. Great. Now they think I'm crazy.
The leader takes a cautious step towards me.
"Don't come any closer!" I shriek, unable to even try to pretend I'm not afraid of him.
He stops immediately and holds up his hands. I'm not exactly reassured by the knife he holds in one of them. He doesn't seem to notice the weapon, nor the distress it causes me.
"We don't mean you any harm, my lady," the man says softly. I'd think his voice would be harsh and rough, but it's actually quite gentle. "We are simply passing through the wood looking for those who may have survived the war."
My heart wants to believe him. Oh, how I wish I could believe him! I'm so tired of being alone. But Aswangs clothe themselves as humans in daylight, and I've never seen one face-to-face before, so I've no way to tell if those standing before me are actually human or not. I'm doomed either way. All my life, human men have had their way with me, save one. On the flip side, Aswangs will simply kill me and then take me to their nest. I begin to shiver uncontrollably at these torturous thoughts of my fate, and I can tell the men…the creatures…notice my fear.
I shriek and drop the sword on the floor with a loud clang, so frightened am I by the loud voice. But the voice has distracted those standing in front of me. However, just as I move to pick the sword up again, another man comes rushing in. And this one I know is a man.
He is my husband.
"Thornton," he repeats, coming to stand in front of the leader without noticing me, "you have to come out and see the horse in the barn! It's—"
"Kai," I choke out. I can say no more.
He turns abruptly at the sound of his name, and his eyes widen in shock. "Oh my God," he whispers. He makes no move to approach me.
I gape at him, utterly dumbfounded for once in my life. Oh no. No, no, no, no, no. This is not happening. "Kai," I murmur again before my voice fails me.
"Kai!" one of his companions exclaims with a laugh. Neither of us responds.
"I…I thought you were dead," I whisper, desperately looking for answers in his eyes.
To his credit, my husband looks just as shocked as I am. I can't say he looks happy to see me, but I doubt that I appear that way either.
"Kairon," the leader, Thornton, says authoritatively, "who is this?"
His leader's voice seems to shock Kai out of his stupor. He glances from Thornton to me, and then back to Thornton. "This…" he begins hesitantly, "this is my wife. Amanda."
"Amy," I whisper, hoping he hasn't forgotten his nickname for me already. The look in his eyes shows me he remembers.
There's a long, awkward silence, during which time I basically review my entire life, from the time I married Kai until now. How had he escaped? He was supposed to be dead. Apparently he'd thought that I was dead too. It was understandable, considering where I'd been when Dearth fell.
"Well." Thornton speaks awkwardly, breaking the silence. "We have to leave now, before night falls." He glances hesitantly at me. "Are you aware of what we are running from, my lady?"
I nod, his direct question helping to focus me and bring me back to earth. "Aswangs," I murmur, unable to keep the fear of the terrible beasts out of my voice.
Thornton inclines his head toward me in a way that I suppose meant I was right. "This land will soon be abandoned," he says sadly. "We are the last to leave. How have you survived here for so long, by yourself?"
I shake my head. "I don't know. I haven't seen anyone, human or not, for weeks. I don't know if they just haven't noticed me…"
Thornton's brow furrows. "It's possible." He inclines his head as if he's listening to something. I recognize him now as one of the great lords of Dearth before it fell. It was always whispered that he could communicate with his comrades across vast reaches of land. Perhaps that's what he was doing now. "We must leave," he repeats, not giving any reason for his abrupt shift in conversation. "Night will fall soon. We must be in a safe place."
It's all too much to handle at once. I'm leaving. My husband is alive. I'm not alone anymore.