By Alicia Steen and Nathan Steen
Vytria. Blue Soul, Jeshrun. Year After Shadow Two Thousand One Hundred.
Now that it’s dark, the swaying lanterns of the ships are creating strange shadows on the cliff. They play at illuminating the caves and crevices. It is an unwritten rule in the Blue Soul: none go into the caves, and most importantly nothing comes out. There is a reason the now agitated gryphon guard the caves. A reason dark enough for even them to hesitate to disclose.
I use my wind to bring the sound closer.
I hear it again, a single spoken word, louder this time and in an unpleasant raspy voice. My body goes stiff, almost causing me to fall from my perch. The voice causes my wind to become a freezing chill.
The darkness in the caves becomes shadow that pours out in a flood. Dark creatures strengthened by shadow spill out in droves. I summon my wind to sound a warning bell of a nearby white ship; then bring forth all my strength to hold back the hordes and the black mist. Most of Blue Soul is sleeping. I must buy even a few moments, or Blue Soul will be…
“Lady Vytria! It’s all right. Put your strength into attacking those shadow beasts.”
My eyes alone move the ship captain shouting below me. He nods with a confident smile and clear, determined eyes. If I let go, shadow will cover all of Blue Soul, so what makes him so certain we will all come out of it?
Doesn’t matter. I will trust his words. I release my wind, and the wide open sea becomes obscured by shadow. Even the moonlight is blotted from sight.
Cyran. Dark Moon, Jeshrun.
Warning bells from all over banish even the thought of fitful sleep. Every member of clan Dark Moon is rushing to the cliff line. When I arrive there myself, my blood runs cold. Every shadow creature ever whispered, and many more that weren’t – all of them are pouring out of the cliff’s caves, spreading in every direction.
Blue Soul’s ships are pounding the cliffs. Dark Moon attempts to aid them, but too many shadows are climbing up to meet them. To make matters worse, shadow’s dark fog is flooding out with the creatures. It makes them stronger and hinders Dark Moon’s ability to fight.
It was on a night like this one that the warriors of Dark Moon earned their name. Now the words I’d heard recited make sense.
Our peace is dead,
Our light is banished,
Our promise of life lay in ashes,
And darkness takes the moon.
Our future is sealed,
yet hope arrives on silver wing.
We find our strength in darkened hour,
and declare this humble vow:
A dark moon shines upon our battle,
but never will shadow claim it.
I move through the lines, healing any I come across with speed and efficiency. This will be a long night. Even so, the warriors of Dark Moon have the spirit to keep going no matter what. I’ll make sure their bodies do the same.
Synrn. RedStone, Jeshrun.
The night is just beginning. Clan NaruNova would be sleeping, but rest is far from their minds. Tonight is a sight they’ll see only once. Every silver-streaked wolf and red-hued phoenix is leaving the RedStone in a mass exodus, all heading straight for Dark Moon. The NaruNova watch and wonder, but none have joined them.
“What’s going on here?” So Kaze is the first to ask the question. He’s the one who fought Kyle, the Leviathn Lord, just a few days ago.
An old man with grey hair, probably an elder, answers Kaze. “Shadow is moving in force once again. The result of some fool provoking it, I shouldn’t wonder. As members of the twelve creatures, both phoenix and wolf are duty bound to respond.”
Kaze asks the next obvious question. “Then why isn’t shadow attacking here?”
“We of clan NaruNova made peace with shadow long ago, when we ceased holding to the failed promise by the Ancient of Days. As we do not fight, we are not a threat.”
“So we just gave up?” Kaze does not like the idea of staying safely from a fight.
Ah, the old elder is angry now. He pounds his walking stick on the ground. “How long do you propose we should have waited? It had already been centuries beyond memory, and even more so since then. The Ancient of Days forsook us first when he failed to keep his lords, the signs of the promise, alive and well.”
“I know the story. Five hundred years after shadow the Phoenix Lord and the Wolf Lord, who founded our clan, despaired of their title and died. The land around them reacted to their despair and heaved up its lifeblood, creating the RedStone. They were the last two living lords.”
“So you do remember your history. Heed the old saying: never follow a wolf. You’ll last longer.”
