By Alicia Steen and Nathan Steen
Cyran. Fjord Road, Jeshrun. Year After Shadow Two Thousand One Hundred, First Cycle.
“Why are you here in Jeshrun?” I ask Kyle. Normally I could care less about small talk, but walking with this guy leaves a negative silence.
“I was bored,” Kyle answers. Yea, about like I expected. At least he’s talking. He strikes me as the type to keep his history to himself. What truly surprises me is he keeps speaking. “What about you?”
I’m tempted to simply repeat Kyle’s words, but he didn’t ask to hear a quick answer. “I was looking for wolves.”
“Did you find any?”
I did. “I found more than I thought.” A lot more.
Ecalai. Dragon Mountain, Jeshrun. Year After Shadow Two Thousand One Hundred, First Cycle.
“What is this?” Ecalai asks. His guide, without taking his gaze off the massive mountain in front of them, replies,
“This is the king of all mountains in Jeshrun. It is said that in ancient times men would gather at its peak to seek the advice of the Ancient of Days. It used to be a fertile land full of life. Now it has fallen into shadow and the air is still.”
Erianna gazes at the mountain thoughtfully. “So this was a special place.”
“Could be,” the guide responds. “Shadow has obscured much of what remains here. Whatever the legends say, you may find that this site’s true history is much different than you expect.”
Mykai turns her gaze to the guide. “You speak as if you doubt that there was ever a time before the shadow fell upon the world.”
“Ever since the world began men have been calling to that of which they know little. I would not doubt that there is much more to the world than men realize,” the guide replies as noncommitting as ever. More often than not, he guides not by showing the way but by expressing an opinion that causes Ecalai to choose one way or the other.
“I have heard that the shadow descended because men called for it,” Ecalai says. “I wonder if such men have ever truly understood with what they were dealing.”
“Make no mistake, entering the shadow may give you more than you bargain for,” the guide cautions. That’s the one fact he declares without hesitation: the shadow is dangerous. Even so, unlike most people Ecalai had seen, this man did not seem to fear the darkness.
“Don’t worry,” Ecalai responds confidently. “We’re ready for it.” The group continues forward as the guide leads them directly into the shadow covering the base of the mountain.
Cyran. Fjord Road, Jeshrun.
Talking with Kyle made me remember what I hadn’t thought about in a long time. I don’t really have a reason for liking wolves. Just a memory.
I met a high wolf once in the forest when I was younger. Though it – no, he – looked very similar to a normal wolf, there was no mistaking his identity. The dark grey wolf in front of me was slightly bigger than any wolf should be. He carried himself differently, with more dignity. Then, when he came closer, I saw markings along his fur that could only mean this wolf was a member of the twelve magical creatures.
I saw him many times after that, always in the forest. The Nirad began to avoid the forest around that time. When they did go there it was always in pairs, and even then they would come back wounded. Finally the villagers got fed up with it and killed the wolf.
The two men responsible were later found guilty of harboring poisons, and the Nirad took them away.
When Vytria and I left the village, the first thing I did was look for the high wolves. That grey wolf had said he was from Jeshrun, though he never did tell me why he came to our village. I learned that in ancient times the Wolf Lord lived in the RedStone, so there I went. I found a large population of high wolves still there.
Ecalai. Dragon Mountain, Jeshrun.
As Ecalai steps into the shadow he instantly feels the change. He can feel it around him; it seems as if the darkness itself is alive. Unless he is mistaken, the shadow also has a voice that seems just beyond what he can hear. Yet, in spite of its lulling nature, something about the shadow clearly feels wrong. Ecalai has no doubt that this shadow is evil.
“I expected something more suffocation in nature,” Erianna says. “This shadow feels less deadly and more…”
“Restless,” Mykai agrees.
“True. I can also feel it. It is as if this twilight is only the outer fringe of the real shadow,” Ecalai finishes.
“This shadow is still growing,” their guide says. “It will thicken as the shadow creatures come.”
Come to think of it, Ecalai has not seen or felt any shadow creatures nor seen evidence of them since they had set foot in this place. “What are they waiting for?”
“Could be any number of things,” the guide replies. “Perhaps they prefer the shadow thicker, or they are waiting for prey to come along.” Certainly not a comforting thought. “Whatever the reason, my guess is they already know we are here and are hunting us as we speak. They may be just beyond our vision.”
