Stars blazed in the sky and the moon shined brightly overhead. Illuminating everything in a bright golden light.
A lone figure wearing a dark purple cloak slowly walked down a beaten dirt path. Her horse’s ears pricked at the slightest noise of the world around them. Abbigail leaned over the horse’s head and patted it reassuringly. “Come on Silver, there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
The words tasted bitter as they left her mouth. There was nothing safe or reassuring about the mission that lay ahead of her as she recalled the conversation she had had with King Francis only the night before.
“We’ve had reports of a monster roaming the southern border between us and the Kingdom of Diradus. None of the locals have been able to give a complete description of what you’ll be facing other than the fact that it is tall.” The King fixed his gaze upon her “This one will be dangerous, even for you.”
Those words rang inside her head as she had never received a warning like that before. Maybe she should actually take into consideration the danger…
A loud, piercing neigh erupted from her horse. Instantly on alert she raised her hand and summoned the magic that lay inside her, just waiting to be released. As her eyes scanned the surrounding area, she was catching the slightest movements from a hedge 20 yards away. She dismounted and patted Silver on the nose “Stay.” Energy crackled in her hands as she drew closer to the hedge.
Without warning a figure, clad in a dark gray cloak, seemed to rise from the knee high grass. A huge long-bow was clasped in the hands of the unknown attacker, with a gray-shafted arrow already at full draw and pointed right at her.
A male’s voice spoke from beneath the hooded cloak. “What’s a lady like you doing out at a time like this?”
She tried to make out the details of the speaker’s face, but it was hidden in deep shadows. “I might ask you the same” she replied.
A dark laugh erupted from beneath the hood. “Just doing my job. Now it’s your turn to tell me.”
She frowned at the sarcastic tone. “What a coincidence. It’s just so that I am doing the same.”
The bow wavered a fraction, “you are?” Then the person regained his composure and the bow was centered on her again. “And what job might that be? Causing mayhem in my kingdom?”
“No, trying to stop mayhem before it erupts. You have to let me by.”
“I will do no such thing. What I see is a violation of the Border treaty. I have to stop you.”
Her anger was starting to erupt and she stomped her foot in protest. “Let me pass, or you will be very, very sorry. I promise you will not like the results.”When the solitary figure didn’t move from where he stood, she lost her patience. “We’re done here.” As she thrust her hands out, bright-white electricity shot towards the archer.
The archer rolled out of the way and came up standing. An arrow flashed away from his bow, virtually unseen as it flew through the night. “Don’t you want to know my name before you attempt to kill me?”
She deflected the arrow with barely any willpower “I’d rather not, but go ahead.”
“My name is Thomas.” He performed a mocking bow, holding his bow out to the side. “What’s your name?”
“Abbigail? Pretty name. Now that we are acquainted, let’s continue.” He frowned at his long-bow. “Obviously this isn’t doing much so I’ll try something new.” After throwing the bow aside, he drew a long-sword from a sheath at his hip. It’s steel blade etched with designs and glinting in the moonlight. He charged, raining blow after blow upon Abbigail.
Despite the speed and precision of each move, Abigail was just as fast and she evaded every blow with the sword passing a hairs breath away. She lashed out with her foot, catching Thomas in the knee. With a grunt, he sank to one knee. Only to be launched backwards by a magical push that erupted from Abbigail. He landed hard on his back, the air being driven from his lungs. When he opened his eyes, a shout of surprise erupted from his mouth as he saw a knife being driven down at him. He rolled into a crouch and swiped his sword, opening a shallow cut on Abbigail’s leg.
She let loose another push to give herself space and time to assess her leg. “He barely cut me” she said to herself and glanced at Thomas. “You aren’t very good at this.”
Thomas had landed by his bow. He shrugged “Shadow Rangers are only, usually, really good at archery. We can though be quite proficient at swordsman ship too.” With a groan, he reached out to his bow and used it to help him stand. “You are quite well at this game, but not good enough.”
Faster than Abbigail could follow, he whipped an arrow from his quiver and sent it at her. The barbed head burying itself in her calf. She let out a small shout of pain before tearing the arrow out. She slowly stood and swung her hands out. Before she could unleash all of her magic upon Thomas, a loud echoing roar cut through her conscious.
