Her Sun Is The Moon – Dannielle Wicks

HER SUN IS THE MOON

Chapter 1 - A WICKED TAIL SHE GROWS

Ruffles full of glitter and opulence spin about my legs as I move through the hall toward my destiny. The soft silk of it brushes against my fingers as I flatten out the waves. If there were a more beautiful and wealthy princess in all the Queendoms, she would be a goddess, not the ruler of a small, rich country bordering the Adriantal Sea.

“But there isn’t, my lady, and there never will be,” my loyal, and always perfectly dressed chambermaid, Frey, answers.

I flick my fingers at her fussing and finally step through the royal blue curtains bordering the gilt edged ballroom of my palace, my head held as high as possible and my face set in one of regal beauty.

People from all over my queendom have come to celebrate my first meeting with my betrothed—a prince from across the Rift. Dax Purgenigh. In less than five months we shall be wed and my rule shall be final. It has been lectured to me over and over by my father since I was old enough to listen. He’s not in charge--my mother was Queen--but he likes to tell me what to do.

“Your majesty…” people whisper and bow as I make my way to the platform at the head of the room. Glittering lights tangle around themselves along the ceiling in a golden glow, and silver edged tassels hang from the marble columns.

In a sudden moment of panic that tightens my chest until I’m uncomfortable, I realise this isn’t where I should be. It should be my mother sitting at the head of the room between my two sisters who are already seated on the dais. Not me. I was never meant to rule this queendom. Especially not at the age of seventeen. I had so many things I wanted to do. Like boss the servants around while I paint pictures of the grounds. Or maybe spend my days riding my horse through the fields near the rift.

Someone brushes my arm and I flinch away, a disgusted look thrown over my shoulder at the lady who dared touch me in such a manner. My mother would scold me for my impatience, but look where all of her kindness got her. Even now, at the very edges of twilight the stone spiral of her grave peeks through the garden windows. A memorial to a horrible night forever watching over our castle.

Gretchen, my younger sister at age twelve, stands to greet me with a hand that doesn’t quite touch my skin. It’s a gesture of comfort, one she knows I will ignore. With a flick of my wrist, the floating skirts of my red and gold lace ball gown fly around me and I settle upon the stone and leather seat that is the throne of Serenian.

Maureen, my older sister, who cannot sit on the throne because she is not fully related to us, nods, her black, chin-length hair curved just so around the freckled, white skin of her face.

I turn my gaze on her and the steward on her other side. The small woman jumps to attention, signaling the band to take up their tune again and the guests to continue their gossiping and scheming.

Father seems to be absent again this evening. He hates coming to the parties we throw. He’s probably holed up in his study reading books about cooking and building--his favourite topics.

My gaze trails back to the heavy glass and wood door at the far end of the ballroom, waiting, always waiting.

A tap, tap, tap begins as my fingers bounce up and down on the stone armrest. Gretchen gently reaches over, again not touching me, simply hovering over my hand as if she were about to hold my fingers still. I find her soft, rounded gaze and the mass of black curls that match my own, framed around a light brown face, and raise an eyebrow. She’s always got some quick line or ray of sunshine advice meant to cheer everyone up.

“Let me guess,” I start before she can. “True love waits for no one?”

Her brows crinkle. “Not quite. I was going to say that patience is a virtue.”

A groan escapes me at my mother’s words finding their way out of her pretty, pink mouth.

“If he wasn’t the future ruler of Purgenite, I’d say we have every right to throw him in the dungeons when he finally arrives,” Maureen says on my other side.

Gretchen’s frown deepens, but it’s me that answers, “I expect the rift is becoming difficult to cross since Elara’s bridge shrinks in the north.” The bridge was a passage of light-filled forest that kept the shadows at bay--without it, our two queendoms could not trade. The dark rift of magic separating our two countries is impossible to cross.

A deafening bang. The door swings open with a quick rush of cool air. And my heart seizes.

But it’s not the Prince that walks through the parting crowd of chatty guests.

My sisters and I stand, meeting our unwelcome visitor at the bottom of the dais. The wizard of the Darklands winks as he comes to a stop a few feet from us. The creator of the shadows that wreak havoc on our queendoms, and master of the rift.

His cloak sways around him, all black and gold elegance. His face is far too young for someone of his supposed age. If I were to guess by searching for his non-existent wrinkles, I’d place him around twenty or so years old.

