Seven Stars of Midnight

Epic fantasy thriller centered on a world at the brink of darkness. Seven are called to bring the world back from everlasting darkness.

By Bill Joyce

0
15 min.
24

The Journey Begun

“As each moment of life is experienced,

the level of conscious involvement will determine

the lasting effect of the particular moment.”

Krelongh

THOSE OF THE ARROWS

Joabh moved effortlessly through the intricate dance of the Tonla. Her long black hair braided and tied down with a black silk strap. Her blouse, jacket, and leggings made of soft deerskin died black, absorbed the moonlight and helped her blend into the night. Dull black boots, made of sturdier leather, moved through the intricate patterns. Standing five foot four inches, her slender body belied the strength and agility she possessed. She used all her skill to keep the muscles of her face still and impassive as her full being concentrated on the dance. The crisp clean mountain air, alive with the full moon’s piercing silver light, filled the clearing. Joabh stretched her arms toward the silver moon and drank in the cool air. For a fleeting moment, earth and mankind united in her dance.

After the night of peace and reflection, Joabh walked silently through the forest, west of the mountain clearing, under the morning star. It had been many days and nights since she first felt the dread of her journey holding down her spirit.

As a young Toling girl, Joabh had grown up in the peaceful seacoast mountains and enjoyed youth, family, and fellowship with her god Tolus. She entered the priesthood with the pleasant knowledge of contentment and fullness of life.

Her world, now engulfed in the bitterness of civil war, tore towns, villages, and even families apart. An answer to the violence that moved her people towards utter destruction needed to be found.

Joabh thought back to the storm whipped night the high priest of Tolus came to her with his impossible mission. Having taken solemn vows to the teachings of Tolus, Joabh would obey any command given by the high priest. Having studied under his gentle tutelage, she would have given her life to follow him. And now he asked her to forsake her vows and return to the world. He asked her to give up her peace and find those to help save the eroding tranquility of the world of Toling. It still amazed her that Krelongh, her high priest, asked her to volunteer. It still stung her very soul that she wanted to refuse.

These painful memories had stolen Joabh’s peace during her journey across the Misting Mountains and into the first valley of the west. Not until the evening before had she finally accepted her mission. The Tonla had put her back in focus with the whole of her life and, in reflection, she accepted her task. Joabh understood that by accepting the mission she gave up her right to return to her monastery from the unholy world she now entered.

The western world spread before Joabh. The journey over the mountains that surrounded her small country held breathtaking beauty she had not known. Now she looked out over a vast new world that defied comprehension. Her journey took a simple route. Travel west to the Iron Mountain range, beyond the Misting Mountains, and then seek out the master of the eagles. He would be the one to aid her people if any help could be found.

Tibor

As she worked her way down the rocky slopes of the Misting Mountain forests, she set her mind to the task of her journey. In this frame of concentration, she nearly missed the warning signs.

Coming to an immediate stop, she crouched and slowly reached into her jacket for her krilow. Although a ceremonial knife, the krilow was a strong and well-forged weapon. With this and her skills, Joabh was ready for whatever danger that approached.

Staring up, she beheld the jet-black cat with piercing green eyes. Joabh thought about the ease with which the beast had approached her, yet it too stood stone still watching her. Its muscles taught and quivering, prepared for battle, the cat seemed to await her decision.

“So, devil of the mountain, you have come to test your prowess on me. You will soon find out that you are not superior to all humans.” Joabh spoke softly, content on watching and feeling the cat’s reaction to her presence.

The beautiful animal seemed to listen to her words. She straightened her stance and placed the krilow back in its carved bamboo casing. The cat would not attack. This she felt rather than knew. A sense of oneness between the two existed that Joabh accepted without understanding. “I will let you travel your road of destiny cat. You and I will not test our strength because we both have our quests to accomplish.”

Moving slowly, but without fear, Joabh turned and walked on towards the west. Joabh felt the cat’s presence on the trail above her path and knew he followed at a comfortable distance.

Joabh, upon reaching a glade, looked around for signs of other travelers. The glade seemed empty, but indications of some presence within the recent past brought Joabh to attention. A swift stream bounded the glade to the south and the mountain cliff crowded it to the north. Her only path was to cross the glade and continue down through the forest on the other side. With caution, she began to cross the open area.

The grass, knee high, soft and browning in the autumn sunlight, belied a peacefulness that Joabh knew did not exist this day. Something was very wrong. Halfway across the serpents lifted high out of the grass showing themselves and their evil intentions. One giant cobra would be no problem for Joabh, two would prove difficult. Four brought the reality of death to the traveler from Toling.

