Them. The Eaters, the Raveners. The Merozalghi.

It's a cloudy night in High Puscara. The city is a maze, organically grown up over hundreds of years, with winding cobblestone streets, alleys blocked by overturned carts and improvised barricades. Here and there, fires burn - some set by the soldiers to corral the Merozalghi, others set by the Raveners themselves. Either way, smoke is beginning to choke the air, and together with the clouds, only snatches of moonlight make their way through, casting shadows that look like dragons, or gargoyles, or worse.

I run through these maze-like, debris-strewn streets, my pulse pounding in my ears as I leap over bodies and wreckage, turning out onto the main thoroughfare. In the distance looms the Imperial Palace. The Emperor has opened the gates to get as many citizens to safety behind the palace's walls as possible. Within the keep, there's safety. There's sanctuary. Walls that even an Accursed would struggle to breach, and soldiers to protect us if any do get inside. My only hope is ahead.

There's no hope behind me. Father is surely dead - he was a soldier once and handy with a spear, but there's no way he could have survived against the four of them that were smashing down the door. Mother and I slipped out the back window while he bought us time, but there was one on the roof - it dropped from above and took her in the space of a ragged breath. She was being eaten alive, screaming in mortal agony, when I last saw her.

I force down my horror and revulsion and flee at a dead sprint. The Eaters are hot on my heels with their saw-teeth and barbed tentacles, and there is no way I'll make it to the safety of the Imperial Palace. No way. I hear the heavy footfalls behind me and their slavering snarls, drawing ever nearer. In a snatch of moonlight I spy another, springing from a rooftop and gliding down to land in the street ahead of me. Damnation. I see other citizens - women, children, old men - sprinting for safety too. Maybe it'll go after them instead. I silently pray, mouthing the name of Kitrakei as my frantic steps carry me closer - two hundred yards now, 150, but a shadow looms up in front of me. It's the Merozalghu I saw drop earlier, its tentacles lashing at me from every direction, all cruel hooks and dripping acid. Its weird saw-like teeth gleam bone-white in the scarce moonlight, bits of torn flesh caught between them. I don't have time to wonder whose it might be.

I dive into a roll. One tentacle slaps against my back, hooks digging painfully into my flesh, but they don't find enough purchase to stop me and I get back to my feet, but there's a second Eater there. This one has no tentacles but is brandishing a spear - at least maybe I'll get skewered to death before they start to eat me. I hear other footfalls closing in with a metallic clanking and the jingle of mail, and a surge of hope fills me. Soldiers, I think - they might even have arrived in time to cut down a few of the Raveners before they can claim another victim.

I don't recognize the uniform of the man who suddenly cuts in front of me, if you can even call it that - just a worn brown cloak with a clasp shaped like a compass over a black brigandine. His hair is wild, and his shield has seen better days, but his sword gleams cold and bluish in the moonlight. I see him turn and aim a flurry of quick cuts at the spear-wielding Merozalghu, baiting out a thrust and swatting it aside with his shield. The sword drives home, and the Merozalghu actually screams. They never scream, just snarl and drool and taunt, but this one screams. Where the sword struck, the wound is covered with frost. Ice, their bane. For just a moment I hesitate, watching as the warrior turns to face the second, but it's a moment too long: a tentacle seizes my ankle and flings me headlong into a post. My vision swims with stars, and then blackness...

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