“Hear that! That is what I need to stop. Now we can continue to stand here and kill each other, and it will only result in more people dying. Their blood will be on your hands.”
Thomas was silent for a few moments before he lowered the bow and glanced at the wound on her leg. “The least I can do is help you bandage those and give you some coffee and a hot meal.”
“I guess that will fine. I’ll kill you another day, this isn’t settled.”
He laughed “I never said it was.” He disappeared behind the hedge for a few minutes before he returned astride a gray horse. “Well, come on.”
She whistled and Silver trotted to her side. As she climbed into the saddle she winced at the pain in her leg. A glare was sent at Thomas This isn’t over. Mindful of her leg, Silver was sent into a gallop until both horses were side by side. “Where are you taking me?”
Thomas pointed in the direction they were walking “I have a small cabin not too far from here. That is where we are heading. My home.”
“Why do you live so isolated?”
“I live with another Ranger, whose name is Felix. And to answer your question as to why we live up here, it’s our job. We protect the borders.”
Abbigail filed that information away. “How many of you are there?”
He made a clicking noise with his tongue “I’m afraid I won’t share that piece of information with you.”
The pair continued to amble down the path. Abbigail still couldn’t make out the features of Thomas’s face so she focused on the surrounding area. “You live in a beautiful place.”
He laughed. “You think so? I suppose it is better than southern Diradus. Too hot for my taste.”
Not too much long after Thomas veered to the right and they walked into a large meadow hidden in trees. A small wooden cabin sat peacefully at the far end with smoke curling up from the chimney.
“Is your friend Felix home?”
“Yes and let’s hope he has dinner ready.”
The door was pushed open and light flickered. A young man with short black hair stood in the doorway, a gray cloak wrapped around his shoulders and a heavy dagger clipped onto his belt. “Thomas, what is this?
Thomas shrugged, “We tried to kill each other, and I cut her and put an arrow in her calf. I said I would help her fix them up.”
The pair dismounted and walked into the small cabin. The warmth already chasing the chill of the night away.
Abbigail spoke “You know I don’t need your help right?” As she spoke Thomas pulled the hood of his cloak off to reveal tousled dark brown hair and coffee brown eyes. A wide grin spread across his face.
Felix cleared his throat. “Coffee is ready and the stew is almost ready.” He sat three bowls and three mugs on the small wooden table.
“Why do you two live in such a small cabin?”
Thomas glanced around. “We don’t need much more than this.”
“Where do you keep your horses?”
Felix pointed towards the back of the cabin. “We have a small barn out back. It’s where we keep our saddle tack and also where our workshop is.” Soon after, three healthy portions of stew slopped into the wooden bowls around the table.
“This is really good. Who is the better cook?”
Thomas shot his hand into the air.
Felix grimaced “I am going to have to say yes to that. Though not by much. We can both burn water.”
“That is true.” Thomas looked down and his eyes widened a fraction. “Blood.”
Abigail looked down. Blood was slowly dripping down the seat and pooling on the floor. “Oh no, let me take care of this.” She reached into a leather pouch and pulled out a few strips of linen and bound the wound on her calf and thigh, the blood flow instantly being stanched. A vial was placed in front of her.
“This will dull the pain” instructed Felix “you’ll hardly know it’s there.”
Silence hung in the air for a few seconds before it was broken by Thomas. “What exactly are you doing here in Diradus, Abigail?”
She placed both her hands flat upon the table “I can’t explain everything, since it’s mainly private. I will say that I hunt the abnormal.”
A face stretched across Thomas’s mouth. “The abnormal? As in freakish animals?”
“Not just animals. I also hunt mages and witches.”
“Sounds like very dangerous work” Felix spoke up, admiration filled his voice.
“Do you know what the creature you are hunting right now is like” Thomas asked.
She shook her head. “The only description we have been able to get is that this thing is tall. I don’t know how tall though.”
“Sounds intriguing.” Thomas turned his gaze onto Felix, “Sound we inform command of this?”
