The land was like iron...
Once upon a time this plain had been lots of green and yellow, with sweet clover taking hold of the slopes of the hills, and with water… pouring like a divine, dividing light between the jumble of moss-covered rocks. The sun had been at home on these plains, a place where unlimited clusters of trees had risen up erect, and where animals had been grazing from here up to far into the distance.
And now, all there was left was a decayed carpet, barely earth and certainly no grass. The plain’s rocky floor was layered by a thickening mist, and at the top of the next ridge an old and dilapidated tower upthrusted against the gray sky. Its overall appearance was if in the birth of time a part of the world’s core had broken through the crust, heralding the start of a new, yet darker age.
Dead vegetation collapsed beneath our horses’ hooves as we resumed our journey. We best hurry as night was upon us. And this was a dangerous spot to come scrambling around in darkness. It took us an hour to make it through a patch of naked trees, nature’s soul having abandoned these woods probably long ago. But here we were nevertheless, to track down the source of this disaster, and if possible, to undo it.
Between the branches the wind whispered perpetually with a voice that seemed just as slight and smooth as a devil’s, yet it drowned out all other sounds like as if it was loud, and insistent. It bothered me honestly, and though I could perceive nothing more but the vague outlines and shapes of rocks, I did have the feeling we were watched upon.
Our scouting party consisted of seven riders, including myself. And though we were all armed to the teeth, somehow it felt we weren’t equipped enough. Our leader made us stop a moment in these spooky surroundings when a sleek black swirl of mist slid forward from between rocks like a slithering snake. We weren’t exactly easily frightened, but we all failed to give our horses a reason to thrust our call.
As the black mist wickedly started surrounding us, our animals bucked and snorted in discomfort, and mine had begun to express its unwillingness to cooperate in more desperate ways. It reared out of nervousness at the unusual sounds and sights, but a wise shaman once said most animals have something like a sixth sense for the unnatural.
I asked my horse to move forward and offered it a give with the tips of my boots, but instead the animal felt as if it had no way to go. Then, I jerked the reins only to be rewarded with an opposite effect. My mare pranced, and if it hadn’t been for my talent in the saddle, it likely would have thrown me off its back. All our animals now napped and kicked at enemies they only seemed to see, mine even more stubborn responding to my commands.
I was too busy dealing with my mount to notice the dark riders that came out of the mist towards us. But the gurgling sound escaping from my neighbour’s weathered lips right before he tumbled from his saddle, forced me to shift my attention. A few more deadly crossbow bolts flew through the air, one struck my arm with a whet fleshly whack right before I managed to raise my shield. Now, the average humanoid would have cried out in pain, but our tribe only knew one type of cries. War cries. Our leader raised his blade and with a yell ordered us to charge, ignoring the mist that made our animals so nervous. I wished I could have followed his lead, but my mount simply refused.
I could only watch how my fellow tribesmen stopped in mid charge, as if their and their horses’ bodies had run into a stone wall. It would have been comical under different circumstances, but with bright arterial blood spurting from their chests as their bodies were pelted with more bolts, this situation wasn’t exactly funny. Next thing I knew, I was on my own…