Travelling North from Halsal

The capital of Grenald, what was once known as the Seat of the Light, is suspended in the light of an ever present Twilight nowadays, since it has been ruled by the Dark King. Yet within its walls there is a safety of sorts, from the creatures that now roam the lands. My home was in Halsal, the capital of Grenald, but it was not my fate to stay within its walls. And so I was forced to undertake a journey, heading ever north.

The Northern gate to the city exits to the Whispering Woods. These woods were once the province of picnickers and hikers, now bandits and creatures of the night roam between the trees. Where once the sound of whispers swirling on the breeze brought comfort and laughter to those who entered the woods now the whispers, like the denizens of the wood, have taken a darker turn, whispering of death and blood to those foolish enough to pause beneath the branches. I had exited to the woods, a lantern lighting my way against the ever present darkness they now contained, hurrying to make it through their branches before true night fell. Around my neck I wore a necklace of runes which I hoped would keep any creatures of dark away, at my side a sword which I would use to defend myself. The whispers were off setting, seeming to come from everywhere at once, and yet nowhere at all. Luckily my time beneath the dark branches of the Whispering Wood was short spent. Only some hours had passed before I was passing through the last of its foliage and into the sunshine beyond, having somehow managing to avoid the many things that dwelt in the woods that would wish me harm.

The Northern Path then wound its way among many villages for many days, with little of interest. When a town was populated, I would stay the night in the small safety of an inn, sword close at hand. Yet some villages along the path were abandoned. In some cases it seemed the villages might have left yesterday, in others as if they hadn’t been there in many years. I only crossed these villages under the light of the sun, careful to not step into any shadows cast by the buildings and to put as much distance between myself and them before night fell. There was no telling what sort of creatures might be using the buildings as a refuge. In one such village I caught the glint of gold and jewels shining through one of the windows of an innocent looking building, in another the scent of freshly cooked food filled the ear. Yet in each I hurried on, attempting to close off my sense to these lures clearly set to tempt me, and any other passer bys into some dark creatures trap. I knew that to fall for any of these temptations would mean certain death.

Six days out of Halsal and I reached the edge of the Lake of Mirrors. Before the Dark King’s rule this Lake was the goal of many a pilgrims journey, back when the roads had been safe to travel. When all is still on the Lake, its surface shines like the perfect mirror, without a flaw. Legend has it that one who is patient and still will, having rowed a boat to the very centre of point of the lake and waited, still as a stone, for every ripple and disturbance on the water’s surface to disappear, be gifted with the sight of their future in the Lake’s reflection, and not just of one future, but of almost every possible twist and turn their life could take, of all futures that could be. This sight had driven a good number of men mad, while others had benefited from the knowledge and done great things. It is rumoured the Dark King himself rowed out into the Lake, just days before seizing the capital.

But the Lake of Mirrors, impressive as it is, was not my goal. Skirting the Lake, I set off around its edge towards the East, and then North again when possible. While rowing across the Lake would have made my journey shorter, I had been warned against such an attempt and knew when to give a warning merit. And so I continued on the path around the Lake, until the sound of rushing water filled my ears.

A deep sadness seemed to settle on my heart as I heard the water, and I was drawn closer to its source. The closer I came, the more the sound of the water rushing and falling sounded like great tears, and I knew at once what I was approaching. The Falls of Sorrow ran off the Lake, a sight that drew many to it. I hurried along, hoping to catch a glimpse of this famed sight. Suddenly the Falls were in front of me, the sound of crying all I could hear, as a deep sadness settled on my heart. I felt the only way to vanquish this sadness would be to throw myself from the rocks where I stood into the Falls depths, so deep was the sadness. However an arm on my shoulder stopped me from my foolish gesture.

“You are not the first to contemplate suicide after hearing the sound,” the woman told me, her sad eyes on mine. I guessed that she was the guardian of the Falls of Sorrow, the woman with the responsibility to ensure foolish travellers like myself did not throw themselves off its heights. “More and more who venture here attempt the same thing, the sound of the Falls having grown in sadness since the Dark King’s rule.”

