I hope you have been enjoying my novel, and i appreciate all the comments you may have. Those of you who've read this from the beginning have obviously realized it is a fantasy, and i must warn you, it is long ( considered full length as far as fantasy goes ) thanks for reading... and i will continue to post for now!



CHAPTER 3
A Question of Compulsion

Time slowed for Dolek as he saw Kurt’s sword slip from Brighton’s grip and fall into the dirt, stirring up a small cloud of dust that rolled outward. He realized that Feldon had run him through, and he was running at his brother’s assailant before he realized he had drawn his own blade. A flash caught his eye and he felt the heat of a blazing red ball of fire upon his exposed cheek as it flew past him to strike a wide-eyed Feldon Taramoor in the stomach.
Feldon folded in half immediately, clutching in vain at his innards as they streamed forth. He collapsed, curled into the fetal position, and died in a pool of his own blood within seconds.
People began to scatter as the fireball burst. The entirety of Poflin had never seen the likes of such magic in their lives. Screams rang out as frightened and panicked people fled. Those who didn’t flee or panic watched the scene unfolding before them, awed by what they were witnessing and unsure what to make of it.
Dolek hurried to Brighton’s side. He could see Kurt was already there with Brighton’s head in his lap, and he was screaming something. A sudden blow to the side of Dolek’s body sent him flying and stars burst in his vision as he rolled on the ground. He sprang to his feet in a hurry, narrowly avoiding the sword that slammed into the ground where he had been laying moments before. Dolek held his sword at the ready and stood facing Feldon’s cousin, Ardam, who had hold of Kurt’s long rapier. The shining and nearly immaculate sword seemed a stark contrast to the dirty man who held it.
“Your brother had to die…it was his destiny!” Ardam spat as he thrust out his hand, sending an invisible ball of wind streaking towards Dolek, who only had time to see leaves and branches being whipped in his direction, before it slammed into him, sending him reeling backwards.
Dolek rolled to his feet once more and immediately readied himself for the next attack, planting himself firmly between Ardam and his brothers. He waited for Ardam to attack again, but the rotten-toothed man stumbled forward and fell on his grubby face, the hilt of Tyrn’s dagger protruding from his back. Dolek circled once, studying the remaining crowd for another assailant, and finding none, he dashed to Brighton’s side. He arrived a moment before Tyrn, who had not stopped to retrieve his dagger from Ardam’s back.
Kurt was holding Brighton’s wound with his hand, but his brother was losing a lot of blood. He had already ripped off Brighton’s shirt, exposing the wide puncture wound that pumped blood around his hand and over his brother’s torso at an alarming rate. “C’mon Brighton, hang in there!” Kurt said to his moaning brother as Dolek approached. “Dolek, Father, find Vormev, quickly. He’s the only one who can help him now…” he told them before raising his voice again to yell for his second in command, his shout filled with terror and panic.
Dolek began to run toward the rows of tents that had been pitched to the south of the village, but returned to Brighton’s side after the first five or six strides when he saw Vormev running in his direction, accompanied by two other cavalry members.
Dolek saw the life fading from his brother and he was momentarily glad that his mother was not there to witness the events. She had never liked violence, though she knew it was sometimes necessary.
Brighton coughed suddenly and crimson blood spouted from his mouth and ran down his cheek. His eyes were closed and moved about frantically behind his eyelids.
“You can do it, you’re a fighter,” Kurt encouraged him, hoping that he could hear. “You had bloody well better hang on, or I’m…” his voice choked off.
“Vormev’s coming!” Dolek said; his red eyes glazed with sorrow. “No…he isn’t going to make it is he?”
“Back…Everyone…Back!” Vormev shouted as he arrived at Brighton’s side. Everyone took a step back to make room for him, except Kurt, who still held his brother, though he had removed his hands from the wounds.
Vormev let out a deep sigh when he saw it. “I think, my friend, that I’m just in time,” he said to Kurt before dropping to his knees and wasting no time in placing one firm hand over the wound beneath Brighton while Kurt held him up. All was silent for a moment until Vormev and Brighton gasped simultaneously.