Felix shook his head “No, because this is a breach of the Border Treaty. If we inform command a lot of questions will follow and we don’t need that. Best we deal with this quietly.”
Abbigail raised an eyebrow “We?”
Felix looked at her “Yes. We are also tasked with helping the people and it sounds it make take more than you to deal with this. Thomas, you accompany Abigail and track and kill this thing.”
“Where will you be” Thomas asked.
“I’ll ride for the nearest village and make sure this thing hasn’t killed anyone.”
A puzzled emotion ran through Abbigail’s mind “The two of you are going to help me?”
Felix turned his blue-silver eyes upon her “Yes. It’s our fault this thing got past our borders. We need to help.”
“I am just supposed to accept this?”
Thomas smirked “Yes. You don’t have to trust us, but yes you have to accept.”
She scoffed “Pride.”
Soon, the small party set out again under the starry night. The breathes of their horses echoing through the darkness. Once they returned to the main path they set their horses into a trot. All the riders gaze never left the beaten path in front of their horses. After riding for an hour the trio came to a crossroads where the path started to head north and south.
“This is the road I’ll take to Farepoint” Felix spoke up.
Abbigail observed the two Rangers, noticing how their huge long bows were always at the ready and swords were at half draw. These are dangerous men she thought to herself If Felix is as skilled as Thomas, and all have the same training, they would be a force to reckon with. “How many arrows do you carry?”
Thomas turned his head to look at her. “We each carry 24, but we have supplies to make more if we are on the move.” He turned back to Felix and handed him a small satchel. “Here is some medicine. You never know what might have happened.”
Felix nodded, accepting the point. “Good luck Thomas, you always need it more than everyone.” Before he wheeled his horse around, he looked at Abigail and gave an nodded at her.
When Felix had disappeared from sight, Abbigail cleared her throat. “We should be going.”
With the horses again at a trot, the land started to roll beneath them. The meadows and trees soon switched to rolling hills and rocky outcrops. Tall coarse grass rose from the ground.
Abbigail was taking in the scenery when Thomas’s voice broke her concentration.
“There’s caves around here” he said “Might be a good place to look.”
“Do you think the caves are big enough to hide a monster?”
A grave look appeared on his face “You’d be surprised at what this land can hold.” Under the moonlight, she saw that is lively brown eyes were almost black. A small shiver arched down her back.
The pair rode in silence for a while until Thomas straightened in his saddle and dismounted. He walked a few paces and knelt, pushing the coarse grass away. “You might want to come look at this.”
Abbigail didn’t know what she was looking for, until Thomas pointed it out. A footprint, bigger than the saddle that sat upon her horse.
“Do you see the size of the claws?” Thomas traced his finger along the edges. “About twelve inches long.”
“How can you tell?”
“Here is where the base of the foot went into the earth.” He pointed his finger at a spot that was obscured by the grass “I simply measure from the base to where the claw ends.”
She huffed, “You pass it off as simple knowledge. I wager you needed years to learn the skill of tracking and didn’t just have it right from the beginning.”
A smirk appeared on his handsome face “You are very observant. However, most skills that are worth learning take years to master. I assume it took some time for you to instantly wield your magic. Sure it may have been dormant when you first learned you had it, but now it’s almost as if it is right beneath your skin. My gut says hard work and determination helped get it there.” He paused and the silence stretched for a few moments before he continued. “The way I see it, if it’s hard then it’s worth fighting for.”
Abigail stared at the peculiar figure next to her. The way he talked, looked at the world around him, and held himself was different from other men she had met. At first glance, she assumed he was arrogant and self-centered. She quickly learned he was more complicated then he appeared.
Before she could ask another question, a large ear-shattering roar soared through the still night. She felt all the blood drain from her face. “I think it is closer than we know.” Patting at her waist, she made sure her knife and magic kit were firmly attached. In the corner of her eye, Thomas pulled a large gray shafted arrow and nocked it to his bow.
Thomas saw her looking and flashed her a smile, “This bow has 80 pound drawback. Let us hope it will do some damage.” The smile quickly disappeared as he turned his head and his face was once again lost to shadow.
