The leather coat was old and thick, the hat dripping with water. White smoke left her mouth, her boots were heavy. Through the door, into the wooden house. Not the most recent construction, but the fire in the chimney was all the comfort she needed. It beat sitting outside under the rain, begging or talking to the puddles of water to stave loneliness or observe the dark clouds, unsure if she would see the next day.
Before she had a chance to sit at the fire, a hand in a leather glove is extended before her, expectantly. Nothing is free. She took a handful of ashes from her pocket and gave it to the stranger. He had a name, once. Living for so long took its toll, what had once been was slowly swallowed in the oblivion of memories. His place of birth and name was long lost to the fog of ages.
The stranger carefully smelled the ashes and gave a nod. It smelled like violence, hungry beasts lashing out, broken bones remolded into otherness beyond comprehension. The huntress had done her work for the day and had earned her place by the fire.
Outside, fog crept along the ground, awaiting the end of the rain to rise and swallow the village. Beggars and fools saw the ill portent, hurried to the illusion of safety inside, or begged to be let in. The most foolish of them didn't move and saw little point in caring for the meager thing that was life.
The stranger sat with the huntress. His traits were sharp, and lights from the fire gained an edge when dancing upon his face, the face of one who hadn't seen the sun in forever. Which only meant he had lived longer. The huntress was comparatively young, yet hadn't felt the warmth of the sun upon her skin in years. The fog acted as a filter, or the clouds, or the flocks of ravens rising like an army in the distance, to ravage the fields and kill the children with a thousand punctures of their needle-like beaks.
The world had stopped caring. Whatever held a semblance of order and calm to existence had left for parts unknown. What remained crawled out of the shadows and the black corners of the earth, less a conscious maliciousness, and more a ravenous abstract. It was not one creature she killed, just a shade of the melancholia and fatalism that had taken over.
The rain petered out. The fog rose. The fire dimmed, casting the room beyond the huntress and the stranger into shadows. Knocks at the door. The desperate and mad frantically searching for safety.
They wouldn't open. Only those ready to kill their previous lives and commit to a very short and brutal new existence could cross the threshold. The huntress and the stranger fought for them all alright, but they hadn't survived so long by opening the door to any knocks.
Tomorrow, the same. The looks, the fear, the reverent tone hiding poison.
Another knock at the door, followed by a scream followed by a sharp slash, and silence.
The drip of blood.
A knock, heavier than before.
The village was silent. Scholars called fight or flight the instinctive response to danger. One instinct took over right before said answer. Silence. Of the prey ready to run away, of the hunter ready to pounce, of the terrified parent hushing a child, not wanting to draw the attention of what lurked outside. Of the huntress and the stranger, who would fight for their lives dearly, yet wouldn't mind if they finally died and had it over.
The door was shattered by an unrelenting force, a hulking amalgamation of fears and savagery burst through, hungry for blood, more single-minded motion than a beast. She felt her shoulder break just like the wood had under the impact, he heard before he saw the thin limb impaling it through the torso.
It didn't see, couldn't comprehend that those with little to die for were ready to trade lives.
Only when a limb fell short of hitting a prey did it take a step back, felt the life dripping away from it, pierced and sliced by the cold, emotionless steel.
It stood, the thin life of existence on the verge of breaking.
They rose, to die at the slightest whiff of the wind.
The assault was silent, swift, and sharp like a needle.
The creature fell backward through the door, on the corpse of the beggar it had sliced in half.
As it fell, the fog lifted. The huntress and the stranger stepped outside to other doors opening cautiously. Beggars and fools were thrown outside with little courtesy, and empathy was in short supply at the end of times.
They saw the scene and understood. Some smirked, and others cried.
All walked towards the wooden house.
All stepped across the threshold.
"I joined for the sake of revenge," said the stranger to the huntress as he watched the ghastly procession shedding away one life for another, "and I claimed it, saw the light leaving the eyes of the one who molded me, made me. I remained in this house, it's not a life you can walk away from. I wish I could. But you? You didn't need the means to achieve vengeance. This place offers nothing but suffering, exhaustion, and an unceremonious death to come for us as we lie wounded in a ditch to be forgotten. So why? Why you? Why them?"
The huntress looked outside, to the rain that was picking up again, the mud where a beggar had sat, where she had sat not so long ago.
"It beats sitting outside in the rain and counting the drops."