The wound on Brighton’s chest began to glow with a bright sun-yellow light that continued to grow in brilliance until it was too bright to look at directly. As suddenly as the light had appeared, it disappeared, and as it did so, so too did the gushing wound in Brighton’s chest.
Everyone present stared at Vormev. None except Kurt believed what their eyes had seen and so they gazed in turn from Vormev to the spot where, moments ago, a mortal wound was spouting a seemingly unstoppable amount of blood.
Brighton lay as still as he would, were he dead. His cheeks bore little color and his breathing was shallow and raspy.
“Is he alive?” Tyrn asked Kurt as he bent to check his son’s pulse. “Oh, thank the Light!” Tyrn said, his face beaming with relief. He felt the need to thank a higher power and raised his eye to the sky where the Father kept watch over his children in the world that he had formed.
“He’ll live, but he’ll sleep for the rest of the evening, and for most of the night. When he wakes he’ll be extremely hungry, but I assure you, this is perfectly normal.” Vormev’s raspy voice now carried a touch of fatigue and he swayed lazily upon his knees.
Tyrn looked at Vormev with admiration in his sharp blue gaze. “My family and I are in your debt, Vormev. Ask what you will, and it shall be yours so long as I may live,” he told Kurt’s hawk-nosed second-in-command as he helped him to his feet. It was not a light promise.
“You’re under no obligation to repay me for what I’ve done. It’s my duty to help my countrymen in any way that needs be. I’m sure, if the situation were reversed, your son would have done the same for me without a second thought,” Vormev told him.
Dolek plucked Tyrn’s dagger from Ardam’s back before wiping the blood from its blade on the dead man’s torn and faded robe as a sign of contempt. “I would never have believed what you just did, Vormev, unless I had seen it with my own eyes. Even now I’m still not quite sure of what you’ve done. I hope one day I’ll be able to learn such skills,” he told him with an awestruck expression as he flipped the dagger end over end, caught the short hilt, and returned the dagger to his father. “What I don’t understand, though, is why Ardam and his cousin tried to kill him.”
“What do you mean?” Tyrn asked Dolek, frowning in confusion.
“When Ardam attacked me with Kurt’s sword, he said that Brighton had to die, and that it was his destiny.”
“Destiny?” Kurt whispered.
“Yeah, but that’s not the oddest thing about the attack, though. I think Ardam was using one of those Arcanna, because he was…well, throwing balls of wind at me. Not only that, I think the two of them had planned this out.”
“Hmmm…it does seem highly unusual, doesn’t it? I wonder where Ardam would have learned the use of an Arcanna…especially Wind…It’s not the easiest to learn, I’ve been told. Would the two of them have had any reason to dislike you and Brighton?” Kurt asked Dolek, who just shook his head in silent answer. “Well, the two of you should get Brighton inside and into a bed. Vormev and I are going to have some explaining to do. I think everyone is hiding behind locked doors after witnessing Feldon’s fiery end,” he exclaimed with a grim expression. “Besides, I still have to inform everyone of the recruitment.”
The night of the Green Leaf Festival was supposed to be spent in celebration. It was instead spent in silence, as most tried to piece together just what exactly had transpired during the day.
Kurt spent most of the evening trying to explain what everyone had seen him do. Many people wanted a demonstration, but Kurt was too tired to generate fireballs for everyone. Vormev’s skill allowed him to use only the rare Healing Arcanna and fortunately there were no further injuries to use his skills upon.



The dream slipped silently around Brighton’s mind as soon as he closed his eyes, and all thought of Kurt’s fireball was extinguished. The darkness seemed heavier this time and he fought to remain standing as it forced to ground him. The presence he felt before, he fought now, or at least he thought he did. He could hear a voice in the darkness, though it was just a whisper, a corrupt and evil whisper that sounded to him as though a thousand voices were crying out in pain.
For some reason, while he fought to make ground through the darkness, he could feel a pain in his chest. It was a cold stabbing pain that seemed to become stronger as the darkness grew in force, pushing him into the ground.
