Pain shot through every inch of Nypre as his body was slammed on the ground. He lay there motionless for a short time. Finally, after a couple of minutes, he recovered. He struggled briefly, and with a loud groan, was able to stand up. The others did the same. He looked back up the hill, seeing flames from the explosion still burning.
“Is everyone okay?” he coughed, not feeling very okay himself.
“I’m okay,” Norris replied. Deren and Lina responded with reassuring groans. Nypre couldn’t help but be relieved that his careless action hadn’t ended up killing his friends.
“What happened?” Deren struggled to ask.
“There was a chain reaction with their explosive ammunition caused by one of my spells,” Nypre explained. It felt strange to be saying that as a part of him was proud of the destruction he had caused.
“We should get out of here while we can” Norris ordered. Nypre looked to the others. They all had various scrapes and bruises, but none of their injuries looked too serious. Lina’s white robe was covered in dirt, and her face was drenched in perspiration. She looked miserable, a completely different person than the pristine priestess from Lumin. Of the four of them, she was much the worst for wear. Norris seemed to be holding up just fine, and Deren looked about as good as Nypre felt. The four of them continued moving southward anxious to get as far away from the battle as possible.
As they walked, Norris insisted on returning to the road, claiming it would be worth the chance of getting caught. The level surface of the road did make the walking much easier with its’ winding course through the trees. It wasn’t long before they found themselves once again close to the edge of the Night Land. Some roads actually crossed into it. Much to Nypre and Deren’s horror, the Night Land hovered on the horizon in their path, indicating that it had expanded southward as well.
“Looks like we’re heading straight into the dark,” Lina murmured to the others as they walked southward on the road. Nypre and Deren recognized it as the road they had taken on their northward travel out of Dustin, only this time everything seemed more quiet and empty.
“Is it possible the Night Land has cut us off from Tawarln’s Territory?” Nypre asked Norris.
“Anything is possible. It could be it completely surrounds Falkner’s Territory, cutting us off on all sides except the forest. We’ll have no choice but to go through the Night Land in order to reach our destination,” Norris replied solemnly.
“We can’t do that though! Nobody who’s entered the Night Land has ever returned. What about traveling through the forest?” Deren asked.
“If we enter the forest we know the elves will kill us. If we enter the Night Land we don’t know what will happen to us. The third option would be to stay here, but if we do that it’s only a matter of time before we’re captured and killed, or the Night Land expands again and overtakes the remaining parts of this Territory,” Norris explained.
The four of them reached Dustin. Much to their dismay, the entire southern half of Dustin was completely consumed by the darkness. The town looked abandoned. There was not a single soul in sight. Nypre thought back to the heavyset innkeeper who had been so nice to him on his journey north. Where was he now?
“This town is abandoned,” Norris stated, as if reading Nypre’s thoughts. “We should rest here. It should be safe.”
“What if Falkner’s soldiers come looking through this town?” Deren asked.
“I don’t think that will happen. They will still be recovering from the failed attack against the elves, and they likely know this town is abandoned. They are probably going to be using all their resources defending their capital.” Norris informed Deren, sharing his thought process. They walked slowly through the abandoned town.
“It’s scary here,” Lina whispered to Norris. Nypre agreed with Lina. The last time he had seen it his road had been full of people going about their busy lives. Now everything was empty. How could so much have changed in only a couple of days?
“Here, this house looks rather large.” Norris pointed to a tall two story house that towered over the others. It was made of a dark wood, and had a large metal fence, with a gate that opened into a well-kept yard. It was clear a very rich family had once lived in it. They walked to the gate and opened it with a loud creaking that echoed eerily through the dead, silent air.
“Are you sure this is safe?” Lina asked Norris. Norris didn’t answer. They closed the gate behind them. If anyone were to open that gate, they’d hear it. This made Nypre feel a bit safer as they walked through the garden. He eyed the flowers which grew along the path. It was very beautiful, but with the Night Land looming so closely, and the complete silence of the air around them, the beauty of the garden only made it scarier. Norris attempted to open the door to the house.
“It’s locked,” he said looking to the others for suggestions.
“We could break it open?” Deren asked.
“Don’t. I chose this house in case we have to defend it. Even if this door only buys us a few moments, it can still slow own anyone who tries to attack us.” Norris replied.