With Thomas in the lead, the pair walked for another ten minutes until they came upon a cave set within a small cliff. The cave entrance seemed to absorb all light, and the deeper it went the more alien it appeared. A small sliver of fear crept into Abbigail’s mind.
“Are you positive the tracks led here?”
Thomas crouched down and looked at the ground, then glanced up. “Yes.”
“Aren’t you dreading fighting this thing?”
“No.” His voice was strained and when they made eye contact, his eyes were filled with fear. Thomas then stood and brushed the dirt of his pants. “How should we approach this?”
For a few moments, she was speechless. “You are asking me?”
He grinned. “Yes. Does that surprise you?”
“As a matter of fact, yes. Men in my kingdom believe that men are far superior and women’s opinions don’t mean a thing.”
His laugh rang aloud. “The men in your kingdom need a wake-up call.” He paused for a second. “The way I see it, you have way more experience in this type of event then I do. Even if there was a king with us, I would still value your opinion more than the king’s.”
This boy continued to surprise her.
When she didn’t speak, his grin broadened. “Lead on Abbigail.”
After looking inside the cave again, straining to see any signs of life, she straightened and looked at him. “We’ll have to light a torch, or we won’t be able to see anything. And since your main weapon is a bow you will need to see in order to shoot.”
“I can use a sword too.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yes, I know. The distance, and the size of your bow though will be a greater asset since most likely this creature will be armored.”
Thomas’s grin fell. “Armored?”
She nodded. “More than likely.”
He took a shaky breath. “Alright, let me grab a torch from my saddle and a few more arrows.” He walked to where his horse stood and quickly returned with a torch, the head covered in pitch, and a dozen more arrows; the spare quiver strung across his back and set close to his main quiver. “Let’s kill this thing.”
Using the flint from her belt, she sent a shower of sparks and the pitch caught fire instantly. The flames dancing along the cave’s walls. Gathering her resolve, she plunged into the dark abyss in front of her.
Their feet, with every step, echoed on the hard-rock. As the continued down the entrance was soon lost.
“At least we have the torch” Thomas spoke up, his bow at half-draw.
She eyed his massive long-bow, and knowing how fast he could aim and shoot, relaxed a little. “Yes, this is true.”
A couple more minutes of walking lead them into a large cavern, with the ceiling swallowing the light from the torch.
Thomas whistled, eyeing the space above them. “I wonder how high it goes.”
Abbigail’s response was interrupted by an ear-piercing roar. Both heads snapped as it lumbered out of the shadows, the ground shaking with every step. She felt all the blood from her face.
“This might be a problem” said Thomas.
The creature easily stood taller than most cottages, had dark green and black scales that overlapped, and thick powerful hind legs. Two silver canines sprouted from the upper jaw and its eyes glowed icy blue. Claws sprouted from both of its hands and its feet.
“What the **** is this thing?” Asked Thomas.
She shook her head. “I have no clue.”
“How should we fight this?”
“For now, keep launching arrows at it and I will try to get behind it.”
The two sprang into action.
Abbigail charged, using her long strides to close the distance. Arrows flew above her, slamming into the chest and neck area of the monster; most bouncing off its thick scales. Some, however, found kinks in the armor and became lodged in the creature’s flesh. Bright energy sparkled to life in her hands.
Roars of fury came from the creature, and it smashed a rock into dust. Moving at a surprising speed, despite its bulk, swung its arms at Abbigail. Claws fully extended.
All thoughts of getting behind the monster disappeared as it launched its barrage of arm attacks at her. Each swing passing closer and closer until it was brushing her hair away from her face. Sweat dripped down her face and into her arms, momentarily blinding her. A huge pain exploded in her mid-section as the creature got a lucky hit and sent her flying across the cavern and into the wall. Her breath forced from her lungs.
She glanced up, with tears slowly rolling down her cheeks, and watched the monster amble forward. It’s claws scraping against the ground; getting closer and closer until it stopped and snarled. For a figure now stood between her and the monster, legs braced apart and a sword drawn.