“Boring!” I yawn. Both the old elder and Kaze look up at me with angry and startled faces. Not having anything more to say, I take to the air on my own phoenix. Before we fly completely out of earshot, I hear Kaze shout one last sentence.
“There’s no way I’m letting that guy have the last word!”
Ecalai. Toledoth, Jeshrun.
The very night Ecalai left Dragon Mountain, clan Toledoth was invaded by shadow. Even now the night is not yet half over, yet the constant waves of shadow creatures make sleep an impossibility. The guide said that this spike in activity is the result of Ecalai having dispelled the shadow around Dragon Mountain. Apparently shadow does not like to be messed with.
“This doesn’t make any sense. How can shadow think and act as if it were intelligent?” Ecalai wonders. “It behaves like a living thing.”
“Maybe there is a darker mind behind the shadow pulling its strings,” Mykai interjects.
“What puzzles me is how this shadow can exist at all,” Erianna adds. “Where does it come from and why is it here?”
Ecalai turns his gaze to the border of the shadow. The dark mist lies in an open field just beyond the line of trees where this forest begins. As he watches, the shadow slowly advances across the field. Another surge is coming, and soon shadow creatures would invade this area. “Whatever the case, we certainly don’t seem to be making even a dent. We are simply holding the shadow off, and we cannot keep this up indefinitely.”
Mykai nods. “The Toledoth are strong warriors, ever vigilant, but I doubt they can hold off the invading shadow alone.”
Erianna also nods her agreement. “Shadow must have a source. If we can cut it off, we might be able to put an end to what will otherwise be a never-ending battle.”
At this proposal, the guide speaks up. “There is one place we might look. Finding this vast shadow’s source might be impossible; however, stories speak of a vast network of tunnels and caves underneath Jeshrun. They were carved by one of the twelve magical creatures, the Faln, in ancient times, but they were all sealed away for an unknown purpose around the time shadow first invaded. If shadow does have a source, it might well be down there.”
Ecalai eyes the dark mist advancing closer. “It’s worth a shot. If Erianna is right, we must cut the shadow off at its source.”
“I agree, but getting down there won’t be easy. I too have heard the stories, and it has been ages since anyone has walked down there. I doubt even the Toledoth remember the locations of the seven gates of legend,” Mykai cautions.
“True,” the guide replies, “But the Toledoth might still have records of them.”
“Then that is where we will look.” Ecalai brings out his twin staves, each still broken on one end. “Right after we are finished here.” Ecalai braces to meet the oncoming waves of shadow creatures, but his mind wanders elsewhere. Could there really be a source of shadow beneath the surface of Jeshrun? Is it something that can be destroyed? All this isn’t adding up in his head. Can it really be that easy?
Cyran. Dark Moon, Jeshrun.
The more Dark Moon fights, the more of my respect they earn. Most warriors would at least be thinking of falling back before this unwavering onslaught, even with me healing them. I can heal the body, but the spirit is beyond my reach. Ultimately, that’s what takes the hardest beating in a fight like this. Not Dark Moon. I have yet to see a single warrior do so much as hesitate, even for a second.
I’ve never found warriors like this until now, unless I count Vytria. Even if I cure them, they still give up. So I gave up healing them. Not tonight. Not anymore. Dark Moon will never quit, so I’ll make sure they don’t have to.
Some help would sure be nice. As far as I can tell, I’m the only healer along this entire cliff line. As shadow thickens, the battle will only get worse. I take a momentary break to look around. Now that I think about it, shouldn’t we be swimming in shadow by now? Judging from the amount that’s spewing from the cliffs, I shouldn’t be able to see the barest outline of the moon, much less anything else.
A streak of silver. What was that? I walk closer to the cliff. There it is again, a silver bolt that banishes all shadow in its path. I stare up at the dark sky; then I see them. Silver wings. The gryphon are dive-bombing the cliff. They along with Vytria’s wind are keeping shadow in check. I smile. She’s most likely not even aware of it.
I grab a wounded Dark Moon warrior and drag him away from the very front of the fighting. Five moments later he’s as good as new, and jumps right back into the thick of battle. The night’s only just begun, after all. Anything could happen.