“Maybe,” Ecalai says, “but the signs indicate otherwise. I have watched shadows before, and this does not seem to be one of their hunting grounds. In fact, I would say they have purposely avoided this place. Someone or something has frightened them off.”
“So what are shadows afraid of?” Mykai asks. All eyes turn to the mountain. Ecalai can’t be sure, but there seems to be no other explanation. Why else would shadows fear the mountain?
Cyran. Fjord Road, Jeshrun.
“I thought the wolves stayed in the RedStone,” says brown hair and a piercing blue gaze. Add to that a soft-spoken nature, the kind that gets dangerous when provoked. If you can provoke him.
“Jeske.” So Kyle knows this guy. He can’t be all that bad if Kyle acknowledges him. This Jeske wouldn’t walk up so confidently otherwise.
“That rule doesn’t apply to me,” I respond to Jeske’s obvious question. “Kyle, you know this guy?”
I suppress my reaction. That simple word contains all I need to know. They’re probably best friends.
“We only spent three years on the same team in Gathyra’s school. We don’t know each other at all,” Jeske says. Definitely best friends.
Ecalai. Dragon Mountain, Jeshrun.
A breath of wind, a massive form, and eyes that revealed a soul of darkness. “Get down!” Ecalai shouts a quietly as he can. Instantly the group ducks into trees, bushes, and rocks around them. “Something is lurking on the mountain.”
Quickly scanning the surrounding area from her perch on a high tree limb, Mykai replies, “There is nothing within sight.”
“Don’t be so sure,” the guide responds. “Shadow has a way of concealing a threat until it strikes. You can’t always trust your eyes in shadow.”
Using his magic, Ecalai searches the mountain. Part of his particular gifting in magic is a sort of sixth sense that allows him to ‘feel’ his surroundings, recognizing threats before he sees them. “What do you sense?” Erianna asks Ecalai. Closing his eyes, Ecalai breaths deeply and continues searching for some sign of the creature he felt earlier. It did not take long to find it. “Wind, malice, darkness, and… fire.” A massive roar splits the air and shakes the mountain where they stand. “A shadow dragon.”
Another roar pierces the air as black flame envelopes the mountain’s peak. “We are in its territory,” the guide says. Another display of shadow flame lights up the peak.
Ecalai considers his options. Dragons are formidable creatures, and taking one down would not be easy, if it was even possible. If legends are to be believed, nothing short of another dragon can take down a dragon. Still, Ecalai decides he has no choice. He will investigate this mountain, and to do that he must kill this creature. “There is no way to kill the beast from here, and shadow will obscure it from sight if we go lower down.”
“Not to mention we would be sitting targets in the open field,” Mykai adds.
Erianna speaks up. “There is only one way we have a shot at killing this creature.”
Ecalai nods. “We have to reach the peak of the mountain.” Ecalai looks up, trying to survey the climb ahead. The mountain is steep enough that climbing will be difficult and exhausting without a shadow dragon hunting them. If the dragon finds them before they reach the peak they will be done for. It will depend on how good they are at climbing stealthily, if indeed the dragon has not already caught sight of them.
A third display of dark fire lights up the peak as the dragon takes to the air.
Cyran. Fjord Road, Jeshrun.
All I’ve seen is a long neck and a massive dark body obscured by water, but I have no wish for a closer view. And Kyle is standing on it. Him. That. Our walk from the RedStone has brought us to Jeshrun’s river, and to reach Port Town on the other side we must cross.
Easier said than done.
“What’s wrong? Can’t wolves swim in water?” Kyle asks. Apparently the Wielder of the Deep has no fear of the creatures that rule there. I’ve never been to a river before, much less the ocean, but even I know enough to recognize the power and majesty that is the Leviathn. The Kings of the Sea.
“Hey! Cross already! You’re scaring the fish!” A man with a pole and a hat yells from farther upriver. I’d call it respectful avoidance myself. The leviathn are matched in sheer awesomeness only by dragons. And Kyle’s standing on one. Maybe a wielder of the deep also commands its creatures.
“Are you sure he’s… safe?” What am I saying. Of course he isn’t safe.
“I’m crossing. If you don’t want to swim, get on.” At Kyle’s prompting, Jeske jumps on no problem.
If I wait here, Vytria will fly me over later.
“I’m getting on.”