“You will not get any closer” Thomas said, his voice as rough and cold as winter. “Not while I am standing.” He quickly turned and dropped a small pouch beside Abbigail. “This a solid form of that potion we gave you for the pain. Though this is much more powerful.” Without another word, he launched himself at the nightmarish monster, his blade reflecting the light from the torch.
Abbigail reached out and grabbed the small pouch, dumping the contents beside her. Four white pebbles rolled across the ground along with a strip of linen, a small flask, and scissors. Glancing at the ongoing battle, she saw Thomas as a blur as he evaded the monster’s grasp. Sparks flew whenever his sword made contact with the creatures skin.
Putting the small white pebbles on her tongue, she swallowed. Almost at once, cool feeling started to spread across her body. Once it reached where her injury was she screamed in pain as the medicine worked on her. Her skin started to glow and light flashed from her eyes. As quick as it appeared the pain dispersed along with the glow and the light coming from her body. Taking a shaky breath she stood up and felt around her ribs. Realizing there was no breath, she started to feel confident until she heard a noise that chilled her to her bones.
Thomas crying out in pain.
She looked at him. “No!” The creature had a long silver claw impaled in Thomas’s stomach and was lifting him off the ground. Blood dripped down his chin. With one last growl, the monster tossed him to the side, his body hitting the wall then slumping to the ground.
Fury surged through her system as she watched Thomas lie motionless on the ground, a boy who after trying to kill her had been nothing but helpful. A boy who approached and saw the world differently than most of the boys she had met.
She drew her dagger, and summoned all the magic that lay dormant within her to the surface. Her hands crackled to life. With a roar she charged. As the beast turned to face her, she jumped as high as she could and with every last ounce of strength drove her heavy-bladed fighter dagger into its huge head.
The dagger pierced through armor, and flesh. Dark-blue blood started to flow and the creatures pain-filled wails filled the room.
Once Abigail felt the dagger bite, she twisted it. Pushing the blade even deeper. As the wound was made even larger, she forced her magic into the opening. As her magic arched through the monster, it began to dissipate the monster’s flesh until all that was left was a coating of scales. Depleted of energy, she stumbled to her knees. Stars flashed across her eyes and her breaths came out in ragged gasp.
Now that danger had past, one thought remained, and she turned and gazed across the cavern to where his body lay. “Thomas!” When she ran to his side, her heart sank. Crimson blood coated the front of his tunic and was starting to pool on the floor. His chest was barely moving.
“Thomas?” She rolled him onto his back to get a better look at the wound. Fresh screams of pain erupted from Thomas’s mouth.
His eyes fluttered open. “Abbigail, please don’t.”
She strained to hear his words, since they were just above a whisper.
“Don’t bother trying to fix me.” He coughed up blood, his voice starting to get raspy. “It’s too late.”
“No it is not. We’ll slow the flow of the blood, get you stitched up, and you’ll be almost new.”
Thomas reached over and took her hand in his. “There is no fixing me Abby. The **** things claws pierced me.” He took a deep, shaky breath, coughing up blood. “At least you got the **** thing.”
“I wouldn’t have gotten the **** if you had not healed me or kept its attention focused on you.”
A small, sad, smile broke across his mouth. “Just doing my job, and it’s my fault it got across the border in the first one.” Another shaky breath.
She felt a tear drip down her face, surprising herself. “I owe you my life Thomas.”
“No, for if it was not for you, who knows how many civilians would have been killed. It is because of you all those people are saved.” He reached his hand up and brushed a small strand of her blonde hair back behind her hair. “Do not ever underestimate yourself Abbigail. For you are beautiful, fierce, and courageous. You’ll be the best this world has ever seen.”
As she registered his words, her heart began to feel heavy. Taking ahold of his hand, she knelt by his side and watched him breathe. A couple more minutes passed, and Thomas’s chest stopped moving. His eyes glazed over as the last signs of light left them.
Eyes that had been so bright and filled with joy, now shut forever.
Without another word, she carried his body back up to where the stars still shone and helped his limp body into the saddle. Leading his horse back to where his home was, she stopped and glanced up at the stars.
Tonight they shined even brighter than the moon.