“My Lady,” Rodan, the wizard, laughs. He bows low, his pale forehead nearly kissing the polished stone of the floor.

“Stand and let your presence here be explained,” Maureen shouts, her voice echoing an authority that I could never hope to achieve.

Rodan straightens, a crackle of magic surging through the room like a wave on the shore. Nothing more than parlour tricks, my mother used to say. And I believe her, even now. If he were the wizard he claimed to be; he and the Darklands would have taken our queendoms many years ago. Instead, he simply hides away in his darkness and lets the monstrosity that is the rift do all the work for him.

“I’ve come to request the Princess Isadolla hand over her queendom to me and mine. Here and now before this audience of witnesses.”

The crowd of courtiers are silent.

An un-princess-like laugh escapes me in a snort before I can catch myself. “You want what?”

“Your queendom, my lady.” His expression stays slightly amused, his dark eyes glittering with a secret. “Before you answer, let me warn you that your refusal will result in me taking action upon yourself. Something you really don’t want, I assure you.”

“The answer to your ridiculous request is, and always will—,” Gretchen grabs a handful of my skirts, cutting me off. “What?” I snap, swinging around.

Her gaze darts out to the wizard, then back to me. “Isa, what if he hurts us?”

“He’s nothing more than a fake, Gretch,” I reassure her. “If he were all powerful, he would have attacked before now, and he wouldn’t be asking for our queendom. He’d just take it.”

“Quite right,” the wizard interrupts. “But at the same time, not.” His head tilts to the side, his brown hair falling in front of his eyes.

“Speak plainly.”

“I thought that’s what I was doing?” He grins, contempt and something that looks like anger sparkles.

I roll my eyes and move back to my throne. “Come on, sisters. This man is not a threat. He merely wants someone to pay attention to him while he throws a tantrum like a child.”

“You will not make fun of me,” Rodan warns.

I scoff. “I will do as I wish. In case it escaped your notice, this is my queendom, and these are my people. Go back to the wastes you call a home and this time, stay there.”

A shiver prickles the skin of my arms and back. A darkness like I’ve only ever seen once before descends upon the crowded room.

Rodan’s face becomes clouded with shadow.

My sisters make a sound of distress, both of them grabbing for my arms. I take a step forward, fury burning through my veins like a wildfire. Whatever tricks he wants to throw, I will meet. I am not like my mother. I am not weak.

“This queendom will never be yours,” I say with finality, my fists clenching at my sides. “Leave now, before I have my guards make you.”

His voice booms unnaturally through the room when he finally answers, “Forever more you shall live as the monster your heart truly knows you to be. The monster you act like, so all others can see.” He raises his arms on either side of his body, calling more darkness down from the filigreed ceiling. The power of his words settle over the room like a suffocating blanket meant only for me. I choke on the smoky air, grabbing at my throat as it slides into my lungs.

Then suddenly, the smoke is gone, the guests chatter and my own spine straightens once again. I look to the wizard surrounded by his shadows, a smirk of triumph gliding onto my face. I’ve beaten his stupid shadow magic.

I expect him to appear surprised, maybe even angry, but his mouth tilts up at the corner, a secret smile meant only for me. “I’ll see you very soon, Princess.” He steps back, shadows coming to him, slowing covering his body from head to toe. They swirl around him, obedient to their master. “Until then…” And then he’s gone the darkness along with him.

The room slowly brightens in the way of a sunrise, leaving no trace of the wizard and his trickery. People seem to forget why they were, only moments ago, cowering for their lives. My sisters even relax, their gazes turning to the people and smiles appearing on their faces as if nothing happened.

It’s as if the wizard were never here. As if his words meant nothing.

I suck in a calming breath. That’s fine with me. With my calming mouthful of air, a wave of dizziness washes over me. I lose my balance and have to catch myself before I tumble down the steps.

Gretchen is at my side, her hands hovering. “Isa? Do you feel ill?”

I bunch up my skirts and move toward the door behind my throne, taking careful measure to place each and every step. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to freshen up.”

Gretchen nods. “I’ll send Frey up to you immediately.”

The fresh air of the castle hall behind the ballroom hits me with a rush and I let loose a sigh. My fevered skin feels refreshed already. I hurry along the dark, stone corridor, lit by golden scones and up the small flight of secret stairs that lead to my chambers. The first couple of steps are easy, and I start to believe that I’m fine, simply overcome with a bad memory or something.

