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~The Village~


The Abitanti Ombra village is located in the forests to the south east of the kingdom, though no one knows where exactly.  A thick fog surrounds it, constantly shifting it from location to location, so it is rarely in the same place twice.  At least that is what the world thinks; the truth is that the village’s location never changes.

Only the way to get there does.

Arwyn and Illy ride for three days before finally making it to the mouth of the woods.  A few feet in, the path becomes obscured by the thick mist.  Arwyn dismounts first and walks to the edge of the fog, Illy following close behind.  Will o’ Wisps start blinking into existence as they get close, dancing and swaying as if enticing the newcomers to follow their path of lights.

The wandering spirits of the forest have been protectors for centuries, leading wayward travelers away from the village and into early demise.  The Will o’ Wisps only pleasure is the mischief, they enjoy playing with the stragglers while leading them to doom.  That is their only purpose since messengers from kingdoms and individuals are usually guided through the fog by scouts with their eyes and ears blinded.

“What do you plan to tell the elders about the prophesies we heard?” she asks stepping up behind him.  He turns to face her.

“I plan to tell them everything.  We will figure out what to do about it together.” He takes a deep breath and lets it out with a sigh.  “Unfortunately, I have a feeling I know what they’re going to say.”

“It’s not worth the effort and the village is well protected by the woods and defenders,” Illy guesses, though confident of her accuracy.  Arwyn nods his head in agreement.

“All I can do is tell them all I was told and hope they can change their obsession with tradition.” Illy wraps her arms around his waist as he releases another sigh into the world.  Illy knows full well how frustrated Arwyn gets when he talks to the elders.  They are set in their ways and very rarely budge or admit when they’re wrong.  It will be a hard sell to convince them that the village is in danger based solely on prophesies.  But there have been miracles in the past.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” she tells him though her tone is anything but convincing.  Arwyn nods his head absentmindedly in response and they hold the embrace for a brief time.

“Well, nothing will get accomplished if we stay here the whole time,” Arwyn finally says slowly breaking the connection. “We better get going.” Illy mumbles something about staying like this forever before eventually letting him go.  He raises his hand as if to grab the mist in front of him.  Closing his eyes, he takes a deep cleansing breath.

Nihil impedit iter est.” His voice reverbs through the trees sending ripples through the fog.  He closes his fist as if gripping a rope in his hand.  His echo rumbles in the distance like thunder from an approaching storm.  Ripples in the fog start to grow faster in interval.

Ostende mihi viam!” He pulls on his fist and a fissure opens in the fog.  Like a door, the mist swings open revealing a bright sunny clearing populated by buildings and people.  The wooden gates and fences that border their village can be seen.

Only the Abitanti Ombra can use this entrance, the magic is attached to their species specifically.  They have finally made it home.



The village sits very near the center of the forest, not far from a mountain range that serves as the boundary of the country – the massive sea lies beyond its rocky peaks.  The houses are hollowed from the trees, though they are by no means the only houses; huts are also spaced amongst the trees.  Ceremonial buildings loom large in the square – a small clearing in the middle of the village – though these too are only larger made huts with leaf and stick roofs.  The only stone building is the Sanctuary, a giant stone cathedral that looks more like a fortress than a place of worship.

The Abitanti Ombra keep no livestock though they do have domesticated cats and wild flightless birds that freely roam the village.  Children content themselves with chasing the birds and those they catch turn into dinner for the family.  Everything is considered training when in the village, even chasing birds at a young age.  A massive spring – smaller than a river but larger by far than a creek – flows just outside the border where the drinking water comes from; as well as where the laundry and the bathing is done.

Arwyn and Illy guide Knyt and Raze to the stables next to the main entrance.  The stable boy, a young man – not much older than herself – not bonded and too old to do so, smiles as he takes the reigns from the them.  For whatever reason he was lucky and did not die during the many Ceremonies he took part in.  But, also for whatever reason, he was unable to bond with a partner.  After a certain age the soul becomes too fragile to perform the ceremony and the person is excluded from performing it again.

The risk to their life is too great.

“Good to see you again, Atava.” Illy greets.  The boy simply smiles and bows his head slightly in acknowledgement, but continues with his work.

Illy feels sorry for him every time she sees him since he can never enjoy another’s touch like she can.  He could leave the village but he is forbidden from mating with an outsider.  His soul is still of the Abitanti Ombra if he was to pass it on to an outsider it would cause a great many problems for a great many reasons.  No, he will die here without a partner and pass his soul into the Bene interire animas, where it will wait for a chance to be reborn.