Brighton was sick of fighting the darkness, sick of being afraid and in pain. He let himself be taken and the darkness slammed him downwards, pushing him through itself, almost as though he were falling. He didn’t feel like he was falling, but he was aware that he was descending.
As he descended further and further, he began to see the darkness for what it really was as it began to take form below him. He realized then that it was not pushing, but rather pulling him down towards it.
Suddenly, he stopped and gazed around in wonder as a new feeling boiled to the surface of his senses. The black of the darkness took form before Brighton’s eyes. He looked down towards his feet as they touched down and saw that he stood in a pool of crimson liquid.
A massive, black beast reared up before him and sounded a screaming call. The call was the whispering he had heard earlier, magnified a thousand times.
Clutching the sides of his head with his hands in an attempt to block out the sound, he winced in pain as the scream vibrated his jaw.
The scream stopped and Brighton released his hold upon his ears. Letting out the breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding, he opened his eyes and gazed up at the dark form in front of him. He didn’t back away from the enormous shadow, but instead held his ground, planting his feet firmly under the pool of crimson.
A bright light flashed suddenly, enveloping him, and when it disappeared, Brighton realized that the pain in his chest had dissipated, and the giant form had vanished, both dispelled by the light, for the three had faded at the same time.
Brighton felt weariness wash over him and he collapsed into a deep sleep. The dream had ended…for now.



The glimmering gateway snapped to life with a sparkling radiance, and the air seemed to shimmer with the power that Tarop’s precious tome granted him.
“It worked!” the excited sorcerer exclaimed, beaming with pleasure at the completion of his very first gateway.
Rhett eyed the village that lay through the sparkling gateway, thoroughly impressed at his companion’s power. He had never thought that travel through the means of Arcanna had even been possible, and yet Tarop had held true to his promise yet again.
Tarop placed the enormous tome into a pocket of his robe that was much too small for the book, and Rhett shook his head.
Behind the defender and his companion stood a dozen armored Trulls, each waiting patiently for their orders, and Rhett spun to face them.
“Remember, the villiagers are to be taken alive!” he said firmly. He knew that the beasts constantly hungered for battle and the taste of flesh, and he could ill afford to have any of the stupid creatures disobey him in their lust for killing.
Tarop ducked through the gateway and held it open for Rhett and his minions as they quickly passed through into the middle of the village under the light of the afternoon sun.
The residents of Kinman were all going about their daily business, unaware of their peril until the hulking forms of a dozen Trulls burst into their village, seemingly from nowhere.
Rhett wanted to complete his mission as fast as possible to avoid detection from any that may be nearby the villiage and the Trulls scrambled with expert precision.
All at once, chaos erupted as startled cries resounded everywhere. Trulls began bursting through the doors of houses, dragging men, women and children toward the center of the village, throwing them roughly to the ground, many of them unconscious.
One man tried desperately to escape, fleeing northward, but Tarop muttered a word and the man froze instantly, held by the power of the Wind Arcanna. He stuggled in vain to free himself from his invisible bonds but Tarop’s power remained unfailing, and Rhett strode over to bash the man viciously atop his head with the pommel of his sword. Tarop released his hold of the man, and Rhett dragged him roughly toward his fellow villiagers.
The unmistakable ringing of steel sounded suddenly and Rhett spun to see a sword wielding man in Dalonian uniform locked in a fierce battle with a Trull as he backed the enormous creature out from around the corner of a house with the skill of a veteran soldier. The man fought to protect two children hudling behind a wooden crate.
Rhett felt his jaw fall open not only at the skill of the soldier, but at the significance of the man’s prescence. Where could this man in full uniform have come from? Experience told him that he already knew the answer to his own thought. The man most likely belonged to a larger force, and was quite possibly a scout in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Rhett saw Tarop’s face twist into a perverted smile as his hand extended toward the soldier, and the man froze instantly, as rooted in position as the helpless villiager had been only moments before.
