By Nathan Steen
Ecalai stands in the doorway of one of the seven gates leading down into Jeshrun Below, unwilling to go inside. After coughing through mountains of dusty records, the group had finally located one of the seven gates. There had to be one here. After all, this mountain on the edge of clan Toledoth’s territory was the only active volcano in the area. People of ancient times seem to have enjoyed placing important places and gateways in obscure, unusual and dangerous places.
Behind Ecalai the side of the volcano is black with streams of hot lava endlessly flowing downward. “Is this safe?” he questions as he takes in the scene.
“No more than usual,” Mykai replies.
True enough. Ecalai steps through the gate into a short corridor that leads to a sizeable underground chamber. Just like the surface of the volcano, lava flows freely throughout the chamber in channels and tubes. In places in can be seen through transparent rock walls and ceiling of the chamber, flowing freely like a river. Ecalai has never seen such a sight before, and he had no idea how it was even possible. He gazes further down the chamber, watching lava flow on and downward until dark halls conceal it from view.
“What we seek is likely further down in darker regions of Jeshrun Below,” the guide says in his usual tone. Ecalai examines the ground and instantly finds evidence that shadow creatures had been through here recently. He is clearly on right track.
“I had been wondering if the tales of the origin of the caverns were exaggerated at all,” Erianna says as she takes in the view. “Seeing it for myself, I have no problem believing the Faln dug it all. Their magic permeates the walls of this chamber.”
“It certainly is an impressive place,” Mykai agrees. “But why isn’t it covered in shadow?”
“Who knows?” the guide replies. “It does seem strange that a place could have shadow creatures but not the shadow itself. It could simply be located further down.”
Ecalai shakes his head. “It’s hard to tell from here. There is so much magic about this place that I am having difficulty sensing anything beyond what we see.”
“Then we might encounter anything down here. We had best advance slowly until we know more about this place.” The guide cautiously peers further down the chamber.
“Like where is the shadow.” Mykai joins him not so cautiously.
“And why this place was sealed away,” Ecalai finishes. “One thing for sure, the staggering amount of magic in this place means it’s dangerous in a different way from an abandoned mine. These caverns show no signs of decay, so they must have been sealed because something was down here. The question is, is it still down here.”
Well, finding the shadow creatures had not been hard. Groups of them are everywhere. Ecalai, Erianna, and Mykai have already run into and slain several. Ecalai though hasn’t been paying much attention to these skirmishes. He is more focused on studying the natural magic of the place.
Inlaid and woven in Jeshrun Below, through the walls and structures of every cave and corridor, is a staggering amount of magic. Never before has Ecalai seen such a complex weave. It breathes and pulses like the heartbeat of a living entity, as if the lifeblood of Jeshrun flows through these walls.
“You can practically sense just how old this place is by feeling the magic that flows through here. It seems like these walls have seen Jeshrun’s entire history and might tell you the tale if you stop to listen,” Erianna marvels.
Mykai is also looking around at the walls in wonder. “With so much magic in the area it is hard to imagine there is or ever was any shadow here.”
“Shadow has not always been the dark clouds of twilight you know well,” the guide explains. “In fact, most of the time it prefers to act unseen and unnoticed in the places you least expect it. Shadow is most dangerous in times when it chooses to take physical form.”
“How do you mean?” Erianna asks.
“Don’t you know of the Nightbringers? Those huge creatures born of legend are the kings of darkness and terrors of the night. You would do well to be more wary, for it the heart of shadow really is down here, Nightbringers will not be far away.”
Erianna considers the guide. “How do you know so much about shadow and Jeshrun’s history when no one else seems to know anything?”
The guide pauses a moment before answering. “When you live in Jeshrun long enough you begin to see things few others ever do. Jeshrun itself is a legend, the land of legends and myths. When you see legends with your own eyes you never forget it. It shapes you.”
Ecalai stays silent. The conversation brings back old memories of Nagaster, his home world. He too had once been face to face with a walking legend. His first encounter with a Nightbringer isn’t one he’ll ever forget. Nightbringers are monsters beyond all imagination. It is no wonder men naturally fear the darkness.
The caverns around them had also been quiet for some time with no shadow creatures to attack them. The caverns had been getting gradually darker as the group pressed deeper into Jeshrun Below. It reminds Ecalai even more of the first moment he faced a Nightbringer.
Deep in the darkness of Jeshrun Below two shadowy figures watch the group of young lords make their way further into the depths. With a low growl the younger of the two says to other, “Here he comes, as expected. Let me go and finish them. He won’t escape me a third time.”
“Hold,” replies the older. “Let them wander a little longer. Don’t forget your purpose here.”
The younger nods. “Yes, of course, if that is the way it must be. I prefer to kill him now, but if the shadow wishes I will instead destroy him slowly. What of the beast down below? He could complicate matters if he shows.”
“Let the shadow creatures occupy his attention – he is of no concern. Such a situation might play to our advantage. All you need to do is keep your focus.”
“Do not worry. No one can conquer Nightbringers in their own lair.”
All is still in the darkness of the cavern, without sound or movement, yet the two figures can no longer be seen. The Nightbringers are gone.
As the group enters as large, dark chamber Ecalai turns all his senses on full alert. Something feels different about this room. His senses tell him the object of their search is nearby. His alertness transfers to Erianna and Mykai, who ready their weapons. Have they truly found the source of shadow? or has something found them.
A voice emerges from the darkness. “It has been a long time, Ecalai. I thought you would never get here.”
Ecalai grimaces. He knows that voice. “I didn’t realize you missed me that much, Ramuel. Here I thought you had forgotten about me.”
The young Nightbringer lets out a growl which sounds more like a laugh. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m just here to take care of old business.”
“What’s going on?” Mykai asks. “You know him?”
“His name is Ramuel. He is a thousand-year-old teenaged Nightbringer with a massive ego. We met some years ago.”
Erianna lets out a short laugh. “Just like you not to say anything until now.”
Ramuel cuts off Ecalai’s reply. “I know why you are here, Ecalai, and you have come on a fool’s errand,” he taunts. “You still don’t understand shadow any more than you did years ago.”
“I don’t have to,” Ecalai replies, staff in hand. “You’ve just made my next course of action crystal clear.”
Ramuel snorts a laugh. “That confident, are we? Then let us settle this and find out just how prepared you really are.”
Ecalai braces himself to react to the slightest hint of movement. Like most Nightbringers, Ramuel is fast – really fast. Ecalai will have no warning of his attack. Still, the young Nightbringer does have one major flaw, one sure to throw him off his game. Ramuel isn’t used to being hunted.
Ecalai strides forth confidently into the darkness, and the hunt begins.