What are they?” Kyra’s whisper was almost silent, but it seemed to fill the space anyway. She clung tightly to her mother, Evia, who stared fearfully out the window at the hooded figures approaching.

“They are Malic’Uiel,” Evia said quietly. “Creatures of darkness. They are death.”

Emmerich, Kyra’s father, stood by the window, weapon in hand, ready to defend his wife and young daughter against the coming onslaught. He turned to gaze at Evia when she spoke. “How do you know this?” he asked.

Her smile was pained. “We all have our secrets, my love.”

Em glanced out the window again. The Malic’Uiel grew closer. He took a step toward his wife, then stopped. “I’ve heard the rumors…I know people are running.”

“I didn’t think the rumors were true,” Evia said. “I prayed they weren’t.”

Kyra trembled in her mother’s arms, wishing her father could hold her as well. She’d heard the rumors too, from her friends who were there one day but gone the next; their homes abandoned, belongings left behind, the doors hanging open like giant mouths gaping at the sudden departure. Kyra had gaped too, over and over while one by one they disappeared. With each disappearance her world seemed to close in on her. She clung to her mother now, her head barely level with her chest, and wished she was small enough for her mother to cradle her as she once had.

Risking a glance out the window, she instantly regretted it. The men coming were taller than Emmerich by at least a foot, cloaked in a black shroud that hung heavy on their shoulders but wisped about their legs like a fog. They stood straight and terrible—an approaching doom. She couldn’t see their feet; they seemed to float on the blackness, coming closer with every passing second. Their faces faded in and out of the shroud, never staying visible long enough for her to determine whether they were gruesome and terrifying, as she perceived they would be, or beautiful, as the rumors had whispered.

Their hands were pale, with long fingers wrapped around strange devices that Kyra thought might be weapons—but they weren’t weapons she understood. These devices didn’t seem as if they’d been created to destroy. They were similar to snares her father used to catch small animals—loops of rope dangled from short rods, and at the end of each rod were two large hooks. As Kyra studied them, she realized the hooks could shoot out if needed and they would pull the rope out behind them, wrapping around whatever they were targeting. But if the hook missed…Kyra shuddered. No person could survive if that hook buried itself inside them.

It took a moment, but Kyra suddenly understood. These men were hunting. Kyra and her family were the prey.

She glanced again at her father, sick to her stomach. They couldn’t stay here.

Em hadn’t moved from his place by the window, but his eyes flickered back and forth between his family and the shrouded enemy approaching.

“Evia,” he said quietly, “I need to know what you know. You cannot carry your secrets any longer, but we have to get out of here first. Go get the bow and the extra dagger. Pack whatever provisions you can, and you and Kyra go.”

Evia glanced up, her face stricken, but did as he requested. It wasn’t long before she had a full pack slung across one shoulder, a quiver of arrows across the other, and a slender dagger strapped to her thigh.

“What about you, Em?”

“Go out the back way, stay low, and get into the woods as quick as you can. Remember where we used to meet, before our union?”

Evia nodded.

“Go there and wait for me.”

“You can’t fight them,” Evia said, her tone low to keep from frightening Kyra. It was useless; Kyra could hear the strain behind the words. “You see them out there. You’ll die.”

Em took Evia’s free hand and gripped it. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to fight them. I’ll only make sure the two of you are safe, and then I’ll follow right behind.”

“You promise?”

“I promise.” Em stooped until he was eye to eye with his daughter. “Go with your mother, Kyra. Listen to her. I’ll be right behind you.”

“No,” Kyra whispered, “Please.” She was safe with Em, protected. Without him–she glanced at her mother. Would they be okay?

Em kissed her forehead, and then stood to gather his wife in his arms, leaving a long, lingering kiss on her lips. “Hide yourselves well. Don’t show yourselves to anyone until you see me coming.”

Evia nodded, then darted for the back door. Kyra followed, keeping her hand tightly clasped in her mother’s. As frightened as she was, she tried not to show it; she tried not to tremble, and she bit her lip to keep from crying. This wasn’t right. Her father should run with them.

Just before they slipped into the woods, Kyra stole one last glance at the house. The window was empty. Without her father watching over them, the house looked hostile. Thankfully, her mother’s hand held her own. The warmth was a comforting reminder she wasn’t alone. She didn’t know at the time that her mother was about to become a broken, painful memory in her life.