“Aadita, wake up! The Aeternae are attacking the village!” It was her mother, Dhanya. Her voice trembled with fear that seemed infectious. Aadita felt that fear, reasoning and attentiveness infused her every fiber, chasing away sleep faster than Aadita had ever known.
Aadita needed no further prodding. Just the thought of those naked wraiths with the giant, serrated bones protruding from their heads was enough to send Aadita flying from under her covers. She pulled a pack from under the bed, trying to think of what to pack. She stood, looking around her room, confused where to start.
“There’s no time for that!” Dhanya insisted. Her aged hands gripped her daughter’s shoulders. “The Aeternae are cutting through the town as we speak. We need to go!”
“We have to go to Tanveer!” Aadita insisted.
“You’re better off without that boy,” her mother insisted, pushing her daughter toward the stairs. “He’s no good for you.”
“Your father’s dead, his decision doesn’t matter now!”
“How?” Aadita wondered, racing down the stairs on bare feet, her mother in hot pursuit.
“The Aeternae,” Dhanya told her. “Get your shoes on, we need to go out the back.”
Aadita could hear the terrified, dying screams of neighbors and friends. A fierce noise somewhere between a growl and a scream drifted on the cold air—the Aeternae. She shivered, tugging on her shoes and followed her mother through the narrow hallway to the kitchen. As they entered the kitchen, a bang sounded at their door.
“Go!” Dhanya insisted, pushing Aadita toward the back door. “I will stall them.”
“No!” Aadita insisted, tugging her mother away from the kitchen. “We leave together or I’m not going!”
Her mother growled, and reluctantly gave ground to her daughter’s insisting hand.
It was a cold night. There wasn’t a cloud in sight allowing the light of the moon to illuminate the forest that shrugged up behind their home. It felt strange, leaving home, Aadita knew she’d never come back to this place. Once the Aeternae claimed a place, they haunted it forever.
She’d seen one of the villages they’d inhabited before. She hadn’t gone in, but she had crouched in the woods longer than was smart, studying the human skulls on pikes along the village edge. The buildings were in disrepair and gray smoke like mist filled every street. She’d caught the sight of a couple Aeternae inside—shadows slipping through the fog.
She shivered thinking what would become of her home now and her life.
Her father was gone, Tanveer gone and with him the prospect of marriage to an abusive man. She was relieved, more than anything, that her father was dead. He was no good for them, whoring his wife out for money and marrying his daughter to a rich and powerful man with a known reputation for abuse.
Aadita shivered, wishing she’d grabbed her jacket, but there was no going back now. She heard the front door splinter as it was battered in, and the fear it fueled in her sped Aadita and Dhanya into the darkness of the forest.
There, under the canopy of trees the light of the crescent moon refused to touch. It was an eerie place at night, especially when she considered what was hunting them.
Will they let us go? Aadita wondered, stopping short when she heard a twig snap to her right. She refused to breathe for several long moments, until a figure of a deer darted away from the humans. She exhaled a long breath and pulled her mother with her.
The forest was another world by night. She’d been here many times in the day to escape home, Tanveer, and the snooty people of the town who were always checking on what she was doing, or wondering why she hadn’t married yet.
They passed her favorite tree to read under, and a twinge of loss resonated in Aadita. She would never sit beneath the tree again and fantasize about some faraway land she’d never visit.
Rustling to her left brought Aadita out of her sorrow and the flash of white streaked by them. She was sure it was a deer this time, a flicker of white as it fled the humans, announcing to other deer that danger was close at hand.
“Stop,” her mother breathed.
“What?” Aadita whispered over her shoulder.
Her mother wasn’t looking at her, however, her dark eyes were wide and stared at a spot just over Aadita’s shoulder. She was terrified to turn around and see what her mother saw. Every nerve in her body shivered and tears bloomed to her eyes. She knew what her mother saw, she knew what was behind her.
The Aeternae had found them.
Woodenly, Aadita turned around. She was so full of fear that she could barely register her train of thought over the insistent scream in her head to run.
There, behind her, crouched a naked human. Its skin was sallow and he was so thin it appeared to be stretched over his bones. His eyes were black; his lips cracked, and his nails chipped and green. Protruding from the top of his head was a long, serrated bone like the cruelest sword Aadita had ever seen.
She stepped back, closer to her mother, but she wasn’t fast enough. The Aeternae was on her in a flash, his serrated bone slashing out and taking her through the throat.