I saw them when I closed my eyes. Their dark shapes blacker than night. Their fiery yellow eyes blazing like comets. They were coming for me.
Their damp, stale breath tickled the back of my neck like a chilly breeze shivering through a graveyard. It smelled of dead leaves, wet soil, and worms.
They would catch me, and I knew their name.
Shadows of night, groaning ghosts. They were coming for me.
“Just one more hour, lads.”
Uncle Arick’s deep voice interrupted my thoughts, and I blinked in the fading light of dusk. It was getting dark, but I could see just fine. Darkness didn’t bother me. Even in the tiniest bit of starlight, my eyes saw almost as well as they did at noon.
It was nighttime that worried me. Night and what it brought with it. Shaddim prowled when the sun went down, slinking like thieves between shadows. They’d catch me if we didn’t reach Tiller’s Field soon.
“Will your backside hold out, Jasiah?” Uncle Arick asked, turning to grin at me.
Seated ahead of me, Kadze chuckled at my uncle’s joke. He and I rode a few yards behind my uncle, sharing a horse and saddle. The seating didn’t make for the most comfortable ride. Worrying about shaddim didn’t help.
I wasn’t a good rider, but our horse Chet was patient and calm. The last thing I needed was someone reminding me of how sore my backside should be from bouncing in a saddle.
“Aye, we’re fine, Mr. Dragonsbane,” Kadze said to my uncle. “Even rolling downhill, a round stone will bump and bounce.”
Hearing that, I couldn’t keep from groaning. Kadze talked in riddles a lot. He called them proverbs and claimed they were very old and full of wisdom.
I scrunched up my face and scowled. That’s what you think, I grumped at the back of his bald head. The shaddim aren’t hunting you.
That was the problem. To Uncle Arick and Kadze, we were just traveling along Wagonwheel Road in the evening. They didn’t worry about shaddim the way I did. They didn’t feel the monsters coming.
We were on our way to see the famous Wizard Ast. He had a very important quest to tell us about. Kids like Kadze and me had been summoned from all over the kingdom to meet with the wizard.
The quest had something to do with a magical instrument called the Dragonsbane Horn. When blown, the Horn would hypnotize every dragon that heard the sound. It was old, powerful, and dangerous.
My name is Dragonsbane, too. Jasiah Dragonsbane. But I’m not old, powerful, or dangerous. I’m an eleven year old boy with brown hair and brown eyes. I’m short and I don’t look any older than nine.
Except for being able to see in the dark and hear a cat’s tail swishing from across a room, I’m a pretty regular kid. Definitely not someone who’d go on a quest like a hero. I can’t use a sword, cast spells, or fire a bow.
That’s why it didn’t make sense for the shaddim to be after me. I wasn’t a threat. Why did they want me?
A ghostly moan slithered in from the darkness, coming from everywhere at once. The creepy noise prickled the hairs on the back of my neck.
Uncle Arick immediately threw up a big hand. “Halt!” he hissed between clenched teeth as the dreadful moan came again.
Kadze pulled up rein and slid silently from the saddle. “No—” I started but the word died on my lips.
A pack of shaddim appeared, floating just above the ground. They materialized from the darkness like ghosts. There were at least twenty of them.
We were surrounded.
For an instant, I froze with fear. My limbs trembled and my eyes stared, watching in terror as the black creatures glided closer. Then finally, I found my voice.
“Shaddim!” I cried too late.
The shaddim weren’t hunting anymore. They’d found me.
“Get behind me!” Uncle Arick roared, leaping from his saddle into a battle-ready stance. He gripped a huge two-handed sword in his fists.
The shaddim drifted nearer, steadily tightening a circle around us. The closer they got, the louder and more frenzied their moaning became.
Uncle Arick didn’t stand a chance.
The shaddim were ghosts darker than anything I’d ever seen. Shaped like tall, narrow triangles, they reminded me of wisps of smoke with curling, snake tails where their legs and feet should be. They had long arms that looked stretched-out and scissor blade claws the length of my forearm.
Their shining yellow eyes stared at me. When their mouths opened to moan, whatever was behind them showed through like I was looking out a window. The monsters were hollow and razor-thin.
The noise deafened me. It echoed in my mind and whispered greedily. Give us the Horn, it seemed to say. Mother wants the Horn.
“Jasiah, look out!” Kadze cried.
A dark, thin arm snapped at me like a tentacle. Razored claws whisked inches from my face. Then Kadze was there, leaping between me and the shaddim. He was fast, very fast. His arms and legs sliced through the air in a blur like a knight’s deadly weapons.
I twisted away, pulling hard on Chet’s reins. In a stuttering lurch, we nearly bowled Uncle Arick over. He held a cluster of shaddim at bay with his mighty sword, slashing its point threateningly at the monsters as they tried to advance.
From the corner of his eye, he spotted me. “Don’t let them touch you!” he warned without looking from the shaddim. “One touch will put you to sleep.”
Chet fidgeted nervously. He was well-trained and brave, but the constant moaning was still scaring him. He would run soon, and I wouldn’t be able to stop him.
“What do I do?” I wailed helplessly.
A shaddim struck at Uncle Arick before my uncle could respond. His sword took the creature at the elbow, passing through the arm as if it were fog.
Unharmed, the monster moaned louder and lashed out with its arm again.
“Run, Jasiah!” my uncle ordered. “Run to Tiller’s Field and find Wizard Ast.”
I blinked in shock. I wasn’t a hero, but I still knew right from wrong. “I can’t! I can’t leave—” I tried to protest.
Bending suddenly at the knees and pivoting to his right, Uncle Arick parried another shaddim attack. Then with one hand, he pulled something bulky from a sack on his belt.
“Take this and go,” he commanded. “This quest is about you. Go, now!”
He tossed the object to me, and I clumsily caught it while struggling to maintain my grip on the reins. The object was an oversized, right-handed gauntlet made of heavy leather.
I wanted to ask what I was supposed to do with it but didn’t have the time. Uncle Arick swatted Chet on the rump and sent us charging though the ranks of the shaddim.
Whip-like arms and claws swatted at us. Empty mouths split wide and moaned. It was like galloping blind through a tangled forest. I squeezed my eyes shut and held my breath.
Not until the moaning died did I open my eyes and risk a glance backward.
Uncle Arick stood in the center of the road, completely surrounded. His enormous sword flashed again and again.
Behind him lay Kadze. The boy’s chest rose and fell with the breathing of sleep, but other than that, he didn’t move.
When I saw my uncle trip and go down, I buried my face in Chet’s mane and shrieked without a sound. There was nothing else I could do.
We charged into the night, hunted and alone.
End of the preview.
Thanks for reading!
Copyright © 2003 Sigil Publishing, Inc.
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