Though the journey to that point is lonely, Illy thought.

Princeps!” Arwyn turns toward the voice and smiles in recognition.

“Arlan, I’ve told you that my oldest friend can call me by my name.” Arlan nods his head as he catches his breath after running to greet them.  He slowly gains control of his breathing and stands up straight with a wide grin.

“I know you told me that, but the elders would have my hide if they ever found out about it,” he says with a slight glance around as if he might be overheard and punished. “Besides, I know how much it irritates you,” he finishes with a good natured chuckle.  Illy giggles into the back of her hand while Arwyn snorts in mock irritation.

“It’s good to have you back, Arwyn.” Arlan drapes his arm across Arwyn’s shoulders as he talks.

“I admit, it’s good to be home,” he remarks draping his arm across Arlan’s shoulder.  “Tell me of the village.  It’s been over a week, how does it fair?”

“The village survives.  Two births, one early.  They are both male,” Arlan speaks and Illy’s face drops at the news.

“We will have to have a Dehuscentis soon.  Gaining two, but losing four is never an easy thing,” Arwyn speaks solemnly.  Arlan shakes his head.

“We only lost two,” he tells them.  “One is a Renati.”

“That is wonderful news.” Arwyn claps Arlan’s back in celebration. Quickly, he grows more serious as he thinks about the next question.  “Who is the family with the other new born?” Arlan drops his head and barely speaks the name.

“Arbanti and Ibani.”

“Oh no, poor Ibani,” Illy gasps.  Arwyn looks upset about it as well as he places his hand on Arlan’s shoulder.

“Has Ibani been moved to the Sanctuary yet?” Illy inquires with a brief look over his shoulder as if trying to see where she is.  Arlan nods his head.

“Yes, Summus sacerdos, she was moved there shortly after the birthing,” he explained solemnly.  “It was not an easy task without your help.”

“I am sorry I was not here.  I will go to her shortly.  Has she been much trouble since?”

“No more than any of the others, Summus sacerdos.”

“That is some good news at least.”

“They were very young.  It only makes it harder.  Illy and I are their surrogate we’ll take responsibility of the baby after we get settled in.” Arlan bows slightly in an “as you wish” gesture.  Arwyn continues, “What else is there to report?”

“There is to be a Joining in the square tomorrow.  Arani and Imanda have been waiting for you to return before going through with it.  They want you to speak over them.” Arwyn smiles bright at the news.

“They are barely of age and already so eager,” he glows. “They make a good pair.  I look forward to their growth.”

“There’s also a Vinculum later this week.  Ilani’s daughter is finally of age.”

“Has it really been three years?” Illy asks stepping forward.  Arlan nods his head.

“Yes, it has.  We have three young males that are of age to participate.”

“Let us hope the first one is strong enough,” Arwyn comments mostly to himself.  Illy and Arlan nod their agreement together.  A short moment of silence passes between them before Arwyn breaks it.

“I must speak with the Elders now.  There is much that needs discussing about our trip.” Arlan raises his eyebrow in curiosity, but remains silent.  Illy places a hand on Arwyn’s back to catch his attention.

“I want to go to the Sanctuary,” she tells him, “I’m worried about the Inanimalia and the priestess’.” Arwyn nods and kisses her forehead before she runs off to fulfill her duty.  Both Arlan and Arwyn watch her go then continue their trek to the Council of Elders.

“Stay here until the meeting is done,” Arwyn orders as they get to the entrance of the hall, “I have a feeling this is going to be something we’ll have to do ourselves.”

“Sounds like fun.” Arwyn grips Arlan’s shoulder and cracks a small sad smile in reserved humor.  Arlan grabs his arm and gives him a reassuring squeeze.

“Tell me about it when you’re done?” he questioned and Arwyn agreed.

The Council of Elders convenes in a hut at the edge of the village, a hut slightly bigger than the biggest family hut in the village.  The inside has been hollowed out and a fire-pit provides the only light.  The Elders, six in all, sit in a semi-circle facing the entrance.  The fire dances their shadows behind them, causing them to appear bigger than life.  The smoke from the fire swirls and fills the room providing a supernatural feel to the space.  Intimidating, but only if you revere them as the deities they try to pass themselves off as, Arwyn does not.  He feels like they’re sad old people that cling to traditions as if they would vanish without them.  Arwyn tolerates them since their good outweighs the bad.