Tarop released his hold of Wind suddenly, and the Trull whooped with glee as it dropped its weapon and lifted the man above its broad head with thick blue hands. The man cried out in pain and before Rhett could shout his order for the beast to release him, the enormous creature tore the Dalonian soldier in half at the waist in a gruesome display of spraying blood and entrails.
Rhett felt anger swell within him immediately. He could not allow such blatant disregard for his orders to go unpunished. He needed only to point at the beast and a flaming ball of death left the tip of his finger, striking the Trull squarely in the chest and sending the beast reeling backwards into the empty house it stood before, which immediately began to combust from the reflecting flames of the fireball.
“Bar the door!” he shouted harshly to two of the Trulls who now stood beside him, and they did so eagerly and without the slightest sign of regret, even as the beast within the building began to shriek and pound upon the door as it was burned alive.
Another quick order had one Trull fetch the two hiding children, both screaming and flailing beneath its curled arms to join the rest of the villiagers, and a second order had another of the beasts fetch the soldier’s horse from around the back of the house.
“Is that all of them?” Tarop asked no one in particular as he eyed the small crowd of frightened and trembling villiagers clustered next to the gateway.
“I believe so,” Rhett replied as all of the Trulls now stood next to him, and all of the houses had their doors swung wide, except for the one that the flames of his fireball now consumed. “We must not tarry, for I fear that man may have friends in the area. Possibly too many for us to handle.”
“Well then…” Tarop said, and raising his hand above his head, a multitude of his own fireballs flew from his palm in rapid succession, each striking one of timber-built dwellings, erupting them into flames as well.
Without another word, Tarop ducked back through the gateway, stepping into the secluded forest grove south of Ishamere, and was followed quickly by the herd of villiagers, giant Trulls, one horse and a smiling Defender of the Throne.



By the time Brighton woke, the first rays of sun had not yet fully climbed the height of the Nerakan Mountains. He sat up in his bed and immediately felt extreme weariness, and a hunger that burned at his stomach as though he hadn’t eaten in a month. Then his gaze fell upon the Golden Leaf that lay on his bedside table and he remembered what had transpired the previous day. His eyes flashed to his chest immediately and his blankets nearly struck the far wall as he launched them from the bed.
He thought it must have been a dream when he noticed the lack of the wound he was sure he would find. Rubbing his chest with his left hand, he stood from his bed, still dressed in the leggings he had been wearing the day before. With a yawn and a very, very long stretch, he decided to set about gathering the things that he would need on his journey, after he fetched himself some breakfast, of course.
Striding to the doorway, his long legs taking him there in less than three steps, he reached for the brass handle and was almost hit by the heavy oak door as Kurt entered the room in a hurry.
Kurt moved quickly to sit on the bed of the small room and explained the events of the previous afternoon to Brighton, who listened with fascination to the entire tale and glanced at his chest a number of times just in case he had missed even the smallest telltale mark of the nearly fatal wound he had received.
“I wonder why the two of them would want to kill me…?” Brighton asked softly. He just didn’t understand what he had done to make Ardam and Feldon angry. “Well, at this point all I can really think of is getting something to eat…I don’t think I’ve ever been so hungry in my entire life!”
“Come along then…mother’s been in the kitchen for the past hour. I made sure that she was going to make enough.”
The Baughlin family ate a large breakfast of bacon, eggs, fresh strawberries from the family garden and leftover fried spicy potatoes. True to Kurt’s claim, Brighton ate as much as the rest of the family combined.
After breakfast, Brighton and Dolek packed the things they would need for their journey to Ishamere before meeting in the village square. Kurt, Vormev, Redra, Nikka and Luke all waited in the square along with a half dozen other members of Poflin’s community.
A cool breeze blew softly upon Poflin as the three Baughlin siblings said their farewell to their teary-eyed mother before bidding their father farewell also.
“I have something for you…” Tyrn said to Dolek when it was his turn to say goodbye, and he turned once to look at Annie. “I’ve been saving it for this moment since the day you were born, though I’ve considered giving it to you many times.” He held out a small wooden box the color of ochre for Dolek to take. “It was your mother’s…She was wearing it when she appeared here and was insistent that I have it when she was on her death bed. She kept it with her always and would often remove it to hold it in the palm of her hand. I understood that she wanted me to give it to you, just as I was able to understand how insistent she was upon your name.”
