| A bird landed on a tree branch, and slipped from the morning dew. The small jay caught itself in midair, and flapped over to another landing spot on a rock. It was dawn the day after the festival, and morning birds had come out to eat, and to sing.
Suddenly the little jay screeched and chirped to warn its kin of approaching danger. Two large silhouettes loomed on the path, approaching fast. The jay chirped again up the mountain, a manner of beast moving quickly uphill. The small bird barely had time to fly off as the two figures dashed by.
Kitt awoke to the sound of a horn. After mumbling a bit about how unfair it was to wake him up so early, he put on some clothes and went outside to see what the commotion was. As his eyes adjusted to the morning rays, he was astonished and frightened by what he saw.
Two men on horseback were standing in the center of the village square. Both carried a shield on his back, with a bright green insignia, exact to that of the rider the day before.
One of the men blew a horn a second time. People had been coming out slowly, and now they came out quicker to see the cause of their disturbance. Most of the village was assembled now. Kitt saw many faces surprised and confused, then sink with realization as they remembered the day before.
“A good morning to you all,” spoke the man who had blown the horn, his deep voice resonating through the woods. “My name is Lieutenant Suulain. I am here on business of Lord Coruva. A messenger was to forewarn you of our arrival.”
Darcane came forward, still in his night outfit, “Why do you come on horseback? Horses are forbidden to soldiers with the exception of battle.”
“And how might you know our regulations old man?” asked the other soldier in a sarcastic tone.
“My name is Darcane,” he spoke loudly, “Captain of the Ruby division under General Sinton.”
The humored expressions on the soldiers’ faces vanished rather quickly. Both closed their eyes and bowed to Darcane. “Our apologies sire, we did not realize. We are disgraced, we would never have spoken to you so had we known.” Kitt looked at Darcane now questioningly. He had always been a very nice old man, but Kitt hadn’t ever thought of him as one to command respect so fervently. Now that the thought came to him, he knew relatively little about the man, even though he was one of the few people in town who bothered to even speak with him.
Darcane snorted at the Lieutenant’s apology, “Few people do, but yes we were forewarned, so tell us what business you are here for.” Darcane didn’t let it show, but he felt almost joyous again, barking out orders without need for respect, especially to those who were rude and muscled their way to the top, as he was certain these two did, probably undeserving of their rank.
The soldiers raised their heads and saluted “Yes sir,” they said smartly in unison. The lieutenant looked around, “but we can only give such details in private, they are not for the ears of innocents to hear,” he said looking at the women and children. “Is there a spot we can go to discuss this matter, where only those involved can meet?”
Darcane pointed to his own dwelling, “My house will do fine, there are only four men here for you,” he tapped the saddle on the horse, “that is if you’ll get off these blasted things.”
The riders nodded, and dismounted simultaneously, as if it had been rehearsed many times. Leaving the horses with Eyron, Jublis’ father, who was lame in his right leg from a rockslide at the quarry, the soldiers went inside with Darcane and the draftees, Kitt, Jublis, Shest, and another man named Dalf.
Once inside Darcane took a lamp from the side and placed it on his dining table. He brought forth some parchment and a stick of charcoal and placed them on the table, gesturing to them, “You’ll need these for a tactical report,” Darcane said, “Undoubtedly you have one.”
Lieutenant Suulain nodded, “Yes, we have received new intelligence, which is why we came on horseback, we were delayed studying the report, and if it is true every hour is important.” Suulain took the stick of charcoal and drew a shape on the blank parchment, “As you all know, this is the Yeterian Plain on which we live.” The coarse polygon wasn’t the most artistic of drawings Kitt had seen, but it was considerably accurate from what he’d seen in Vekia’s books. Suulain took the charcoal stick and went to the right side of the map, extending the top and bottom lines. Now a rectangular shape adjoined the map of Yetera.
Darcane’s eyes were wide, “the shadow plain!” he whispered.
“Maeos to be more precise,” said Suulain, “and this is the reason we are here.”
The other soldier, whom Darcane knew as a record keeper, retrieved a scroll from his sash and unrolled it. He looked at the men gathered in the small hut, “This is a report made to be read at all retrievings.” He took a look at the parchment, examining it for a second, finding his starting point. He then lifted his head up, so he would be addressing the group, but kept his eyes on the writing. “’January the 11th, the year 503 in the Fourth Cycle: a mass of creatures was seen near the border with Maeos, traveling west. Tracking has led us to believe that they entered the Plain from Maeos, and are approximately 14 miles inland from that border. They are in a unit, in a sort of loose formation; we believe they are an army, creatures unknown to us. They are large, like serpents on legs, with arms that extend as long a man’s entire body. Their scales are green and brown, but they are easy to spot on the snowy fields at this time. Their bodies are large and muscular, their heads are like a serpent’s, and their tails are longer than the rest of their body. They come in approximately the same size, and are approximately 7-8 feet tall it appears. They all share a defining feature; a piercing howl that causes our horses and men to tremble with fear. We dare not venture closer.’”
The record keeper lowered the report, “That is the designation of these creatures; Howlers. We do not know their proper name, but we doubt they even have a language, and if there is one, we would hardly understand it.
“We had our scouts track the army; they seemed somewhat lost, trapped in the wilderness. We then received this report:
“‘February the 6th, year 503 of the Fourth Cycle: The Howlers attacked the village of Pine Wood, approximately one hundred miles east of the Great Divide. Our scouting party of 15 had no chance to stop them, and the village had no garrison, there were no survivors.’”