Then I take my next step and the stairwell sways to the side. The agony that is my knee hitting the stone shoots up my leg and through my arm as I land against the wall. My breath comes in heavy, suffocating gasps that don’t quite reach my lungs. My vision turns black for a split second and then I’m lying across the steps, my limbs splayed out wherever they landed. At least the stone is cool against the sweaty skin of my exposed back.

I tip to the side and cough up a mouthful of disgusting bile, it leaves a horrible burn in the back of my throat, along with a nauseous curdling in my stomach. I am wrong. Something is wrong with me. So, so wrong. That blasted wizard will pay for this.

I’m taken by another coughing fit, my sides heave and ache, my head pounds and my gaze grows black spots that dance around each other like fairies at the harvest.

“...help.” My voice barely makes it down the stairwell. Where are my guards? Where are my blasted maids? Why did no one follow me from the ballroom? They could obviously see my sickened state.

Without balance I try to sit up and end up slipping down two steps, my hip aching each time it connects with the solid stone. When I look down to place my hands and right myself, I freeze. A bright, white-hot zing of shock races up my spine as I stare at my claws?

What?

I shake my head, trying to relieve the dizziness, then look again.

Scales?

I must be hallucinating. I can’t...breathe...

My chest tightens, cutting off valuable air.

“...helghr,” I cry on a gurgle. My tongue has become too big for my mouth. My teeth slide against the soft flesh, cutting it open and filling my throat with blood. The sharp, stinging prick of tears, and then they’re falling to the stone between my shaking hands.

Nobody comes. I’m alone. I have to do this by myself.

I push myself up the stairs, one at a time, my lovely new dress dragging across the dirty floor beneath me. My arms shake, draining my energy by the time I reach the platform that leads to my chamber. It’s so close. I can nearly touch the door with my fingertips. And then everything fades to the swirling shadow of the wizard’s darkness.

Chapter 2 - A PRETTY DRESS SHE LEAVES IN WOE

It takes me less than a second to put all the pieces together and right myself.

Less than a second to reach the wall mirror on the far side of my room, my hips and shoulders pushing against the rough tatters of my dress. And then even less time to scream, which comes out as a heavy roar instead.

What has the wizard done to me?

So much for trickery, mother…

My chest tightens with my quickening heart. Panic overwhelms me in wave upon wave. What am I going to do?

I find the mirror beside my bed and stumble back on my over-sized feet. Horns have sprouted from my hair, and claws extend from my toes. My skin is changing, growing scales of red and bronze, right before my eyes.

Rodan has turned me into a monster…the worst kind too. My father used to hunt dragon’s for sport. What would he think of me now. I have to get out of here. I have to escape. I have to leave before I grow too big to fit in my own room.

I’m going to track down that wizard and I’m going to beat him until he changes me back.

I make it to the windowsill without stumbling over my own clumsy feet.

Someone knocks on the door. I try to hold my breath—to make it seem as though there is no one here—but apparently dragons can’t hold their breath without burning their throats with the gas build up. A horrendously loud snuff-cough escapes me with a cloud of smoke and sparks. The person at the door begins to bang their fist against the thick wood. My nose is visible now, right in front of me--long and red, holes for nostrils at the end.

This time when I look to the door, the faint outline of the person’s body appears. No facial markings or even skin. Just a tracery of bright veins and a heart thumping away in their chest hidden behind a slab of wood and metal.

“Isa?” Maureen. She sounds annoyed. “I know you're in there. I can hear you walking about.” She sighs. “Should I send for a healer?”

Without thought, my mouth opens and a soft whine escapes. As soon as the sound is out, I freeze. So does Maureen. Her veins brighten as her heart pumps faster, thumping like a small frightened bird. She scared. Of me, obviously. Or maybe for me, if she knew what was happening.

“I’m not playing anymore, Isadolla.”

Neither am I. It is that blasted Rodan who has been playing.

If I don’t leave now she’ll find me. I don’t want her to see me like this. I don’t want anybody to. I can already hear Gretchen’s ‘told you so’. They won’t let me live. Our past with dragons is too full of bloodshed for them to think anything but monster when they see me.

A deep flap sounds. My heart skips a beat until I realise the sound is coming from me. I twist my head--further than should be possible--to find a humongous wing. Black skin stretched tight like a thin membrane over the red bones. I have wings.