Dolek opened the box hesitantly, revealing a large golden medallion within. It was the most superb piece of jewelry that he had ever seen. The medallion was circular in shape, with a titanic black stone in its center, which in turn was circled by a multitude of tiny rubies. Around the outer ring of the medallion was scribed a foreign language, obviously, Dolek thought, the language of his parents’ native country. The medallion hung from a chain that was crafted of a metal as black as obsidian. If ever there were an item to help him find out where his blood hailed from, this was it.
“Thank you Tyrn, you will always be my father, but I must find out who my father should have been, and why my mother ended up so far from home. I’ll keep this close to my heart,” he said, a tear sparkling in his eye. He placed the medallion around his neck and tucked it into his shirt.
“I’m sure your mother would have wanted that, Dolek. Now go, my sons, and make your father prouder than he already is.”
The Baughlin sons all kissed their teary-eyed mother once more, mounted their horses and made their way north to meet up with the rest of the soldiers just outside the village. Kurt supplied horses from his unit’s line of pack-horses for those who were without a mount, and Mayor Hughes had provided extra supplies for the trip.
Brighton couldn’t help but feel excited about the journey he would be undertaking and knew the secret to his dreams of darkness and light waited for him somewhere. The sudden thought of his dreams brought tightness to his stomach. It was an issue that had to be resolved. He desperately wanted to bring peace to his sleep, and knew that someone somewhere on the face of Meldamoor would be able to help him.
The journey to Ishamere from Poflin would be as simple as following the Emerald River north along its banks and the first day was completed without incident. Brighton found himself thinking about the attack on him and his brother and he discussed it with Dolek, once or twice. He also had the chance to speak at length with Vormev, thanking him for saving his life, though Vormev shrugged it off, calling it his duty.
He told Brighton that Kurt and himself were the only ones in the unit who had the ability to use an Arcanna, and that anyone who could quickly climbed in rank, for with the birth of the Arcanna was born a new and most devastating kind of warfare.
Camp was made that first night on the grassy plains, which fronted both sides of the river for nearly its entire length. The horses were tethered in the wake of the their first day, to the rear of the camp, and the tents were pitched in several circles, each circle surrounding a large community fire, which was used for heating the large pot of turnip and lamb stew that was later passed around in small iron bowls.
They broke camp at first light the next morning, travelling with a light breeze at their back and a blue-sky overhead. It was well into the afternoon when Kurt’s scout, a grisly old veteran named Morlen, returned to inform him of a small villiage called Kinman on the horizon and supposed they would reach it just before nightfall. Kurt sent him out once more to scout the situation and ensure they faced no danger.
By the time they stopped and lit the cook fires at the end of the day, they were but a short ride from Kinman and could now see smoke billowing into the sky at a steady pace from the direction of the villiage. They had broke away from and already lost sight of the Everwood Forest and Morlen had yet to return, so Kurt sent a small patrol of five men to find him. A sinking feeling in the bottom of his stomach told him that something terrible had happened up ahead, and he suspected Kinman was the source of the fire.
After tethering Striker and pitching his tent in his circle, Brighton went to see Kurt in hope of learning what lay ahead. His brother’s tent was located at the northern end of the camp and when Brighton approached, he was confronted by an armed guard who seemed very alert. The sentry informed him that Kurt was speaking with Vormev, and so he would have to wait.
Vormev, however, pushed his way past the tent flaps and left the tent moments later, bobbing his bald head at Brighton as he strode past.
The sentry motioned toward the opening with a quick jerk of his gloved hand, and Brighton wasted no time, giving the man a nod of his own as he sped past him.
Kurt looked up from the small oak campaign desk at the front of his tent when he entered. The tent was fairly large, with enough room to fit a sleeping quarters and a frontal strategy section. A small fire burned in the middle of the strategy section; its smoke escaped through a small smoke hole in the roof. Kurt’s kettle steamed away unheeded atop the small blaze.