“You have returned to us unharmed young chieftain.  This is pleasing to us,” the elder in the center groans as if possessed.  Arwyn fights to keep from rolling his eyes at the display.  They are men playing at being spirits.  He feels sorry for the elders since they feel the need to make a show of everything.

“That I have, Elder,” Bowing slightly, playing along, “though it was not as easy as previously understood.  The prince is a cruel and evil individual, even by human standards.” The elders remain silent at the news, though he can feel the tension in the air rise slightly.

“The High Priestess and myself barely made it out alive, but not without issuing a warning about the follies of provoking our clan.” The elders shifted in their seats uncomfortably at the news, something Arwyn was not expecting.

“You threatened him?” asks one of the elder to his left.  Arwyn turns to face him.

“I did.  He intended to kidnap myself and the High Priestess in order to force the clan to join his army.  I refused to allow that to happen.” Some of the elder are shaking their heads though he can’t tell if it’s disapproval for his actions or for the prince’s.

“I decided, as future chief, that the prince needed a reminder of who he is dealing with and that we do not take kindly to threats.” The center elder cocks his head to the side.

“As future chief you made this decision?” he asks with a slight sarcasm.  Arwyn cocks an eyebrow.  I guess I can’t back down now, he thinks.  He bolsters his stance and meets the elder’s eyes.

“That’s right, Elder,” biting the word, “as the future chief.” The elder keeps eye contact, but the stare has lost some of its spark.  The conflict is over sooner than Arwyn thought it would be and the elder drops his eyes with a sigh of defeat.  He turns to his other elders and addresses them.

“As you can see he has the bearing to be chief.  His decisiveness is on par with his fathers, his inheritance is also extraordinary.  Finally, being the bonded to the High Priestess of the Sanctuary.  His willpower must be equally extraordinary.” The other elders nod their heads in agreement as he speaks.  Arwyn tries to grasp what they’re saying.

They can’t possibly be saying what he thinks they’re saying.

“Can there be any doubt about our new chief?” The resounding ‘no’ from the elders struck Arwyn like a blade.

“What are you saying Elders?  I’m a little lost.” The elders chuckle in amusement.

“We have already agreed to make you the chief before you came home from this last request.” Arwyn couldn’t stop his jaw from dropping.

“But…  I threatened the prince,” he reiterated.  Arwyn reels from the news.

“An action based on the need to protect the village and clan.  Well within the duties of the chief.”

Arwyn remains silent for a long moment contemplating everything.  He’s wanted to be chief since he found out that his father was the former chief.  It’s only been recently that he’s started to understand the responsibility that will be inherit in the position he’s so coveted, recently starting to feel like he’s not up to the challenge.  Illy, of course, has been more than supportive of his future appointment.  He still feels like he needs more training until his ready for the position, but he can’t refuse the appointment now that it’s been assigned.  He decides that he’ll have to accept it and do the best he can with the training he has and the advisors he’s to appoint.

The responsibility already starting to crush his chest under its incredible weight.

 “Very well, I’ll accept the appointment though I feel it is premature.”

“No matter when it would have come, you will always feel the same about it.” A smirk visible on his face.  Arwyn grins at him, knowing what he says is true.

“Now, I have something else to report about the trip and it’s a lot less pleasant,” Arwyn informs solemnly.  The mood of the room grows serious as Arwyn explains the strange meeting with Akasha, leaving the part that he is the one that leads disaster to the village out.  The elders listen intently, though none seem to be bothered.

“I’m inclined to reject that our village can be destroyed so easily, but I would also like to error on the side of caution,” he finishes.  The room remains in silent contemplation for only a moment.

“We have no proof that the prophesy you were told will actually come true and you said it yourself, there is no way our hidden village can be found and pillaged.  Many have tried only to end in failure.  The Will o’ Wisps and fog have protected us for hundreds of years.  Not to mention the scouts watching the many entrances.” The elder voice their agreements as the central elder finishes, “There is nothing to fear.” Arwyn knew they would say something like that though it still makes him mad that they so blindly believe in their faux invulnerability.

 “I understand and I share your sentiments, but I would still like to double the scouts and prepare the males for possible attack in the coming days.” The elders ponder for a moment.

“Yes, of course, we see no reason we can’t be cautious.  You have full responsibility in this matter.”  Arwyn is slightly taken aback at the ease the elders agreed to his request, but keeps his mouth shut in hopes to not change their mind by curiously asking questions.

“Thank you, Honored Elders, now if you excuse me I wish to get cleaned up and get started on my new duties.”

