Noman, a voice whispered his name through the darkness. Noman, wake up. I need you. Terrible things are coming...
Noman sat bolt upright in bed, right hand instinctively grabbing the sword that he kept propped up against his beside table. Images of terrible things swam before his eyes; vicious maws that snarled and snapped. They radiated pure malevolence, and in their blood red eyes he saw only the desire for death and destruction. With a strangled cry he swept the blade before him, and in the blink of an eye the vision passed. He sat in bed, alone and covered in a cold sweat, the only sound in the room that of his labored breathing.
"Again," he said softly, laying the blade across his lap and rubbing his face with both hands. There would be no more sleeping tonight, he knew from experience. Getting out of bed he got dressed, strapped the sword to his waist, and left the room.
The night was cool and calm on the ramparts of Ironclaw. From here atop the main gate he could look back on the rest of the fortified monastery that served as regional headquarters to The Iron Order. If he looked in the other direction he could easily see the town at the foot of the hill, named for the monastery that watched over it. It was peaceful at this hour of night, everything illuminated by a moon that was nearing full, the air crisp enough to draw goosebumps from his skin. It helped him think. Helped him forget the nightmares that plagued him.
He heard footsteps approaching, and turned to see who was on sentry duty this night. It was an older man, hair grey but full, with a kindly face that was marred by three parallel scars running from cheek to neck. "Good morning, Noman," the man said, his deep lilting voice carrying clearly across the cold air.
"Good morning, Aldrick," Noman returned the greeting. "If it can be called morning, yet."
"The moon is more than halfway through it's transit," Aldrick said, squinting up at the sky. "I'd say that qualifies." He joined Noman at the wall, leaning against the rough stones and looking out at the town. "Another nightmare?" He asked at last, looking at Noman from the corner of his eye.
"Every night for the last week," Noman sighed.
"That bad, eh?"
"Not terrible," Noman shrugged. "Just... I wish I knew why. And tonight..." He paused, fidgeting on a loose piece of the stone wall. "Ah, it's foolish."
"Foolish enough to keep you up in the wee hours of the morning?" Alderick pointed out.
"Heh. Fair enough," Noman agreed, but he stayed silent for a few seconds longer. "It was different than the other times. I thought I heard a voice talking to me," he said. "Telling me to wake up."
"Have you spoken to brother Tobias?" Alderick asked. Tobias was one of Ironclaw's clerics, responsible for interpreting the signs of the gods.
"I'm not sure this is something that warrants his attention," Noman said. "Just because I have a few bad dreams doesn't mean the gods are sending me signs."
"Perhaps not," Alderick said, straightening and looking up into the sky. "But what do you call that?" Noman tracked the older man's pointing finger and saw a streak of light heading across the sky. A shooting star, and it was getting closer. Before he knew it there was a huge fireball falling rapidly from the sky. The early morning hour was illuminated by a bright flash of light as it came to rest in the nearby forest, accompanied by a loud crack-boom. "Come on!" Alderick said, slapping Noman on the shoulder, "Let's go have a look!"
By the time the two men reached the sight of the impact the top of the sun was peaking over the horizon. Despite the time it had taken them to get there the forest was still thick with smoke, and it made for slow going. Things got even worse closer to the site; charred and fallen trees made the footing treacherous. The scale of the devastation was something Noman had never seen before, and he gawked at the crater when it finally came into view. "Oooh, I bet we could find some good iron in this one," Alderick said happily as he began scuttling down the side. Noman followed cautiously.
"Iron?" he asked. The Iron Order drew it's name from the metal that made their swords, cold iron, a metal that was known to hurt demons more than steel. But the Order had a number of ways to get iron.
"Aye," Alderick said as he reached the bottom of the shallow crater. "Sky Iron. It's a gift from the gods, is what it is." He looked back at Noman. "Didn't they teach you anything before they let you take the vows? Ah, the way they do things these days." He shook his head and began looking around the crater. Noman followed his lead, closely examining any loose rocks that might contain iron.
A flash of light caught his eye. Odd, he thought. He looked up at the sky, still shrouded with smoke. And the sun was in nowhere near the right angle. Another flash of light caught his eye. Half buried in loose dirt he found what looked at first to be an ordinary chunk of rock, just big enough to fit in the palm of his hand. But as he brushed the dirt from it he could see there was something different about it. It looked more like a chunk of dirty glass, almost clear, and if he looked deeper he thought he saw a random flash of green light...
"What's that then? Did you find some?" Alderick asked, walking over.
"I don't know what it is," Noman admitted without looking away from the stone. "But it's definitely not iron."
"Huh," Alerick regarded the stone. "Somebody talks to you in your dreams, a star falls from the sky, and you just happen to find that. I think it's time you talk to Tobias, boy. If the gods aren't trying to tell you something I'll eat my sword."
"Maybe you're right," Noman agreed. He put the stone in his pocket and the two began clambering up the side of the crater. As they reached the edge of the woods Alderick put a hand on Noman's arm.
"Look at that," he said in a hushed tone. He gestured with his head, and Noman followed his gaze to tree at the very edge of the woods. A raven sat on one of the branches, watching their progress. "It's a day full of signs, isn't it?" he said. "And it's only just begun." The raven cawed once and took wing, flying towards the rising sun.