Quickly stepping back, Joabh drew her krilow and dispatched the cobra directly behind her. This gave her a moment to think and prepare. The other three, seeing her swift movements, approached with greater caution. She knew they would strike together. Eyeing the three she chose the one in front, larger than the others, to be the master cobra. The one on her left, the youngest, may lack experience and skill. The one on her right showed no signs of weakness.

The snakes were less than ten feet from her when she sensed the presence of another in the glade. As if by reflex, she knew what her actions would be. Rolling to her left she dispatched the younger snake before the others reacted. With the same movement, she let her krilow fly striking the master cobra in mid strike. Her life was now in the hands of another. Glancing to her right, she saw the black streak of the big cat deftly snatching the cobra from the air. Its teeth sank into the neck of the snake. With a quick flick of its head, the snake fell limp and lifeless in its jaw.

They stood close, their eyes locked and focused on the inner soul of the other. Joabh knew that two travelers from separate worlds were now joined together for their journey.

“I see, cat, that we are to become friends. You will join me on my quest.” She felt strange talking to the animal and yet knew he understood. Knew he would follow her and aid her on her journey. It felt good to have such a companion. “I will call you Tibor, lord of the great cats. The name is befitting your prowess. I am Joabh. If we are to travel together then let us go in a manner suiting us both.”

With this, Joabh turned and began to run across the remainder of the glade. She could maintain this pace through the day and far into the night. In fact, it felt good to stretch out her muscles and push the limits of her endurance. She also knew Tibor would follow. His graceful stride matched hers as they entered the forest below and began their quick descent through the foothills of the Misting Mountains into the Valley of Elson.

The Valley of Elson

The Valley of Elson, an expansive grassland stretching from the Misting Mountains westward to the Iron Mountains and from the Glaciers of Ibor southward to the swampland of Neecress, opened before her. Moving bands of cattle herders and horse traders made this valley home. Some smaller nomadic tribes with no particular avocation in life, except to make what you possessed theirs, also inhabited it. The wild grass gave the herds of cattle and horses a perfect environment and they grew in great numbers. The lesser wildlife moved as it pleased, and the generally self-sufficient land mirrored the lifestyle of its inhabitants. They remained independent and self-willed. Passing through this valley would be of no consequence for the travelers except in the case of the nomadic thieves.

Joabh saw that the journey would be several days, even at the pace they had maintained coming down the foothills. She decided to rest a full day in the shadows at the forest edge before beginning their journey. Building a small fire, more for cheer than warmth, and collecting roots and berries from the forest, she settled down to rest. Tibor sat watching her efforts and then moved off into the forest. This strange relationship puzzled Joabh, yet the cat brought her comfort and a peace she had not felt since she left the protection of her monastery.

Quillon of the Horse Tribe

As the sun settled down for the evening, it brought the great expanse of the valley alive. The awesome beauty of the sunset filled Joabh with new wonder for the vast new world that she entered. The wild grasses seemed to burn as they swayed in the evening breeze. Great energy and excitement filled this land and never before had she felt so excited to explore. She beheld the new world and wanted more. She could not return to her quiet place of solitude in the monastery but she would wander this world and partake in its mysteries. And now with her new friend, loneliness drifted to the back of her thoughts, replaced by a new sense of adventure.

As she looked out over the valley, she saw a tall figure astride an animal. Although still at a great distance, the figure approached her camp directly. The stranger approached slowly, acting in an assured manner. Reaching Joabh’s camp he calmly dismounted from his tall white steed. The steed pranced nervously but did not move or disobey its master’s commands. There before her stood a tall man, well-muscled and covered in form fitting fur, his blond hair flowed freely over his shoulders and his chiseled face held only one flaw—a deep scar crossing over his left eye.

“You travel alone and without escort,” Quillon spoke. “And yet, you have company hidden among the trees. Both Moon Racer and I feel the presence of this danger.”

Joabh looked deeply into the stranger’s blue eyes. “There is no danger unless you intend to provoke it, stranger,” remaining calm and steady in her response. “I know the name of your beautiful beast, may I also know yours? I am Joabh from Toling.”

“Forgive my manners, lady of the seas, I only thought that the danger needed attention. I am Quillon, master of the Horse Tribe of Ultara. If there is no danger, why then does your companion hide?