I have wings…

I spin back to the window and push my head out, shattering the glass and wood frames.

“Isa!” Maureen screams on the other side of the door.

This could be my only chance. My body is still growing. At this rate I’ll be trapped in a stone prison with no way out.

I lean until I’m staring at the dark gardens below my third story window. Then glance back at the wing hanging from my shoulder blade. Learning to fly feels like giving in to whatever twisted monstrosity the wizard has done to me. The ground’s not that far away. I could make it without hurting myself too much. Maybe.

I suck in, which is a bad idea. Heat crawls up the inside of my throat, igniting an itch that sparkles through me. When I breathe out, a puff of glittering orange flame and a white arc of electricity comes with it. I back away from myself, then misstep. The claws of my back legs slip against the stone windowsill, my tail with its deadly spiked edges going with it.

I have a tail. I have to force myself not to scream.

Suddenly I’m falling, and not the right way either. I hit the ground on my back with a bone-splintering thump. My wings, which are definitely a part of me now, are crushed under my own still-growing weight, causing them to spike with a sharp pain down my spine. With a groan, I roll onto my side and then up. It’s going to take more than a third story window and a wizard’s curse to beat me. I throw a satisfied snort over my shoulder, my gaze catching on a girl leaning from my window.

Maureen’s eyes widen, her fingers clench the windowsill. And then I’m looking at her veins, unable to control what I want to see.

My gaze picks up a half a dozen more faint, veined outlines around the far bend of the tower I fell from. I hear voices.

“Over there, I think I heard something.”

I need to move. If the guard find me looking like this… the head of the last dragon that entered this queendom is still hanging above the heavy wood doors of the entryway. Mother took it down on one of her hunts before we were born.

I tip my head back to see Maureen one last time, but she’s gone. Probably to alert more guards and start a hunt. This is hardly the time to waste standing about in sorrow. I grunt like a piglet, then turn toward the dark outline of the wall bordering the castle grounds.

My body feels heavy and unresponsive. Each new step trips me up until, finally, I fall forward and start out on all fours. Every time my claws hit the grass they curl and get stuck under the roots. I pause for a moment, draw in a breath and concentrate on uncurling my claws like a would my own fingers.

“There!” a guard shouts behind, his voice echoing uncomfortably through my ears. They’re closer. And they’re armed. Their weapons clang against each other as they take chase.

I push myself to go faster, and then I’m not moving at all. A sharp tug on my spine pulls me to a sudden aching stop. I twist, my elongated neck making it far too easy to spot my tail wedged in a pair of jutting rocks and tangled vines. A puff of orange sparked smoke snorts from my nose. I tug against the rocks, but all that does is jar my back in pain.

“Surround it,” the leader of the guard commands. The flicker of their torches moves from a small clustered group, into a long inescapable line.

No, I growl it instead of speaking.

Some of the men hesitate, slowing their steps as they approach.

The forest is only a few more steps away. Once I’m in the shelter of the trees the guards won’t follow. Not at night. The Wizard’s Darklands monsters like to sneak into the queendoms by moonlight to steal people from the villages. If only I could get my blasted tail free.

I yank again. The spines scrape against the rock, but I can’t escape.

The circle of torchlight begins to close in. With one last heave, my tail cracks and comes free. Ignoring the shooting pain running along my spine, I leap into action, racing for the wall. Remembering, even breathless and afraid, that I have to uncurl my claws each time they hit the ground.

My giant body bangs against every surface of the rock wall as I hoist myself up and over. It crashes against the leaves of the trees as I trample through their low hanging branches. Even my own godsdamned wings slap against my sides as I run.

My breaths haven’t eased from the change. I still feel as though I’ve spent an hour on horseback, hunting.

The sound of palace life fades as I get further away. The guards aren’t pursuing, as I expected. But that leaves me with little comfort.

It’s under the soft sway and rustle of the cedar trees of the forest that I finally stop and slump to the ground. The scales of my belly grate against the undergrowth, cracking twigs and small trees under my weight. It’s humiliating. The enormous hanging weight of my wings settles limply at my sides. If mother could see me now.

Chapter 3 - AN ENCHANTING PRINCE SHE FINALLY MEETS

The whispers reach me before the rolling, crunching gravel of a cart and horse on the road. I roll until my legs are tucked under my body and my wings are out of the way, then I push my head through the thick, low brush close to the road. I’m careful of my tail as I move. I’m fairly sure it’s broken. There is a nasty kink at the end of it where the spikes stick out and my back hurts as if I’ve been standing too long.