Brighton greeted his brother as he took the short, three-legged stool on the opposite side of his desk. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”
“No, I’m just finishing a few things up. I was actually going to come and see you at your tent when I finished up here,” Kurt replied as he finished scribbling on the paper in front of him before placing the quill back in its stand. “Was something bothering you?” he asked, folding his hands together and resting them on the table in front of him.
“Not really, I just came to see if you knew anything,” Brighton said with a grin as he adjusted a rumpled pant-leg.
“Of yet I can tell you nothing, except for the fact that my scout is missing. I sent a few men to see if they can find him and until they return I can tell you nothing. Kinman may be source of the fire, though it doesn’t make any sense. For our enemies to attack from the south, they would have had to pass through us unless they skirted around while we camped last night, but I doubt it. King Berrik is north of us and there’s no way they could have snuck past his patrols. The river isn’t crossable for miles from the western banks and I know they didn’t just pop out of the Everwood Forest,” Kurt explained while scratching at the stubble on his chin. “Something doesn’t smell right, especially when my scout doesn’t return when he normally should. I sent Vormev off with orders to double the watch tonight.”
Both men’s eyes shot towards the door as a soldier pushed his way through. He was a young man who looked as though he could not grow a beard if he tried. He saluted with his fist to his heart before speaking. “Excuse me sir, but there’s, uh, something that you need to see...” he said hesitantly. The fingers of his right hand twitched furiously as he spoke.
Kurt knew fear when he saw it, and it sparkled in the man’s eyes. “What is it, Krin?” he asked. He had always made a point of remembering the name of everyone under his command.
“It’s Olson sir…he’s dead!” the young Krinn answered shakily, wringing his hands as he spoke, his eyes wide with fear. “We found him, uh…north of the village. Well, half of him anyhow. It appears, sir, that uh…he’s been ripped in half.”
“And the village?”
“All have been reduced to ashes, sir. All except for two houses that were still burning when we arrived.”
Kurt rose from his seat so fast that his chair was sent toppling over backwards. Brighton rose as well and followed his brother out of the tent, neither brother sparing another glance for the young soldier, who followed them silently.
A crowd was grouped in the northern part of the camp, many of them talking amongst themselves, and one of the recruits vomited as the two brothers approached.
Brighton stopped beside Luke and Redra. Both were gazing in disbelief at the gruesome remains of the soldier known as Morlen. Kurt crouched down to examine the body of one of the best scouts he had ever known. The entire lower half of the man’s body was missing and a look of pure petrified fear still painted his face. It looked to Kurt as though someone, or something, had just plain ripped him in two.
“What kind of…what could have done something like this?” Kurt asked himself quietly, though he knew well enough what Olson’s assailant had most likely been. He stood and ordered everyone back to their cook fires, except for a few soldiers to take care of Olson’s burial. Returning to his tent in silence, followed by Brighton, he told his brother that he would ride ahead into the village himself to see if he could get a feel for what had happened there.
Brighton made it known that he would be accompanying his brother, and Dolek strolled into the tent, announcing his intention to go along as well.
Kurt summoned Vormev and told him to gather a few of the men for a quick trip north into the villiage.
“I don’t know what exactly it is that you expect to find brother, but I think it would be wisest to wait for morning,” Brighton told Kurt and got a sharp look as a reply, causing his cheeks to redden. He knew his place, but couldn’t help voicing his opinion.
“One of my men was ripped in half Brighton. Right in bloody half! I must at least have a look at this village or I’ll have no chance of sleeping tonight.”
“I’ll find Redra then. If anyone can tell you what’s going on, it’s him,” Dolek said as he pushed his way out of the tent, knowing he could not refute his brother’s logic in this matter.
Redra was one of the best trackers in Poflin and Kurt knew that quite well. After his parents had been killed, he had to hunt in order to provide for Nikka and himself, though that was not the only reason he was such a good tracker. He seemed to have a knack for it, just as Luke had a knack for the longbow.
