His name had been Ko’Dral when he was a high-ranking official of the Crystal Soldiers, the elite group of fighters for the Kingdom. Now he was known only as the Guardian, forced to survey the Forest of Ness and report any abnormal sightings or Archons that may still be around. He lived in the past, boasting about how every inch of his body was once solid muscle, but after years trapped behind the Wall, he became rotund, renowned for his enormous bulk.

He dragged the cloak with the pregnant woman through the snow back to the Village.

Her legs were broken—but worse, her heart. Regret weighed her down, making every breath difficult. The scent in the air faded from a fresh winter breeze to urine the closer they came to the Village. Every time they hit a patch of uneven ground, she felt a stinging sensation in her spine that pushed her from side to side. Still, she kept her hands clutched around her middle.

She lay there, gazing at the moon and the red lights flowing around it. She couldn’t help but question the purpose of life in this cold world. Could this be it: to freeze, and then die in this village blocked off from all life—from the Kingdom? On one end, there was the Wall, and to the east, there was a cliff that looked over the Forest. No one knew what existed inside that wooded area.

 

Rumor had it, that it was trees, darkness and misery—and Archons, the enemy to all living. None had seen one and lived to tell, but local myth told of beings that cast no shadow, for they were shadows themselves. The word had spread that they were extinct after the First Great War, hundreds of years ago, but the growls that echoed from within were enough to keep the most curious travelers away.

After an hour or so, they finally made it to the Village. Its fog carried the stench of feces.

© 2016 by LOE.