“I thought you said the soldiers wouldn’t come down here,” Lina whispered.
“It’s not soldiers I’m worried about.” Norris said with his eyes on the Night Land. “I feel like something is out there, waiting.” This brought the silence back to the group. Nypre, Deren, and Lina all imagined what horrifying creatures could be waiting in the Night Land for them. Norris thought about it for a moment, and then with one large push, he broke the door inward, slamming it open and breaking the silence.
“It’s probably nothing. We shouldn’t be here long anyway,” he explained trying to calm the group. It was darker than Nypre had imagined it would be inside the house.
They entered a small foyer, with doors leading to the left and right. Straight ahead was a short hall, with stairs leading upward at the end. There were fancy candles, covered in glass, which lined the walls like torches. None of them were lit, the only light the sun behind them which was slowly setting. The walls were covered in decorative crimson and yellow paper, something Nypre had never seen before.
“What’s the plan? Do we stay here tonight?” Deren asked.
“No, we’ll rest for only a couple of hours. I’ll stand first watch, and then wake you and Nypre up. You two stand second watch,” Norris responded.
“I’ll take second watch alone,” Deren insisted. “Magic can be draining, Nypre could use the rest.”
“I’ll be fine,” Nypre countered, slightly annoyed.
“He’s right Nypre,” Norris agreed. “Even if you aren’t feeling the effects of exhaustion now, it may strike you later. Besides, this way we can sleep in separate rooms. You and Lina stay in one room, Deren and I will take another. It will keep us from waking you accidently when changing shifts and Lina will have someone to protect her should something terrible happen.”
“Sounds good.” Nypre suddenly liked the idea of not having to take a watch if it meant staying with Lina the entire time.
“Something terrible?” Lina asked her voice quiet.
“I’m just being overly cautious. Try not to worry, and get some rest.” Norris’s voice was always gentle when talking to Lina. “We should check the rooms on the second floor. They’ll likely be safer if something does happen.”
The four of them walked up the stairs to the second floor. At the top of the stairs was another hall, with three doors on the left side and nothing on the other end.
“Looks like this is where the family slept,” Lina murmured. They checked each of the rooms. The first room had a very large bed where the parents had likely slept. The middle room had a single bed, while the last had two separate beds. It was hard to see much in the rooms, as darkness was falling. All the rooms had windows, but the sun was setting and not much light entered on this side of the house. There were also closets in the rooms, which they didn’t bother to inspect.
“Okay, Lina and Nypre, you take the room with the two beds. Deren will be in the room with the large bed. I’ll stand watch in the hallway. Make sure those windows are locked before you sleep,” Norris ordered. The three teenagers went to their respective rooms. Nypre started to close the door behind him as he followed Lina into the room with two beds.
“Don’t!” Lina nearly shouted, reaching out to catch the door. “There’s no reason to close the door, just leave it opened” she insisted. Nypre did as he was told. Lina walked over to the window and checked to make sure it was secure.
“We should be safe here.” She spoke louder now that it was just the two of them.
“Are you okay?” Nypre asked. He had been worried about her for quite some time now.
“This world is just not what I expected. I’ve heard and read stories, terrible stories. I just kept telling myself that it couldn’t possibly be that bad. I was wrong,” Lina sighed.
“Hey, it’s not all bad. I know things have been a bit chaotic the last few days, but don’t let it overwhelmed you. You’re not alone.” Nypre tried to comfort her. “Remember why you came with us in the first place.”
“I joined you because I wanted to help people. So far just saying what I am, a priestess of Lumin, has hurt us more than helped us. I never knew people hated Ana so much. Are all people like that?” Lina asked somberly.
“I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but in the Tawarln territory people don’t hate Ana. Some even pray to her quite regularly. It varies from person to person. Even my mother, the guardian of wind, doesn’t hate Ana,” Nypre explained. Lina seemed to cheer up a little.
“Really, if anybody were to hate Ana I assumed it would be a guardian.” Lina’s voice was hopeful now.
“Well, I can’t say she worships Ana or agrees with her. It’s more of an understanding. Ana supposedly helped humans long ago. It wouldn’t make sense for her to want to kill humans just because they use magic. We believe it’s more the followers of Ana that are to blame. Even you said that you were not happy with things the way they are within the temple,” Nypre explained.