“I call him Tibor, named after the great cat of legend that protects my people. He saved me from a cobra nest and chooses to travel with me for his own reasons. He will come as he chooses. Maybe it would be better for Moon Racer if he remained within the trees.” Joabh’s senses told her this was a civilized man and only caution was required. She indicated to the stump on the other side of the fire and picked out a leaf filled with hot roots from the coals to offer her guest.

Quillon accepted the offer and sat upon the stump looking at Joabh and the food she offered.

Tibor chose this time to slip from the trees and advance towards the camp. Moon Racer became more agitated and Quillon stood reaching reflexively into to his boot for his knife. Tibor stopped and stared directly into his eyes.

Quillon slowly slid the knife back into the leather sheath built into his boot. “Your friend is indeed a great cat. His kind has not been seen for many generations. Why does he travel into this country now?”

Joabh thought this through as Quillon backed away from the cat towards his steed. Holding its nose, he calmed the animal with soft words Joabh could not understand and, although the horse settled down, it did not let its concentration slip from the great black beast standing calmly across the camp.

Joabh truly did not know why the cat followed her and she told Quillon, as best she could, what she felt was in the great beast’s mind. With this Quillon seemed to relax.

“So both of you have felt the evil growing in our world,” Quillon spoke frankly. “I too travel in search for understanding. I have been on a mission to cross the valley and find what has disturbed my people and our great steeds. I accept both of you travelers and will aid you in your journey.”

With that, Quillon approached the big cat. Joabh tensed, not knowing how Tibor would react to this. The cat merely sat and allowed the man to touch his fur, and with this Moon Racer lost interest in the cat and began to graze on the grasses around him.

Quillon smiled, “My steed will accept any friend I choose, although I doubt this one will ever ride his back. This is an interesting group of travelers. Now if I may, I would like to sample the art of your cooking. It smells good and I have traveled days forgetting about my hunger.”

Quillon retrieved a satchel of bread to share from his steed and Joabh poured some of the herb tea she had prepared to go with the roots and berries. “Where is it you will travel to in your quest, Joabh?”

Joabh told him of her intention to travel west across the valley but did not give her destination or whom she would seek out. Quillon seemed friendly enough but remained unknown, and she continued to hide her mission.

Quillon laughed quietly at first, and then with a growing heartiness. Joabh fumed at being the end of his joke, but Tibor sat calmly beside her, oblivious to her tension and pain.

“I see that our lady of the seas is really new to this world. All who travel here know of the legendary Moon Racer and know his companion to be the master of the horse tribes. You will need to become more familiar with the people of the world and who you can and cannot trust if you are to complete your quest.” Quillon began to talk quietly about the history of his people and the others of the valley. He then related his knowledge of her people and how his ancestors had fought side by side in the Dragonlord Wars of ancient times. A descendent of the great horse kings, Quillon carried on the tradition of keeping all people free within his domain of the Valley of Elson.

Joabh’s mind methodically cataloged the information Quillon gave and found truth in his accounting of the histories of both peoples. Her inner sense calmed and became aware of the goodness of this man. But mostly she began to feel the presence of his great steed. Like Tibor, she felt the animal’s inner self which seemed open to her and she sensed this was a noble animal and a friend. The tension Moon Racer had felt had hidden him from her senses. Now she knew there could be trust built with these travelers.

Joabh shared her destination and her beginnings with the master of the horse tribes. They both talked well into the autumn night, learning about each other’s people and discussing the confusing and deadly trouble that invaded their lands. The talk finally dwindled and Joabh curled up beside the big cat and fell asleep. She left the others to guard the camp while she fell softly into a deep and refreshing slumber for the first time since leaving Toling.

The morning sunlight found Joabh and Quillon preparing for their journey west. Quillon’s concern for Joabh traveling afoot dissipated as she raced out of the camp in an even, steady pace matched by Tibor. Quillon brought Moon Racer about and, commanding a fast paced trot, joined the two westward across the grasslands. The clear sky and taste of winter to come in the air made the travel exhilarating. Quillon continued to be amazed at the stamina of the young woman who ran effortlessly beside his great steed. By early evening, they had covered close to one-third of their journey across the valley and Quillon called for a halt. They made camp and continued their conversations of the previous evening. Tibor, sensing the end to the day’s travel, slipped quietly into the tall grasses to find his own evening meal.

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About Bill Joyce

Bill is a writer of prose, a poet in his own mind, and self-proclaimed master of words. Long-windedness is due the personal enjoyment of his inside jokes, most of which fall on deaf ears. He calls himself an Author.

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