When the shadows grow, no one stays out of doors or strays too far from the light. You will dread walking down narrow streets or alleys, fearing a possible tap on the shoulder, or the brush of the elbow when no one else is around. You may never see what is there until it’s too late. Things hide in the shadow and the darker they get the better the chances there are to die. They are the Quan and they wait in the murky depths for souls to steal…
As the sun started to settle into the western mountains, Captain Khole has the horns sound for retreat. There could not be any more battle today if they were to live through the night and fight again tomorrow. Never has anyone been arrogant enough to fight on through the night. Only stories of battles past were there any wars fought at night. He watched his troops come in from the battlefield and not until the last wounded man crossed his path would he even turn to ride back to camp. There should not even be a fight going on between us, he allowed the thought to roll around, occupying his mind as his troops limped back in retreat. These two Lords had been friends since time began for all it matters. Things tend to change and friends become enemies right before your eyes if you’re not careful, but this is an unmerited battle for which there will never be an explanation. We are only here to protect our king and if we fall then he is doomed.
Watching the forces move slowly back to the camp, the Captain noticed he had only two-thirds of the brigade remaining. He had lost a small compliment on the field while his troops took out more than half of theirs. Not letting the sorrow set in at the moment for the ones lost today, he had duties that must be attended to as he reached the encampment. Soon those bodies would be lost to the night and to the creatures that roamed the night – by air and land alike. By morning, some of those not dead would face a new horror, being eaten alive if they were overlooked by a field medic. His men were good about not leaving wounded soldiers behind, but there were those few with such shallow breathing that it was never seen by the glancing eye of the field medic, so ended up left behind. Captain Khole never liked the prospect of leaving any soldier behind, dead or alive, they should all have proper burials.
As the priests followed their nightly rituals with archaic blessing from long-dead gods, the troops accepted replacement talismans for the ones lost in the last skirmish. Captain of the Ordesh legion made sure the cook fires were burning bright and not for the sole purpose of cooking, either. Once the soldiers finished gathering their food to eat did he get his own. While eating the beef and noodles served from the dried stock wagon Captain Khole thought about the pugnacious quarrel and how he might end it even though the General might have other plans. This conflict needed to end quickly and the only way it could be done is to raid the other camp at night, Captain Khole contemplated. No one is ever willing to give up his or her life to a fight at night.
What scared the soldiers were not the enemies at hand, rather the things that lurk out amid the trees and brush after twilight came. To what end did Captain Khole want to put his loyal troops at risk with a suicide mission and attack the Damyon forces, under the cover of night. He would, of course, lead this desperate raid on his opponents because he could trust no other with what he planned to do. As he went to his General to get the proper authorization, a small stout man followed him through the growing shadows between the tents without being noticed by the Captain.
Seeing Metilda through the lower windows of her apartment as she got ready for the farewell dinner in their honor, Windlow had second thoughts of having her on the trip. This was going to be a long journey that should last at least two years; if they were ever successful in finding the one man or woman who would save their lands and the world. She wasn’t the best-qualified person for this type of search, but her father had thought otherwise. You can’t argue with the High Council on your luckiest day, Windlow thought to himself. That is what you get for wanting to take a big endeavor like this without thinking of the consequences where the leader to the high council is looking to get rid of his troublesome daughter. He must really want her out of his sight, was all he could think of at the moment.
Windlow decided that his best route to this whole unfortunate situation was to just let it flow its own course or the journey would be doomed from the start. Now, he should rush to his own quarters to ready himself with his best formal gowns to be presented with the traveling medallion; for he is the first to leave the lands in over one hundred years. Oh, they have left their provinces in the past but they have never taken a step outside their borders physically. They observed beyond their domed kingdom through waiting pools in the temple and giving little nudges of guidance from there as they watched lives unfold. In this small way, they have helped all of humanity through hard times.
The group of people leaving today would be only four, but three of them came from different backgrounds – experts in their own faith. The only one that had no real formal teaching in any of the faiths was Metilda. She never allowed time to learn from a single one; not spending too long on any one faith by becoming astute in all the faiths. She hoped to take a seat in her father’s council when a spot opened. This would keep her voice unbiased to any one faith and allow proper judgment to any transgression that crossed the council’s antechamber.
As Metilda went about the room preparing for the night’s festivities, she seemed to be preoccupied with the prospect of seeing what it was really like out there in the world. Brushing her hair in the mirror, she thought about the last talk that her father gave her. He was adamant about her staying near Windlow at all times and that she should listen to all he had to offer while on their trip. It was odd that he could put so much faith in one man to oversee his only daughter on such a long journey without think that they might end up as a couple by the end of it. She would never let it happen because she had never liked the pompous royal snot in the first place. Metilda was overcome with the thought about the horses carrying them out. They were the best that could be raised with the knowledge of this venture set in stone before she was ever conceived.
They were the most beautiful creatures she had ever seen with unique attributes like: extra stamina, size, and a bit of magic no one would let her know about. She just couldn’t get over the thought of leaving; not because she would leave friends and family behind but the troubling thought of how they would return. It was one thing to depart from the lands, but that was why they never saw anyone comeback – it bothered her now. Even as the horrible realization of never seeing her father and the kingdom she loved stuck in her mind, she couldn’t stop thinking of the prospects of what the people beyond could learn from her. Dinner bells announced to the castle of the coming meal and she had better get a move on before she made a late entrance giving the court something more to speak to her father about.