“You’re right. Things are not as they should be in Lumin,” Lina sighed again. “We really need to get some rest. Thank you for cheering me up a little and reminding me of the reason I wanted to see the world.” Lina quickly took the bed closest to the window, leaving Nypre the one closest to the door. “Sleep well Nypre,” she whispered to him before rolling on her side, facing away from him.
Nypre dropped onto his bed, leaving his sheathed sword leaning against the wall near him. He lay on his side, facing her. He heard her whispering her prayers, quietly so as not to disturb him. She had done the same thing before when they had made camp in the woods. He thought it would be difficult to sleep now. He didn’t even feel very tired. He thought about practicing his magic for a little, but was afraid if he didn’t get any sleep that it would just exhaust him further. He closed his eyes, thinking about what they’d do next.
There was a loud bang, Nypre sat up quickly. He looked out the window. It was raining heavily now, lightning flashing in the night sky. It was even darker in the room now than it had been before. There was another crack of lightning, followed by a roar of thunder. It must have been the sounds of the storm that had awoken him. It was so dark that he couldn’t even see Lina in the other bed. Lightning flashed once again, momentarily lighting up the room, and he saw that the bed that Lina had been sleeping in was empty. He shifted his glance to the door, and saw it was closed, something Lina would never do. He reached for his sword, but it was not where he had left it. Something was not right.
There was another flash of lightning. Nypre used it to examine the room. The closet door was open. He jumped out of bed and ran to the door. He heard something now, the sound of someone whispering.
“Hello?” he asked, holding his hands out in front of him, ready to cast his magic. There was no answer, but the whispering continued. His eyes were still adjusting to the dark. He reached out and brushed against someone sitting in the closet. He quickly pulled back, but the whispering continued, undisturbed by his touch. He listened closer, and now recognized Lina’s voice.
“They all ran screaming into the night,” she whispered. “They all ran screaming into the night.” She kept repeating those same words over and over again, as if it were a mantra.
“Lina, listen to me. It’s Nypre,” Nypre said with a worried tone. She didn’t respond, and just kept whispering those same words over and over again. They all ran screaming into the night. There was a loud bang from behind him. Nypre turned around, breathing lightly. He could see better now that his eyes had adjusted. The door leading into the hallway had been slammed opened. Norris was supposed to be standing guard out there. He quickly made a run for the door, leaving Lina behind. She’d be okay as long as she stayed there. Keeping his hands out ready to cast, he walked into the hallway.
“Norris?” he whispered loudly down the hall. There was no one there at all. He walked slowly down the hall to top of the stairs. There was still no sign of Norris or Deren. He decided to turn back to check on Lina. When he turned around he found Lina standing right in front of him. He fell backwards frightened by her sudden appearance.
“Lina? What’s going on?” he asked.
“Ana please protect us from this unholy darkness. Save us from Letum’s evil, free us from his will. Ana shine your light upon us, clear our minds and cleanse our souls.” She spoke as if she were in a trance. He could see her face easier in the hall, but she just stared blankly back at him. “They all went screaming into the night,” she started saying again, just like before.
“Lina, you’re scaring me now.” Nypre moved toward her. She just stood there, not responding to him. Nypre turned to the door that led to Deren’s room. It was locked. He knocked on it loudly but there was no answer. Finally, he kicked the door open, shattering the lock entirely. There was a woman there sitting on the bed, facing away from him.
“Why are you destroying our home stranger?” she asked without facing him.
“What’s going on?” Nypre yelled loudly at her. He was getting frustrated. None of this was making sense. It felt like some kind of nightmare.
“You’re not dreaming Nypre,” Lina suddenly said. He turned around and saw her, still standing facing down the hall. She slowly turned to him and smiled. Nypre took a step back away from her. “Ana protect us from this night. Shield our souls so that we may live another day!” she screamed loudly with worry in her voice. Nypre turned and saw that the woman on the bed had stood up. She turned and faced him too. She had a plain face, but she wore very fancy clothing. He assumed she was the owner of this large house. It was hard to see exactly how she looked due to the darkness. She laughed, and Lina laughed too. They both stepped forward, moving closer to him.