“Of course, you have had a mighty ordeal and you are most likely tired from the journey.  Go and rest.” Then, as if an afterthought, he adds, “Chief Nex.”

Arwyn salutes and leaves without a further word.

Arlan meets him at the entrance, eager to hear what’s happening.  Arwyn pulls him close to his side so no one can overhear him telling the story of Akasha and what the elders decided to do.

“I agree with them about you being chief, you have nothing to worry about.” Arwyn pats him on the back with a nervous grin.  Arlan has complete confidence in Arwyn, but that confidence refuses to rub off on him.

“I want to double the scouts and every family is to have their weapons on stand-by.  The scouts are to dual ring the village.  One scout will remain at the usual distance and another scout will double the distance.  I want ample warning of a pending attack.” Arlan balks.

“Going a little over cautious, don’t you think?”

I hope it is only me being paranoid.

“I’m not naïve enough to think that the Will o’ Wisps and fog will be able to steer every would-be attacker in the wrong direction.  Anyone with half a brain knows it’ll take an army to raze our village so if they do come,” he breaks and stares Arlan in the eyes, “it will be with numbers.”

Arlan nods his head at the logic and, after a short salute, takes off running to fulfill the orders he was given.  Arwyn runs his hands down his face in an attempt to calm himself before walking toward the Sanctuary and Illy.

It’s about time to see her again.



The Sanctuary is a massive temple built as an entrance to an immense system of caves at the edge of the village.  The village built the temple as a place of worship and reverence to the poor souls that now inhabit the caves.  The females of the village, those young enough to not have children but old enough to be fertile, take care of the creatures and protect them.  Only the females are able to do this.

The Sanctuary doors are made of heavy stone slabs that can only be opened from the outside, though there is a barricade on the inside to keep the doors shut if needed.  The doors are always open and grant access to the Grand Hall with its intricately carved pillars and ancient murals depicting past feats of glory.  Candles line the walls and hang from the vaulted ceiling, providing all the light for the room, since there are no windows for the sun.

The inhabitants of the caves cannot stand the sun, though they can survive under it.

Arwyn walks through the doors and straight through the hall to the back of the temple Sanctuary.  On either side of the altar are stairs that lead into the bowels of the caves.  Though the Abitanti Ombra do not worship a God or Goddess, they do have idols.  Honored leaders and heroes, greatness frozen in stone, adorn the altar and surrounding area.  Each statue holds a constantly lit candle, wax dripping and forming stalagmites from their holders.

He continues down the stairs and the black darkness slowly gives way to ethereal green as the strange rocks that form in the caves start to glow at his presence.  It is common conjecture that the rocks react to the soul of a person or animal, growing brighter the closer the soul comes to them.The rocks remain silent as one of the priestess’ walks out of a dark tunnel and into the dim green light of the room.

Princeps,” she says with a slight bow, “what can we do for you?”

“I wish to see Illy, Iren, is she available?”

“She is still working with Ibani.  Ibani’s been screeching since she got here, but with the Altissimum finally back she’s started to calm down.” Her eyes cloud over with a slight pained expression.

“As well as any of them are able to calm down and move on that is,” she finishes.

“Tell her not to push herself too hard and make sure to come home tonight since she very rarely remembers when working with a newly taken.” Iren bows again in acknowledgement and respect.

Arwyn shifts his weight from one leg to the other nervously as he debates on asking his next question.  Finally, he decides to ask it and stands straight to show his confidence.

“May I see my mother?” Iren smiles a small, sad, but knowing, smile as she nods her head and turns to disappear into the dark.

Time passes slowly as he waits for the young priestess to return with his mother.  The silence of the cave grows thicker during the wait and even the routine drip of condensation can’t stem the growing tension.  Shuffling from the dark tunnel breaks the silence and Arwyn’s nervous tension grows stifling.

One of two females steps from the shadows, her black sleeveless dress a striking contrast to her shockingly white skin.  Her hair like coal and her lips like blood.  Across her eyes is a thick cloth tied in the back, completely obscuring her vision.  She sniffs the air cautiously as she enters and quickly hones in on Arwyn standing in front of her.

“Your soul smells familiar,” she hisses.  The second person places her hand on the female’s shoulder both calming and restraining her from acting.

“Calm, Iltan, calm” Her voice is calm and soothing.  It is only after she speaks that Arwyn notices the priestess that walked his mother out was not Iren, but Illy.  He was so focused on his mother he didn’t even notice.  Illy gives him a small, reassuring, smile as she urges him to speak.  A deep purging breath and Arwyn faces his mother.

