By Alicia Steen and Nathan Steen
Outlook: mountains, Jeshrun.
East and north of central Jeshrun mountains rise to rule the landscape. They conceal massive caverns and chambers beneath them, one of which has an opening carved out of steep mountainside. Here a figure stands overlooking Jeshrun, but he is not alone. Other large forms move behind him concealed by the darkness of the cavern.
Ecalai. Dark Moon, Jeshrun. Year After Shadow Two Thousand One Hundred.
Ecalai and the guide make good time on Dark Moon’s excellent roads. They soon stand on the outer edges of the village, where the road stops. The northern forest, complete with thick fog, stands before them. Ecalai searches the forest carefully for signs of shadows. All is quiet for now, but one can never be sure where shadows are concerned.
“The sun will set soon. Twilight is falling. When night comes the forest will be the most dangerous, as it is then shadows are most active.”
“They will also be most vulnerable,” Ecalai replies. “Shadows tend to expose themselves at night far more than they would during the day. We will be able to get through them more easily.” Ecalai adjusts his staff. “The quiet of this forest is bothering me, though. It is too quiet for a forest with shadows in its depths.”
“I too am uneasy. So far every time we encountered shadows we provoked a response greater than the last. If we do not tread carefully the next response could threaten to wipe out all of Jeshrun.”
“Then we won’t let that happen this time.” Minutes have passed, and Ecalai still senses no movement from the forest. His mind threatens to wander from the task at hand to memories of that fateful night in Nagaster. It is increasingly hard for Ecalai to stay focused, for all around him are reminders of the past. Even the cold wind blowing past him.
The guide breaks the silence. “Have you ever thought about why men fight shadow, Ecalai? These wars with shadows as we have known them have gone on for generations, yet nothing has changed. Can your actions result in anything different?”
“We must trust we can, or else we abandon hope.”
“Forgive me for saying so, but I have heard men say such things before. Nothing has ever come of that hope.”
“I believe the Ancient of Days has me here for a reason. Even if I do not live to see it, I know the day will come when shadow will be no more. He will not allow shadow to have its way forever.”
“I doubt shadow would agree.”
Twilight falls over Dark Moon but not one shadow can be seen. Ecalai wonders how long this stillness will last. He can’t shake the feeling that this is only the beginning of what is about to happen. Ecalai speaks into the stillness. “The way ahead is clear. It is time we moved out.”
Overlook: mountains, Jeshrun.
“Still afraid are you? All these years and you still fear your own shadow. We gave you all the power and strength you desired, but you have failed to use it.” The Nephilim steps out of the shadow, his long claws gleaming in the light. Lord Dragon raises a finger, halting the Nephilim’s movement forcefully.
“Don’t even try. I was there when the worlds were young. I am the Dragon Lord of old; you cannot hope to defeat me regardless of your immense strength. In the end even the sons of darkness must bow before me.”
The Nephilim gleams a cruel smile. “Do you really think you can control the darkness?”
Lord Dragon’s eyes flash with a glow of dark light. “Naturally.”
“Don’t make me laugh,” a new voice echoes from the cavern. “You are nothing more than a millennia-old joke long past his day. It is time Jeshrun learned of true shadow.”
A look of horror comes over Lord Dragon’s expression as the dark flame in his eyes fades.
Parkr. Overlook: mountains, Jeshrun. Year After Shadow Two Thousand One Hundred.
I reach the overlook where my senses tell me Lord Dragon awaits, but all that meets my eyes is an aged body devoid of its soul. As I step into the light a deep voice from the darkness of Jeshrun Below chills the sun’s warmth.
“Dying flames, withered cold,
“Coughing smoke, aging wood,
“Barren fields, empty fold,
“Who will yet stand where no one would,
“None yet stand where only one could.”
A large figure with the form of man moves from the darkness. Wrapped in dark fur blacker than the void, armed with an unbreakable frame and even sharper cruel claws, this is not just a Nightbringer, it is one of the Nephilim. It stretches to its full height, filling the entry to the caves. “Here you stand last, young Dragon Lord.”
Shem’s silver scales gleam as he meets the Nephilim’s challenge. “First of the Nephilim Kings, my cold has yet to wither, and my flame is fed by the Undying One. You will meet your end beside your former master.”
The Nephilim sneers. “None command the Nephilim, frost dragon, and you do not speak from a position of strength. When your Lord dies even your great power will be for nothing. Will you wait another two thousand years for the Ancient of Days to fulfill his promise? He has not for he cannot!”
Shem is unfazed. “Patience, Nephilim. Your place in judgement is already reserved.”
“You will not live to see it. Shadow dragons have no place under our shadow, but they have their uses while they remain.”
Three shadow dragons challenge Shem from the sky, and he drives his wings to the air to answer them. I remain on the overlook, for if I try to join Shem I will be dead before I reach him. Shem will deal with those shadow dragons; my opponent is the Nephilim before me.
Everything about this scene troubles me, the vanquished Lord Dragon, the lingering magic, the Nephilim waiting for Shem and me. Not any Nephilim either, this is the First King. Whoever is now commanding shadow, he has definite plans for the future.
Plans he does not wish me to be part of.
Ecalai. Northern Forest: Dark Moon, Jeshrun.
The forest itself is strikingly different from the lands of clan Toledoth, Ecalai can hardly believe this is part of the same forest. It feels as if this section of the forest has been under the influence of shadow for an untold age. Signs of life all around seem to have slowed to a crawl. From what Ecalai can tell, the trees and bushes barely grow. The few mature ones show clear signs of great age. Even the wind seems to be reduced to a permanent light breeze. Ecalai wonders whether the life is slowly being drained or if the forest remains because that which still lives refuses to be extinguished.
“This forest is one of the casualties of the shadow wars fought here for many centuries. Looking at it, it is easy to imagine the painful struggles that have taken place here. This is just one example of the pain Jeshurun has had to endure.” Glancing at Ecalai, the guide adds, “You are from Nagaster, aren’t you?”
“Yes I am. I was there when shadow first came to Nagaster. I witness what can happen when shadow catches a people off guard.”
“Then you know what it is like to take the bitterness of the shadow wars. It is a pain too many have had to live with. I myself have witnessed many battles of the shadow wars here in Jeshrun, so I know well what it is like.”
Ecalai gives the guide a long look. “What’s your story? I’ve traveled with you for a while now but I still haven’t heard.”
The guide pauses a moment before answering. “I have been here in Jeshrun for a long time, but it is not where I was born. I come from a land that was engulfed in civil war. I and my people constantly dreamt of living in freedom like we deserved, but we were ruled by an oppressive king. As the war that followed turned against us we were forced to flee from the land that had been our home. That was when shadow came. Things were never the same after that, and eventually I came here. It seems so long ago now. What about you?”
“Nagaster still hasn’t recovered from what happened. Many of our cities, including our capitol, remain under shadow. We lack the strength to drive shadow back, though it has been several years since it first came.” Ecalai takes a deep breath. “No one seems to have forgotten the horror of that day or the firestorm that raged through the night. Since there was nothing more I could do there, I began traveling with Erianna and Mykai. We ended up here in Jeshrun.”
A long moment paused before the guide spoke. “It is here, you know. The same shadow you and I both know is here lurking deep within this forest. You know what that means, right? The same nightmare you and I lived is awakening in Jeshrun.”
“True, but Jeshrun is not the same as Nagaster was. The shadow caught my people by surprise, but that will not be the case with the Dark Moon clan. Whatever happens, they will stand firm as sure as the dark moon rises, and that gives me hope.”