“We’ve all heard the stories, Kurt, perhaps it was a Trull,” Brighton said in reference to the beasts, which, according to legend, were massive beings with little intelligence that lived in the darkness of the Everwood Forest. The stories that they had all heard as children pushed themselves to the front of Brighton’s mind. Trulls lived on the flesh of whatever they could get their hands on and were not above even the cannibalization of their own race. What they lacked in brains, they made up for in brute strength.
Vormev squeezed his way between the tent flaps, followed by Dolek, who had Redra in tow. “Shall we depart, sir? The men are waiting outside,” Vormev said, rattling his sword in its gilded scabbard.
Kurt deigned not to answer his brother’s question; it was not yet time to reveal their true enemy. He plucked his own sword from the oak table and sheathed it in his belt before placing his helm on his head. He nodded to Vormev and was the first one out of his tent.
A short soldier held the reins of Kurt’s horse, which was a magnificent war-bred stallion that he had paid heavily for. He had named the horse ‘Aldo-Fayr’, Or ‘Sure-Foot’ in the old tongue. “Thank you, Sol,” he told the short man as he climbed atop his mount.
Brighton, Dolek, and Redra made their way to the south end of the camp to fetch their mounts before rejoining Kurt, Vormev, and a half a dozen other soldiers.
The entire group was quiet on their ride north, each man scanning the horizon for any sign of a threat. The first sign of the village was the smoke and glow of the dying fire as the group topped a low rise and began to descend the hill into Kinman. The young soldier, Olrif, who had made the report earlier that day had been correct. As far as any of them could tell, the village was deserted, which made it unclear as to exactly what or who had started the fire burning away at two houses that oddly enough, were located at opposite ends of the village.
The village was very small indeed, consisting of perhaps one or two houses less than Poflin. They proceeded past the houses, which were made from the stone of a small quarry in the Emerald River.
Redra dismounted in the village to have a look around and noticed that one of the burning houses was missing its front door, but otherwise he found no other sign of violence within the tiny hamlet. He circled the house once and made his way into the middle of the village. It was clear to him that panic had struck Kinman. The smudged footprints of people who were running smeared the ground throughout the village, but he could find no prints leaving in any direction. He mounted his steed once more and caught up with the group just north of the village.
All were off their mounts and examining their surroundings. One of the soldiers who had been part of the party that found Olson had accompanied them. “He was laying right here, sir, and his horse was nowhere to be found.” The man was reporting to Kurt as Redra rode up and slid from his saddle.
“Find anything?” Kurt asked of Redra.
“One of the burning houses is missing its front door, but other than that, I don’t know what to tell you, it’s as if everyone just vanished.”
Brighton walked back through the village to peruse the burning houses. One of them still had the charred remains of its front door intact. Upon further inspection, he noticed that the door had been barred from the outside. Someone had been locked within when the fire had been set. Fearing the worst, he gave the door a swift kick with the sole of his boot, sending the charred remains crashing to the earth in a cloud of ashes.
The still smoldering fire dimly lighted the inside of the house. A piece of its roof crashed to the ground, startling him and sending another cloud of ashes billowing out the door. He peered inside and felt sick to his stomach as the smell of burning flesh wafted across his nose, bringing bile up to the back of his tongue. At the rear of the smoldering ruins of the small one-room house lay the burnt remains of what looked to be one of the largest men Brighton had ever seen, and he was no small man himself. He guessed the man would easily have topped his own span and a half by yet another half a span, which would have made him stand an enormous two spans at least.
“Hey, you had better come and look at this!” Brighton yelled to the rest of the group who were still huddled around the spot Olson’s lifeless form had been found.
Everyone came to crowd around the front of the charred house, quickly covering their mouths with their tunics.
Brighton stood back. He had had about enough of the smell of burning flesh as he could handle.
“And I thought you were big!” Kurt joked at Dolek who grinned his reply, his red eyes eerily reflecting the dying flames as they began to take their last few licks at the wood they so eagerly consumed.