The incoming villagers shouldn’t be able to see me, I’ve hidden behind a clustered, overgrown clump of trees far enough from the road that my black and red scales appear as though the trees are casting shadows, but close enough that I can hear passersby. Their words are scrambled at first. It isn’t until I concentrate that I can make out what they’re saying.

“Did you hear?” A young woman. “The Prince and his father vowed to find the princess and defeat the wizard in her honour. It’s so beautiful. They haven’t even met and he’s willing to die for her.” A wistful tone makes it into her voice, shivering along with the thump of her heart.

Die for me? He barely knows me. I haven’t even given him my first kiss yet.

It’s early morning, and the faint outline of their veins is clearly visible through the trees.

“Pfft,” the other one, a young man this time. He smells good. Like cedar and fresh cooked meat. “Good luck to them. No one has stepped in or out of the Darklands since they were created. If the wizard has Princess Isadolla, she’s as good as dead.”

“Shh, Helvar. If someone hears you speak of her like that.”

“They’ll what?”

Their chatter continues down the road, but I’ve tuned out. Prince Dax is coming for me. The thought makes me light headed, until I realise I’m not with the wizard. How is he supposed to rescue me when I look like a monster and I’m nowhere near the Darklands? A deep rumble surges through my chest. I’m growling. Like a blasted animal. I have to find Rodan before the Prince does.

Another rumble. A different kind this time.

First I need food.

In all the excitement my maid’s forgot to feed me, and now I’m starving. Without thought, I lift my head, my tongue flicking out like a snake, tasting the air. A swirl of cinnamon and fresh crust curls down my throat. Someone is baking bread. Then I smell the heaving surge of cheddar aging. My wings twitch as if wanting to fly me to the nearest cottage. My stomach grumbles again, but I can't just walk up to someone’s house and ask for bread and cheese. So instead, I turn my nose toward the west, away from the surrounding village and search my senses for something else. Just the thought of a small furry creature makes my stomach turn. I’m not cut out to be a dragon.

But it’s either this, or starve, and I’m not stupid.

***

As big as my body is now, I still manage to fit between the close knit trees, even if I am noisy and snapping twigs, scaring my prey. The fluffy white and gray of the hare’s tail disappears through a tangle of blueberries and rhubarb, out of reach. My claws curl, digging into the soft earth in frustration. I’m not entirely sure I want to catch it anyway. A princess does not eat uncooked meat, and she certainly doesn’t catch it herself.

I drop to the ground with a heavy thump, the trees swaying in answer. If I could cry...

The soft scent of yeast and rising wheat tickles my nose. Before I know it I’m at the edge of a clearing. Light trickles through the overhanging branches, catching on dust motes and bugs.

A baker’s hut squats in the center of a small flat of green grass, surrounded on three sides by forestry with a thin, gravel road leading off to the sandstone and wood houses of the village. I push myself to the very edge of the tree line, but it’s still not close enough. My gaze scans the clearing, searching for the faint outline of veins that signals a person, but I find no one. Surely the baker didn’t just leave his bread out to cool and leave his home?

I look back to the village. People mill about doing their daily chores, most gossip or sit at their stalls trying to sell wares. They won’t notice if I’m quick. I’ll just be a shadow out of the corner of their eye.

Decision made, I take my first step into the empty clearing and toward the house. A child’s cry freezes me to the spot, but when I look around, he is merely wailing at his father to pick him up further in the village.

Three more carefully, uncurled steps and I’m at the grey, stone and mortar house. A bright web of veins approach from the road, a girl with her nose in a book as she walks. I shuffle around the back of the house, the ground rumbling beneath my weight. The fresh loaf of bread sits on the window sill, steaming and ready for me to take.

The girls coughs, signaling how close she is. My ears flick, trying to pick up the sound of her soft footfalls and swish of her sundress. She’s reading out loud to herself. I don’t have the concentration to wonder at what she’s saying, my focus solely on the bread.

Tinging metal and a crash. Then a curse. She’s tripped over something. I use the noise to move forward and snatch the loaf off the sill. It’s barely a mouthful. Hardly worth the effort if I’m caught.

I swallow the undercooked wheat and back up.