“Hello, Mother, it’s been a long time.” The confidence in his voice surprises him.  His mother rotates her head from one side to the other as if trying to hear something in the distance.  She doesn’t answer him nor does she acknowledge even hearing him.  She continues to sniff the air and ‘look’ at Arwyn in confusion.

“Your scent is familiar, but you are not,” she repeats from earlier, her voice is rough and grainy.  She seems to growl the words more than speak them.  Arwyn calmly waits for her to focus on him again; this is a normal thing for the inhabitants of the caves.

“You smell like my dear Avyn.  Why do you smell like Avyn when you are not him?” She takes a step toward Arwyn aggressively and Illy’s hand digs deeper into her shoulder.  Arwyn stands his ground and simply answers.

“I’m his son, Mother.”

“You are not Avyn!  You have no right to his soul!” Illy starts to move her other hand to Iltan’s other shoulder as she continues to make advances on Arwyn.

“Calm, Iltan, calm,” Illy speaks into Iltan’s ear, her voice hypnotic.  Iltan relaxes slightly, but still seems agitated.  Arwyn continues.

“You know why I smell like Father, Mother.”  Her response is both swift and violent.  She leaps from Illy’s grasp and collides with Arwyn from above, forcing him to the ground.  Illy is thrown against the stonewall from the force of Iltan’s leap.  She groans softly but makes no other signs of life.  She is alive, of that Arwyn is sure, but the blow was hard and was knocked unconscious.

Though unable to see because of the thick cloth on her eyes, Iltan seems to regard Arwyn with confused hostility.  Arwyn lays on the ground staring at the anger twisted face of his mother with sadness and empathy.  No time to dwell on Illy’s fate as he contemplates his predicament.

I turned her into this.

She sniffs the air again and recognition flashes across her face.  Arwyn knows what’s coming, but refuses to do anything about it.

“Avyn?! Your soul is exactly like his, but your smell is wrong.  What have you done with Avyn?!” she inquires with a ravenous growl.

“You will give me his soul back!  It doesn’t belong you, it belongs to me!” Her mouth waters at the idea of the soul in front her and slowly spills out onto Arwyn’s calm, unemotional face.  Wild and untamed hunger rages through her body, straining her muscles as she holds him down.

“I want to taste Avyn’s soul again.  It’s been such a long time.” Her violent nails dig into his flesh; blood seeps through and trails to the ground below, her knuckles turning even whiter with the strain of her grip.  She slowly leans closer to his face with a heavy breathing of effort and anticipation.  Arwyn is sure that under the cloth her eyes are wild with starvation, a look that he has seen in Illy’s eyes on more than one occasion.

Arwyn has no time to answer as priestess’ appear and manage to wrestle Iltan off of him.  She screams at them and tries to break free from their grasp.  The yells and screeches grate at the nerves and paralyze the muscles, but training has made Arwyn strong and the priestesses are immune to its effects but not its emotion.  Iltan’s screams quickly dissolve into sobs of despair and she sags into the priestesses carrying her.

“Avyn… My poor, poor Avyn…” she repeats, through her sobs, into the darkness.

Illy crawls to Arwyn as soon as Iren finishes bandaging her head and checks him over quickly.  She collapses onto his chest with relief after seeing the superficial marks from Iltan’s fingernails, but no other injuries.  Arwyn gets up without letting Illy from his embrace and slowly strokes her hair to calm her down.

“I’m so sorry Arwyn; I thought I had control of her.” Arwyn smiles weakly as Illy pulls back and looks at him in concern.  Illy observes his withdrawn gaze and slumped shoulders before wrapping him into her arms again.  Copying what Arwyn did to her, Illy starts gently caressing his head as she holds him to her chest. 

Illy leans closer to Arwyn and whispers into his ear, “We’re alone now.” After a moment trying to remain strong, Arwyn finally gives in to his emotions and buries his face into Illy’s chest.

Illy’s bosom grows wet from his tears.

Arwyn does not sob, just silently releases in the safety of his beloved wife’s embrace.  Illy caresses his hair and places loving kisses to his head as she allows him to grieve.

Submitted: March 24, 2018

© Copyright 2023 Casey Ford. All rights reserved.


Add Your Comments:



A very powerful and moving chapter, Casey. Loved the will 'o' the wisps,too; they make excellent guards.

Thu, April 12th, 2018 8:47pm


Thanks... I'm glad you like it so far. One of my favorite chapters is next.

Thu, April 12th, 2018 2:16pm

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