Nypre woke up, eyes opening widely. Something was on top of him. There were two large dark eyes gazing down at him, with other smaller eyes around them. A large was about to bite his neck. He could not see the entire creature, but he saw enough. His arms were not pinned.
“Wonik-E!” he screamed in horror, lighting shooting from his hands, launching the creature backwards against the back wall of the room, electrocuting it. He saw what it was now, a very large spider. It seemed to have a carapace made of pure crystal that twinkled in the sunlight. It was full day now, and sunlight shined brightly through the shut window. The door to both the closet and the hall were closed. He looked to Lina’s bed, but she was missing. He had to find her!
He quickly opened the door to the hallway. Deren was standing right on the other side, and he fell forward onto the floor as the door opened. He was covered in blood, lying on the floor, his eyes open and staring sightlessly in fright. Deren was dead. His body was covered in wounds as if something had been biting and feeding on him. He looked to the dead spider and put two and two together.
“Deren,” he whispered, tears forming in his eyes. He fell to his brother’s side, not sure how to react. If only he could have done something.
“Nypre,” Nypre heard Lina’s voice from behind him. He turned and saw her standing there, tears in her eyes. “Deren,” she whispered, falling to her knees next to Nypre, crying.
“What’s going on?” Nypre nearly yelled at her, full of anger and sadness from the loss of his brother.
“They,” Lina tried saying through her tears. “They all ran screaming into the night.” she explained as if it were obvious. She turned to face him, she was smiling now. “They all ran screaming into the night.” Her smile kept growing larger, distorting her face. Her mouth grew as her eyes seemed to droop down her face, her nose disappearing completely. Nypre took a step back, knowing that it wasn’t Lina next to him. There was a loud screech, as her body split apart like a cocoon. A large spider, much like the one he had just killed, crawled out of Lina’s tiny body. Nypre made a run for the window. He quickly opened it, and looked back as the spider skittered toward him. He launched himself out of the window just as the spider reached him. He landed hard on the grassy ground outside, finding himself in the backyard of the house. He looked up back to the window, and located the spider crawling down the side of the house after him.
“Wonik-E” He extended his hands forward, shooting lightning at the spider. The lightning rebounded off its crystal carapace harmlessly. The spider wasn’t slowed at all by his magic. The spider moved fast, and was on him before he could react, taking a large bite out of his leg. Nypre screamed loudly from the pain.
“Wonik-E,” he yelled weakly through the pain, tossing another lightning bolt. Once again, his lightning had no effect. The spider took another bite of him, and the pain became unbearable. The spider was slowly eating him alive.
“Wonik-Koretops!” Nypre heard a familiar woman’s voice. There was a sudden gust of wind as the spider was enveloped in a small tornado that lifted it off the ground. Nypre turned and saw his mother standing there, concentrating on the spell. She hurled the spider into the distance with the tornado before walking to Nypre. She knelt down, running her hand down his cheek, smiling.
“Nypre, it’s been so long. You need to listen to me. You have to kill Lina. It’s the only way for us to be together again,” she whispered to him, still smiling.
“Why?” he asked.
“She is the enemy. She’s a priestess of Lumin. She’s using you to get to me. Why else would a priestess leave Lumin? She wants to catch me off guard, then she and Norris will kill me. Then they’ll turn and kill you,” Wonik explained.
“She isn’t like that,” Nypre argued.
“Please Nypre. You’re dreaming now. Please remember my words. They are not to be trusted! You have to do your duty as a mage and kill them. They seek to rid the world of magic. They seek to rid the world of me and the other guardians,” Wonik’s voice remained calm.
“Dreaming?” Nypre asked confused. Wonik nodded.
“Things have changed since you left. Dreams are the only way I can communicate with you right now. Please listen to me. Trust your mother,” Tears formed in Wonik’s eyes as she spoke.
“Mom?” Nypre reached up towards her, but she was gone.
Nypre woke up. He immediately looked to the window and saw it was still dark. He saw Lina standing on her bed, hands together, facing him. “Ana you have to save us. Please Ana!” she pleaded loudly.
“Lina?” Nypre asked. Lina leaped forward from her bed, immediately pinning Nypre to his. She held his arms down. He struggled, but she was somehow stronger than him.
“Ana grants me strength, Nypre, the strength to kill mages like you.” she cackled. “I’ve seen the way you look at me, this is what you want isn’t it?” She leaned in and kissed him. Nypre kept struggling.
