Was it a spirit, demon, ghost, or an Angel? Collin did not know. All he knew was that the being who now stood before him was no mere mortal. His silver white hair extended down to his waist, and he stood a foot over Collin, so that as he drew closer he had to look down, adding to the sensation that Collin stood before a god. His features were noble and distinct, with his ears drawing up in sharp points, and his nose growing forward, straight off of his face. In addition, his jaw was narrow, but his eyes were wide. His skin was as pale as snow. The man spoke not a word but only drifted his gray eyes over Collin, as if searching for a fault, searching for some reason to put the insignificant man out of existence. Collin dared not speak a word, though the rapid pounding of his heart and staggered breathing spoke all too well for him.
After agonizing seconds, the man looked again into the eyes of Collin, and he suddenly had a strange foreboding sensation, like when he opened his letter of acceptance to the naval college when he was just a boy. Either way, his life would change, he just didn’t know which way. The being opened his mouth to speak, and if it were possible, the room grew even quieter, “Collin Daybreaker,” though Collin had expected a terrifying voice to match the terrifying man, it was instead low, and deep, like wind passing through a tunnel, centuries old, “you have passed the test, and so you have been chosen. You will deliver the stone of Amaroth to the gate of Vrell on the fifth night of the fourth moon when the sky shimmers with light.” The man closed his mouth, and continued his gaze at Collin, waiting for a response.
Collin sucked in his breath, formulating a response that would hopefully not get them all killed, “What do you mean? What is this stone?” his voice sounded breathy and intimidated.
For a moment, it almost looked like the creature had smiled, but the expression faded as he spoke, “All shall be revealed when the time is right. I have been sent with one other message. The Suspicion has failed. Val Frayd is coming.”
“Who sent you?” Collin spoke with more confidence now, seeing the creatures lower their swords by an unspoken command.
This time the deity truly did smile, “That should be obvious.”
Without anther word the man began to turn, heading for the Balcony. “Wait, what are you? What is your name?”
He looked again at Collin, his eyes filled with sadness and fatigue, and he suddenly became aware that this being was immensely old. “We are Shadow Walkers. I am known by many names, but you may call me Archagus Valus.”
“Will we meet again?”
“For your sake, Collin Daybreaker, you should hope not.”
Archagus Valus said nothing more but slowly walked out to the balcony, followed by his men. Then, one by one, they leaped off the edge and into the night, their huge cloaks transforming into great, leathery wings that glided them down to the surface of the tundra and out of sight.
Collin ran to the edge, shouting after them, “Wait! Archagus!” But he was already gone, and Collin knew he would not be coming back.
After the event, he knew sleep would be hard to return to, and since it wouldn’t be bright again for another six days, they couldn’t afford to wait. They broke camp shortly after, praying that any more such encounters would be kept at bay.
There was no more singing, only vigilant eyes casting sideward glances as they continued their journey, leaving Collin to sift through his thoughts in peace as he knew each of his men did as well. They had just met Shadow Walkers, and the name meant as little to him as a raindrop did to a dessert. He had been chosen, but chosen for what? What could possibly be the stone of Amaroth? Or the gate of Vrell?
The last bit about the timing seemed to at least be decipherable. Collin was aware that the fourth moon would be coming into view fairly soon, or at least it would if he was at home, in Durdenhoth. The ominous message bearer did little to comfort Collin. Val Frayd was coming. That much had been expected. But so soon? Collin knew they were woefully unprepared for the type of siege Val Frayd was ready to give. Val Frayd would stop at nothing to end the peace accords. He thrived off of war, and the feeble cease-fire would be gone in an instant. In one day Daladin, Belux, and Cordin would be plunged back into war, and more than likely, Ingrua would be dragged into it as well. And all of it rested on Collin’s ability to keep Val Frayd at bay. He patted his pocket, feeling the letter he was charged with delivering—possibly the only thing that could save them.