“Is it human?” Luke spoke up, putting an end to the humorous atmosphere. “Look at his foot,” he said with a point of his finger. “That bloody thing is four hands long!”
Everyone’s eyes flicked in the direction he was pointing. A portion of the man’s leg and foot had escaped the inferno and lay on the dirt floor of the dwelling, partially covered in a blanket of ashes.
Kurt strode to his mount and fetched one of the few short spears he carried lashed to his saddlebags. When he returned, he stepped past where the door had been and stood in the middle of the house. With a quick thrust of the spear he stuck it through the severed leg just above the ankle and lifted it free of the ashes covering it before bringing it outside the destroyed dwelling.
He didn’t have to tell everyone to make way as he withdrew from the house, they all made plenty of room for him and the severed foot, which was looking bigger by the second.
“My guess is that a lot more of this fellow burned up than we originally thought,” Redra said when he got a good look at the massive appendage.
“Let’s have a better look, shall we?” Kurt said quietly. He knew the remains were not human, though he didn’t want to voice his opinion until he knew he was correct in his estimation. In one hand he held the short spear so that the foot was at his waist and with his other hand he flicked his fingers out and a small but very bright cylindrical ball of white fire sprang to life above his palm. It was momentarily unbearable to look at, but immediately dimmed in intensity.
All eyes turned towards the foot and silence followed. Kurt was the first to confirm that the appendage he held was indeed a far cry from human. At that point, he lost his grip on the spear, sending the foot crashing to the ground.
“Trulls…” Kurt spat as he regained his composure.
Everyone began to speak at once, some agreeing with Kurt and some arguing that there was no such thing as a Trull. One young man said that he had seen one before but no one had believed him.
“Quiet!” Kurt yelled, and was rewarded by silence. “Now look closely, and you’ll all see what I did the first time!” he said as he pulled his spear free and held the bright white globe of light at its tip, illuminating blood that was the blackest of black. Next, he lowered the light to the appendage that now lay upon the ground, revealing the pale blue skin that covered it. There was no use in hiding the identity of the creature from his men. “Now, unless any of you know a man who is more than two spans in height, has blue skin and black blood, I’m holding the foot of a Trull!”
“Light...” Brighton said softly as he forced himself to tear his eyes away from the gruesome trophy in front of him.
“This door was barred from the outside,” Brighton said, drawing everyone’s eyes. That creature had been locked inside for a reason and as far as I can tell, there were two of them. That’s why the door is missing from the other house.”
“The other Trull smashed it out!” Luke finished for him. “Perhaps it chased the rest of the villagers away?”
Redra shook his head in silence. He had not found any fresh footprints leaving the village and hoped that he had missed something in the darkness of the night.
“Perhaps…” Dolek said. “What we do know for sure, though, is the fact that there is a Trull out there right now and it’s strong enough to rip a man’s body in half,” he finished, glancing warily about the descending darkness that had begun to surround the village.
“I think it would be wise of us to return to the safety of the camp.” Kurt said aloud as he strapped the foot to his saddle where he decided he would leave it for the night to dispel any disbelief of their findings. He wanted every man under his command to know exactly what they would eventually have to battle. With a quick hop, he swung himself onto his horse. The rest of the group, who were just as anxious to return, quickly mimicked him. They rode hard back to camp, each man searching the surrounding darkness as they rode, each man’s imagination running wild.
The light of the cook fires from the camp was a welcome sight and the safety of camp even more of a relief. Kurt had ordered the group to keep their findings secret until the following day. It would do no good to spook the men in the middle of the night and he had already doubled the watch anyhow, so each man proceeded to his own tent in hope of getting at least a few hours of sleep.
Brighton decided to take watch that night, in hopes that he would tire enough to find sleep when he returned to his tent. Unfortunately, all he was able to find were thoughts of Trulls as he lay in his blankets. He found himself wondering, if Trulls were real, then maybe other creatures used to scare naughty children in childhood stories were real, such as the reptilian Lurr, or the small goblin-like, Sho-gul. At some point in the early morning, his wild imagination shut down, and sleep took hold.