Darkness gave way to dawn, the forest which had been so dark glowed with a sinister light. It burned away cool darkness, replacing it with the green piercing light. The deepest shadows grew thick with green fire, unlike the clear light of the moon this green flame was sickly and provided no comfort.
As the dead sun rose into the air, Azoloth could feel the weight of the cursed light pressing down upon him. With the rise of the dead sun, the barriers between this world and the horrors lurking beyond the veil grew thinner. It seemed strange to him that the castle scrolls held tales of men fearing the cool darkness of night and seeking the light of daylight for their reprieve. Men did only what had to be done in the sickly light of day, cherishing the peace of night. The things lurking within the daylight were far more sinister and frightening than what stalked the darkness.
He rode for several hours under the rising sun before it started to weigh upon him. The glowing optimism faded away. He felt sluggish and weak as the stress and fear of the previous day flooded back. This was why men avoided the daylight, something within it drained all hope and happiness from them.
Even in the sickly green light of day, the forest held a dark beauty. Mighty oaks rose on either side, surrounding the road. This oaken forest covered hundreds of miles. In fact, most of the Kingdom was woodlands. With the dwindling numbers of humans, there was no need to clear the forests, and the forests held danger. Better the people stay to their small villages where they could protect each other. The Knights kept the roads between villages free of danger.
Azoloth caught images at the edge of his vision from within the forest. Man shaped being drifting through the green hued air. When he turned his head to look, there would be nothing, just shadows and green light. When seen from the corner of the eye they appeared to be shadow people wreathed in dark flames.
Paying too much heed to these beings and other creatures on the other side of the veil could be dangerous. That is what the old wives’ tales said, at least. True or not, they had trained him to avoid these situations when possible. The stress and fear would only make him more susceptible to them. Slowing Stravos to a walk, he took long deep breaths. His mind moved through a series of exercises designed to release tension and strengthen concentration. Closing his eyes as he focused on breathing, allowing Stravos to follow the road without guidance. Crimson growled occasionally, but padded next to them.
As his mind relaxed, exhaustion crept in. He had been up well over 24 hours now and needed to find a place to rest. Opening his eyes, he noticed the strange shadowy figures no longer lurked at the edge of vision, for now at least. Turning Stravos off the road, they wound between the tree’s into the woods. Eventually he dismounted and led Stravos and Crimson into a grove of oak tree’s. It was deep enough in the woods no one should see them as long as they lit no fires.
There were plenty of plants in the grove for Stravos, and he quickly lowered his head and chomped on them. Meanwhile Crimson with a word from Azoloth bounded off to hunt them up some food deeper in the woods. Azoloth opened the saddlebag Stravos wore and inspected it. The stable hands had removed the food and water, in fact only basic survival supplies remained. He took out a brush and brushed his steed down slowly as he ate. Stravos and Crimson were both more than just mere animals or tools to Azoloth. Each of them was a trusted friend.
Too tired to even take the bedroll out, Azoloth sat down and leaned back against one of the tree’s. He began to nod off and as weariness overtook him. He trusted that the massive war horse standing there would protect him with its life if need be. As much as he would have enjoyed Trinsic’s company, he was at least glad he was not completely alone. As he dozed off, a phrase Sir Gregory often said echoed in his mind.
“Treat well the beast that bears you, the beast that guards your sleep, and the sword that’s at your side.”
Sleep finally washed over him, and he was dead to the world. Little did he realize that as he slept, the dark shadows which threatened him during his waking hours shifted around the thicket. Had it been a mortal foe, the brave Stravos would have dealt swiftly with them. Yet the horse did not notice the strange shadows as they grew thicker near his Master. Crimson yet to return from the hunt. As the shadows drew near, Azoloth twisted and turned in his sleep, making small sounds.
Then the moon pendant he wore appeared to give off a soft, clean light. Where the light touched, it burned away the sickly green sun and chase the shadows away. It cleansed the corruption from the grove. As the cool silvery light fell upon them, Azoloth settled down into a much deeper and more restful sleep.
It is hard to say if it was the glow from the necklace, the stress of the day before, or just sheer exhaustion, but Azoloth slept far longer than he intended to. When he awoke from the most restful sleep, he had ever known, the clear moon shone in the sky. Her beautiful silvery rays danced through the swaying branches of the dark forest. The sound of the leaves swishing back and forth and the birds’ singing created a relaxing and comfortable atmosphere. A hole in the thicket of tree’s above him allowed a single pure beam of silvery moonlight to shine down upon him and bask him in its comfortable glow.
He pushed himself to his feet, yawning and stretching. Blue eyes looked around for Crimson. He found the burly canine laying next to a freshly killed deer. Sighing, Azoloth moved to the deer and knelt. He did not sigh for its death; he understood and accepted the need to kill animals for food. He sighed because he needed to meet Trinsic shortly, yet he would be here for hours yet dressing and cooking the deer. There was no helping it. His stomach growled, and he set to work.
Once the deer had been properly dressed and some fresh meat tossed to Crimson, Azoloth dug a small pit in the ground. Selecting the driest wood he found, he built a small fire. He hated wasting most of the deer, but he could not cook all the meat here and now. Setting a few small steaks on spits over the fire. Azoloth trudged off into the woods, following the sound of water. It was not too much deeper that he found a small spring. He filled a few skins with clear water. Returning to his small camp, he had breakfast before covering the small cooking fire with dirt.
Azoloth knelt by Crimson and stroked his hair, speaking to him softly for a few moments. He then moved to Stravos and stroked his mane and whispered to him before pulling himself up into the saddle. The small ritual was one he performed often renewing their bond together.
The group was moving back to the road when Crimson let out a low growl and stopped. Azoloth instantly halted Stravos and sat very still, listening. They heard more than a dozen horses coming from the crossroads and heading towards the Keep.