My tail catches on a fence post and a startled cry bursts from me. Stinging pain lances up my spine from the kink at the end.

“Hello...?”

I shake my head just as the girl rounds the corner.

“Hello? Who’s there?”

Her eyes land on mine and widen. Her book falls from her shaking grasp and into the mud. A shame for the book.

I’m frozen, staring at her. Her sun-kissed face pales, making her yellow and green sundress look washed out along with her skin. Her pink mouth opens and my heart stops. She’s going to scream.

“Help!” She steps back, grabs the broom leaning against the house and jabs it in my direction, all while still calling for the villagers. “Beast! Somebody help! A beast from the Darklands!”

Curling my tail beneath me to avoid further injury, I back up toward the trees and their safe cover.

A deafening clang. And then another. The village bell is tolling in warning. I glance back toward the square--my eyes leaving the girl for only a second--at the people and the crying children.  At the barking dogs and fleeing goats.

The warning is about me.

A line of gold and blue guards arrive on the horizon--Purgenite colours. The Prince. He’s here.

As if answering me, a man steps from the center of the line, his rigid stance visible from where I cower. He lifts his arms. I know him. I’ve met him before, in meetings with my mother. The King of Purgenite. Prince Dax’s father. And behind him, dressed in the same fine military uniform--the prince. My betrothed.

I’m almost too busy staring at him that I realise too late what his father is holding.

The whiz of the first arrow misses my left ear by less than a finger. The next one isn’t so lucky, hitting the soft membrane of my right wing. A roar of pain bursts from me before I can stop it, and then the guard are charging forward. To them I must look like a wild beast calling a challenge, when in reality I’m already in so much pain.

King Elias shouts a command to attack and subdue, but not kill. Which is a blessing. A woman steps up to his side, dark hair, browned skin and a scowl as she watches me. She leans over and says something too low for me to hear.

With a swish, I’m already heading for the trees, walking as fast as I can to beat the oncoming soldiers and their swords.

The roar of a charge follows me. I can’t move much faster. I try leaping, and it gets me further into the trees. Each bound putting more and more distance between me and the attacking guard.

A thump in the tree trunk above my head gives me pause, but only long enough to glance over my shoulder at the King and the glitter of malice in his gaze as he chases me through the forestry, his son in tow.

I duck under low hanging branches and jump over rotting, foul smelling logs. They seem to keep up with the grace of a young buck. Shadows move to my left side and I barely miss the fine end of a sword aimed at my neck.

The bronze-skinned woman who I spotted with the king jumps out in front of me, one hand holding a sword, the other held up in a gesture meant to stop and placate me. She doesn’t move as I get closer. Just stands firm with a determined expression etched into her young face. At her side stands a boy around my age, his face a mirror image of hers. He looks just as determined as her.

I push a noise of distress out in a half growl, half scream. A warning to move out of my way, but they don’t move.

The King yells something over his shoulder. “Asha! Niilo!” A command? I’m not concentrating and can’t untangle the words. I can’t tell what he’s shouting. Leaves whack me across the neck as I barge my way through. My wings folded as close as they can to my body. A sting in my right wing is enough to distract me. Enough to make me look over my shoulder and spot the trail of blood I’m leaving in my wake. Even if I get away from them, any hunter can track a trail of blood…

The woman and boy in front of me flinch, but stand their ground with arms out. At the last moment I swerve to the right, catching the boy with the tip of my wing and knocking him back with a grunt. The King and Prince Dax stop their pursuit to help him. This is my chance. I take a zig-zag trail through the forestry until I break through at the road, then I leap up the road, making sure that I leave tracks on the gravel, jump into the opposite forestry, and then leap across the road again.

They’ll think I’ve kept going. I race through another few clumps of trees then stop. My wing hangs a little further to the ground then the other. With my long neck, I reach around and lick the dripping blood from the wound before I can think better of it. I’m immediately disgusted at my own actions, but it stops the bleeding long enough that the soldiers should lose my trail if they double back this way.

I walk slowly now, careful that my steps make little to no noise. The daunting peaks of the Jumbar mountain range come into view through the treetops on my right. Jumbar leads all the way to the Darklands. I could follow them until the darkness takes me and then confront the wizard. It won’t be that simple, but what else can I do.

Shouts echo through my sensitive ears, alerting me of the soldiers approaching on the road. I drop to a crouch, trying to look like a shadow and wait them out as their bright veins move past.