It was said that humans once walked the earth, but few believed the stories. Humans were just monsters made up to scare children into behaving. Ghost stories to tell around the fire at night. Monsters made up to be the bad guy in every story. Leni certainly didn’t believe.
That was, he didn’t believe until they pulled the body from the river.
It wasn’t a fox vay like everyone in his village. It wasn’t a vay of any sort. No fur covered its body. It’s feet were flat and strange, though it looked like it could walk upright like them. It had no snout and an odd, pointed nose that was far too small to pick up a scent trail. By all accounts, it was a human straight out of the fairy tales and horror stories.
Sadly, the human creature was dead when they found it. There was no way to ask it where it came from, but it was pulled from the river. That meant it came from somewhere in the hills.
Leni volunteered to search for the source. He was young and knew how to hunt and track. He wasn’t married and had no children, so he was the best choice to search.
Three days into his trek, he spotted a group of crows circling. Something must have died. It could be more humans, Leni decided. It was worth a look.
Descending into the gully, he found not a body, but a strange, round cave. He’d heard of such things before in stories: pipes. Humans made them to move water. In some stories, vay used them to escape the humans that kept them as slaves.
Above, the crows cawed and circled. What were they after, Leni wondered. One crow was perched at the entrance to the pipe. When he approached, it cawed at him, then flew off.
Leni paused at the opening. The air carried a musk of rusting metal, rotting wood, and something else. Something dead.
His heart thrummed in his ears. Stories said humans captured vay and tortured them for fun. Some stories claimed humans killed and skinned vay so they could cover their furless bodies. If the creature they found was human, he could be walking into a trap.
Leni gulped. He would be careful, he told himself. He wouldn’t be caught, and if there were humans, he would warn the village. Taking a deep breath, he stepped into the darkness.
It was damp in the pipe, but not completely dark. Light came in from behind him and there was light up ahead. The further into the pipe he walked, the stronger the smells. Something had definitely died near by. What, he wasn’t sure, but it was bad. Leni pulled her shirt over his nose, but it did little to block out the smell. His stomach turned, trying to induce vomiting. Thankfully, he hadn’t eaten anything this morning.
As he approached the second opening, the smell was over powering. His eyes watered and he did wretch a few times. It was coming in from the opening in the pip above him. He needed to know the answer, though. What happened in this place could be important.
Leni’s dark hands reached up and tested the sides of the opening in the pipe. It was brittle and rusted. Parts of it were wet, like water collected on it. That would explain why this one spot had rotted away. His finger gripped and pulled on the sides until he found a spot stable enough to pull himself up with.
Leni counted down from three, then sprang up.
The moment his head popped up, he just about doubled over. The smell was horrendous. It was like the time his father took him to the ocean and there had been a dozen dead sea animals on the beach rotting there.
Dropping down, he yanked down his shirt and vomited on the floor. When it stopped, he panted for a moment. His heart pounded so hard, he could feel it in every part of his body. “Please be an animal,” he whispered.
Taking another deep breath, he hoisted himself up. This time, he threw himself to the side so he wouldn’t drop back down. He landed in a pool of rusty water and wretched a couple of times before getting a hold of himself. When he did, he looked around. He was inside a temporary, patched up building. The most solid wall had words in red painted on. Death to the monsters, it read.
Curiosity overtook the wretched smell. He spotted a door hanging open and stepped outside. The smell was coming from out there. It was quiet outside. Only the caws of crows could be heard. No people, vay or otherwise were out there.
His whole body went numb as he peered out. He was in some sort of fort with broken wooden walls. Other buildings were around, mostly broken and a few burned.
And the ground was littered with half eaten bodies.
Scavenger birds of all sorts crowded around, picking at the decaying people. Some people. Big people. All dead. All of them.
All like the creature from the river.
Leni doubled over and dry heaved for a couple of minutes. Every time he thought he had a handle on it, he would catch a bird pulling a bit of flesh from a body and wretch all over again.
He crawled back into the little house and stared at the wall with the words. On the ground was a knife made of fine steel and wood. It looked like one of the blades his village traded for. This was done by a vay.
Leni rubbed a hand over his face. But why, he wondered. Why kill all these people? Why kill small ones? Surely children couldn’t harm anyone.
His looked over the words again. Death to the monsters.
Like in the stories.
Leni hauled himself to his feet. He had to warn the village.