The tree branches creaked under the heavy snow.
Aedric could hear it from his loft. He was having a hard time sleeping. Before the events earlier tonight he might have been losing sleep due to the Trials the next day, but instead all he could think of was Uriaal. He saw those large black eyes, the crooked wide smile. Aedric stared up at the wooden beams and tried to focus, to calm his mind but he could not find peace. As soon as his mind would calm, Uriaal’s face would emerge from the darkness his mouth opening to swallow him.
He had so many questions swirling in his head. Was their a ghoul within Clan Laindan? And did they allow him to feed on their own? Every Moredel knew the myths of the ghouls. They are corrupted creatures, ones who feed on the life of others to prolong their own lives. They took the will and spirit of their victims until the victims were nothing more than shells of their former selves. These mindless beings became the followers and servants of the ghouls, connected to them and loyal beyond any mortal bond. The ghouls had supernatural powers. They could charm you into their service, they could turn sideways and disappear, fitting through cracks and crevices in walls to enter or leave buildings. They had weaknesses as well, the sun being the strongest. They could not disappear in direct sunlight, and they could not hide their form under the daylight. In the legend of Adraaes, after he had accepted his fall into darkness and had been captured by Otredan, he was tied up in the full daylight and he burst into flame.
But these were just stories, legends of another time when magic was commonplace, before the world had started to fade. Aedric shook his head. Frustrated he turned in his bed, angry at the loss of sleep over superstitious old stories.
As he lay there, finally close to falling asleep, he felt a chill creep up his spine. Shocked back to full awareness, he rose slightly in his bed. He heard a low growl from downstairs, and peaking over the railing of his loft, he could see Noka standing near the door with his tail between his legs and the hairs on his back standing straight up. The large dog backed up a little, and Aedric could see Noka’s teeth bared in a fierce snarl. Silently Aedric slipped from his bed and climbed down from his loft. He padded across the cold floor and laid his hand on Noka’s back to let the dog know of his presence. Noka stopped growling for a moment and let out a small whimper as he looked up to Aedric.
Once again moving as quietly as he could, Aedric crossed the room to the door, his heart racing. He knew what was outside, but yet he felt he must confront it. He must see him again, to show him that he was unafraid, and that he had the strength to deny him entry into his home. Aedric cracked open the door, allowing a rush of cold air to blow past. He could hear the low growl of Noka right behind him. Peering through the crack, Aedric saw nothing but a still snow covered landscape. He looked back and forth, between the dark trunks of the trees but he saw nothing. He began to feel relieved when suddenly, as if some of the shadows gained form, Uriaal Laindan appeared, knee deep in the snow in the midst of the open space between the door and the forest. He stared at Aedric, his cruel smile twisting his pale lips.
Aedric jumped as Noka started to bark fiercely, and as suddenly as he had appeared, Uriaal was gone. Aedric scanned the landscape and saw nothing but the stillness of the cold night. Noka began whimpering and backed into the house away from the door. A hand touched Aedric’s shoulders and he spun arm up to protect from a blow, when he realized it was his father.
“What is it Aedric? Is something out there?”
Flustered and not knowing what to say Aedric looked back outside, ”No father, it must have been the wind or wolves, something just spooked me and Noka.”
His father smiled and placed both hands on his son’s shoulders. “Well I know you have a lot on your mind, it is best you try and get some sleep tonight. The next few days you will need all the energy you can get.”
Aedric and his father retired back to their separate beds, but sleep did not come for Aedric until much later. Even then it was filled with horrible dreams of shadowy people towering over him all staring down with glowing red eyes.
The Trials Begin