At twilight, the winds slowly die out. As the scorching sun disappears below the horizon, the prairie seemingly comes to life. The dry, parched plains, once a lush grassland hundreds of years ago, are now mostly barren and cracked. Nothing survives the heat of the day. Yet, that unforgiving terrain still gives way to life during that brief window when surface temperatures drop to a tolerable range, but before darkness consumes the landscape. The wood thrushes and meadowlarks venture out of their nests in search of food. A rouskin—a sort of longer, much leaner descendant of the long-extinct city rats—lurks in the dry grass. The predator, ready to pounce, shifts its weight and springs forward …
A wooden arrow pierces the rouskin in mid-strike. The animals are not the only ones who hunt in the twilight.
As the sun disappears and stars light the sky, the hunter, Nehmen, sits by a crackling fire. A single, recovered arrow sticks in the ground by her side, while a skinned rouskin cooks slowly over the flames. The waning moon rises in a few more hours, but she’s eager for some good light. She knows the blackest nights are only days away.
Finishing her “breakfast” and extinguishing the fire, she grabs her pack, tucks the single arrow into its holster, and shoulders her makeshift bow. The path is dark, but the moon is coming to light the way. She sets off toward her destination: a red-orange glow on the western horizon.
She hesitates as she approaches the edge of a dense forest, not wanting to go in. Nehmen could lose days, if not weeks, trying to go around. But for all she knew, her destination, the orange-red glow was just on the other wide, surrounded on all sides by the massive forest. Whatever the forest hid, it wasn’t likely to be good.
A shrill scream pierces the night air, interrupting her thought process. Drawing her bow and taking a defensive stance, Nehmen watches a small, shadowy figure run out of the forest. As the scream continues, she quickly recognizes a person fleeing, not attacking. She notices a horrific buzzing sound as a flying creature follows the figure and rises high above the forest.
Without hesitation, Nehmen rushes forward and instinctively draws a blanket from her pack. Spying a ditch off to the running figure’s side, she tackles it to the ground, covering them both with the blanket. Trembling together in stunned silence, the pair listens to the horrific, low-pitched drone of the creature. The sound grows louder, almost unbearable, as it swoops down toward their position. Moments that feel like eternity pass, and the beast flies on.
Only after several minutes of silence does Nehmen dare pull the blanket back to find herself face to face with a young girl. Barely older than I was when father died, Nehmen thinks to herself. The girl was much smaller, blond, and very pale.
She speaks, but not in a way Nehmen understands. Some of the words sound familiar, but only bits and pieces that don’t at all resemble the carefully articulated way Nehmen’s father spoke. But the fear in the girl’s voice is universal, and Nehmen realizes a word she keeps repeating is the girl’s name for the creature that had attacked them: brummen.