“Wonik-E,” he shouted, pulsing lightning through his body, unable to control it with his arms pinned. Both he and Lina screamed in pain from the lightning, but Lina’s grip weakened. He pushed her off of him, tossing her to the floor. He made a dash for the door, It was open this time, and ran out of the room and down the hall as fast as he could. He could hear Lina’s voice from the room once again.
“Ana please save him! Ana, save him! Save him!” she kept screaming loudly, she was crying. “Ana I beg you!”
Nypre continued down the stairs and quickly out through the broken front door. He saw the garden, but he could not see the town beyond it. The Night Land surrounded the house on all sides. He turned back to the house and saw a massive spider, larger than the house, moving slowly towards him. He couldn’t help but scream in horror as he ran toward the darkness of the Night Land.
“Ana, please save Nypre, protect him with your light!” he could hear Lina’s voice, but could see nothing. “Wake him from this dark sleep. Save him from this evil force that holds him!”
Nypre stopped running just before entering the Night Land. He remembered her words from before. “They all ran screaming into the night.” The only thing that sounded real to him were the prayers to Ana that Lina had been screaming. He turned and faced the spider. Its crystal carapace glimmered in the sun’s light. He knew he was still dreaming. He was caught within an endless dream as some dark force toyed with his mind.
“Let me go!” he yelled at the spider. He held out his hands. “Wonik-E!” He screamed over and over again, casting bolt after bolt of lightning at the spider, with no effect. He tried wind, but the spider was too big to move. The spider kept moving toward him, crushing the house beneath its large body.
“Ana, shine your light upon us. Free us from this darkness!” Lina prayed. Suddenly a bright beam of sunlight broke through the clouds, piercing through the spider. It screeched loudly, and slowly faded into the shining light. The house beneath it and everything around it faded as well. Nypre’s vision was dazzled by the light, and for a moment he felt both warm and safe.
Nypre let out a loud gasp opening his eyes. He saw Lina bending over him, shaking him awake.
“Nypre. You’re okay!” she cried out, hugging him.
“Am I really awake?” Nypre asked, still afraid that this could be part of the dream.
“Yes, you’re awake. Finally you’re awake.” she quickly pulled herself away from him, shocked that she had hugged him. “We need to save Deren and Norris now.”
“Deren and Norris?” Nypre asked, confused.
“Yes, they ran screaming into the Night Land south of here. I think they were asleep, much like you were.” Lina replied.
“They ran screaming into the night.” Nypre whispered to himself.
“I heard a noise from Deren’s room so I went to check on him. When I opened the door he ran screaming past me. I chased him down the stairs and saw him and Norris run screaming in terror. I’ve never seen Norris afraid before, much less terrified enough to scream.” She shivered. “I’m so scared. When I came back to the room, you were thrashing in your sleep. That’s when I started praying to Ana for help.”
“Your prayers worked! A beam of light washed over me and awakened me from my nightmare. I was ready to join them, and run screaming into the night.” Nypre was scared too. The Night Land was more unnatural, more sinister, than he had believed. “We have to go after Deren and Norris. We have to save them!”
“They say those who enter the Night Land never return,” Lina said.
“Well, we’ll have to be the first then,” Nypre replied, trying to think positively for once. “I know Deren would do it for me, and you know Norris would do it for you. Let’s go.”
“Of course Norris would do it for me, he swore his life to protect me. I don’t know if I can do much, I can’t fight like you can,” Lina responded worriedly.
“I think you can do more than enough. Your prayers seem to have some effect against this night. Follow me.” Nypre grabbed his sword from near the bed, and led Lina down the hall to Deren’s room. He grabbed Deren’s abandoned sword and tossed it to Lina. She caught it clumsily.
“I don’t know how to use this.” She looked to him, worried.
“It’s easy, just put the sharp end into the enemy.” Nypre figured it would be better to have her with a weapon than without, even without any training.
“As a priestess, I am not allowed to harm people,” she countered.
“Listen, if we run into anything in the Night Land I have a feeling it won’t be people. Come on, let’s go.” Nypre began to feel annoyed at her attitude, but then thought to look at it from her perspective. This was definitely not anything she could have expected.