“Fire,” said Azoloth, “we need fire and now.” They had not lit torches before now because they only possessed two a piece. Azoloth desired to save them for a dire situation, though he imagined warning off beasts, not shadows.
Trinsic nodded in agreement, reaching down with trembling hands next to his leg, and pulled forth a torch from the bag that hung from his saddle. Azoloth followed suite fetching a torch from his saddle bag too. Daggers and flint were soon in hand and being dragged against each other until sparks caught upon the torches.
Tucking the dagger and flint back in his belt, Azoloth took the torch in one hand and held it high. The torches were made of special materials; they put off no smoke but emitted a bright and pure flame. They would burn for a number of hours, and Azoloth just hoped it would be long enough to get past this latest tribulation.
For the moment all appeared to be safe, the light of the torches keeping the shadowy tendrils away from them. Yet as the hours drew on and the sun rose higher in the sky, the shadowy tendrils crept closer and closer. No longer did Azoloth only see shadowy figures out of the corner of his eye, now seen clearly standing among the trees. Despite Stravos seeming more nervous than normal, and the deep occasional growls from Crimson, neither of them seemed to see the shadows.
As noon grew closer, the dark tendrils began to reach for the men once more. Azoloth swung his torch through one of the shadow tendrils reaching for him, and it appeared to vanish as the torch passed through it.
They could not move faster than a brisk trot due to the thick tree’s and uneven ground of the wood. Both Squires now swept their torches back and forth to keep the shadowy tendrils at bay.
“I told you this place would be the death of us,” Trinsic snarled at Azoloth.
“Because surrendering to the guards would endure a long and prosperous life?” Azoloth shot back in irritation. He understood the wildlands could be dangerous and respected them as such. However, he never imagined anything such as this occurring.
A cry of pain escaped Azoloth’s lips as one of the shadowy tendrils slipped past his torch and passed through his armor, dragging against bare flesh. A cold pain spread across where the tendril touched, blood slipping from a minor cut which appeared on the flesh. Beside him, he heard Trinsic cry out in pain as well. The tendrils thickened and became more like tentacles as they reached out for them. Behind the shadow beings who wielded the tendrils and tentacles, they saw dark portals. Each portal looked like a crack in reality, and beyond that was a swirling green darkness that was indescribable.
“Luminar preserve us,” Azoloth said under his breath. Blood oozed from dozens of minor cuts across his body, and he was shivering from the unnatural cold of each strike. It was all he could do to keep the larger and thicker tentacles away from his body, most of the small tendrils slipping through. He felt as if he were being torn apart small bit by small bit, a death by a thousand cuts.
Trinsic was faring worse than Azoloth. He looked haggard with blood dripping from under his armor. He was not the swordsman Azoloth was, and his arm was tiring much more quickly. He was in a manic state as he tried to keep all the tentacles and tendrils at bay.
As Azoloth spoke the words “Luminar preserve us,” the air grew lighter, some of the oppression of the sun lifting and allowing them to breathe easier. As the air grew lighter the swings of Azoloth’s torch became quicker and more sure, fewer of the tendrils won past his guard. Able to catch his breath, Azoloth began to pray under his breath. It was said once if God did not exist man would have to create him, in many ways that was true. While all men believed the Gods died or abandoned them with the darkening of the sun, occasionally a man in dire need would pay. Yet few of those men would understand enough about the old Gods to even know who to pray too. Azoloth has read the ancient tales in the Keep’s library, and he prayed to Luminar, for if any God still existed within this world, surely it would be the God of the silvery moon whose glow brought such peace each evening.
As he recited the ancient prayers from memory, the shadows shrank once more, the cracked air behind them sealing itself. The sickly green glow lifted from the surrounding land. In their plight neither of the men noticed the slight glow coming from the amulet Azoloth wore. The amulet depicted the crescent moon, the symbol of the Knighthood and the long forgotten symbol of Luminar. They only knew the attacks grew fewer and slower.
As the noon hour peaked and passed, their torches burned out. Yet the shadows ceased their attack. They cringed back from the pair as they rode past, hiding as deeply in the shadows of the tree’s as they were able.
The pair rode on for nearly three more hours before the last of the shadows vanished from their sight. It was another hour after that before Crimson and Stravos both settled down. Trinsic finally spoke, “What the fuck?”
“Seems the rumors of the shadows were true,” Azoloth responded.
“Why did they just give up then? The rumors I’ve been told would have them massacre entire companies of men.”
“Who knows, maybe someone was watching out for us,” Azoloth stated as he thought back to his prayers. He had uttered them only in desperation, yet a hope and faith was growing within him.
“Yea and maybe one of the Demon Lords wants to invite us to dinner,” quipped Trinsic as they headed down the path further into the woods. Though they had been on the road for around 9 days, they had only covered about a third of the way to Nezbin, and they had many danger filled days ahead of them in the Roanwood.