“Why do they cry?” I asked, my eyes still on the Falls, entranced, not looking at the woman who had saved my life.

“They cry for all the lost potential futures, for children and lovers who will never be, for men and women struck down before they should have been, for minds turned to the dark and away from the light. And the longer the Dark King rules, the more they cry, as more and more possible futures are simply washed away,” she explained. Suddenly her hand was tight on my shoulder. “You should be away now,” she said, squeezing hard enough to bring pain and break the spell the Falls had put me under. “Hurry away as fast as you can least the Falls drag you back. Let not them cry for you as well.”

I nodded, shrugging off her arm and heading away at a run, back onto the path that would lead me north. The sound of tears still filled my ears, trying to tug me back to the Falls yet still I ran, until finally I could run no more. Only then did I realise that I could no longer hear the sound of the Falls of Sorrow, that I had outrun their mournful cry.

Yet I could not rest there, the Falls were still far too close. Walking, ever walking, I continued on my path, until dark began to fall and I was once again forced to make camp and ward against creatures that might be out there, hunting for blood. The next morning I set out again, walking until night fell and setting up camp. Another half day of walking and I reached the village of Marhark, at the base of the Shifting Dessert. It was here that I would need to find a guide, before I could continue further.

Many had attempted to cross the Shifting Desert alone, not willing to pay the fee of a guide’s hire at the village of Marhark, or the village of Krahram on the other side of the desert. Yet none of these foolish individuals ever reached their goal, the shifting sands of the dessert turning them around, confusing them until finally they succumbed to death, their bones providing food for the scavenging animals. Some believe it is merely the vicious sandstorms in the region which cause the sands of the Shifting Desert to constantly change their position. Yet the people of Marhark and Krahram tell another tale, of the great Tortuls, each larger than you could imagine. According to these desert villagers, the sand dunes of the Shifting Desert form only on the shells of these Tortuls, who roam the desert by the light of the moon, taking travellers who rest upon their back far from where they were. Whether the Tortuls existed or not, I knew better than to enter the Shifting Desert without first engaging the services of a guide.

The man I found to lead me across the desert was called Guil, a man approaching the later years of his life. Yet there was wisdom in his eyes, and he spoke of many desert crossings. I hoped he would lead me to safety.

We set out across the desert early the next day, Guil looking constantly at the sky, then around us to guide our way. I knew not the signs he sought, only offering a prayer that he continued to find him. That first night we set up camp atop a sand dune, one, Guil said, which would carry us further North as we slept. I was nervous falling asleep, but eventually sleep welcomed me into its warm embrace. Yet I awoke while the moon was still high in the sky, to a deep vibration in the sound all around. We seemed higher than we were previously, and from what I could see were definitely moving in what I hoped was a northerly direction. Peering nervously down the dune, I was surprised to see what looked like a leg, larger than a house, protruding from underneath it. I turned to Guil, a shocked expression on my face. He grinned back at me, laughter on his lips. “I tell you, no? The Tortul, he will take us closer to where we need to be. You lucky man, cross desert in only 1 night. Yet you still must pay me standard 5 night fee, yes?” he said. I nodded agreement. Heck, if I only spent one night in the desert, I’d even pay the man a bonus.

I tried to get back to sleep then, at Guil’s urging. When I awoke, the sun was just rising and we were still again. Guil and I set out at a walk, the sun trekking higher and higher in the sky behind us. True to Guil’s word, we reached Krahram shortly after midday. I happily payed Guil his fee, and hurried on my way, knowing I was close now to my destination. A mountain loomed over Krahram, it’s shadow falling from the North. A day’s further journey and I was at the foot of it. A gate marked the foot, a gate I had been told would bar all visitors save those who had been invited. Traveller’s seeking guidance must wait here, for one on the mountain top to come down to them, yet I had been invited. I placed my hand on the gate, feeling a force seem to flow through me as it opened easily. I knew after the gate there would be 1000 steps and at the top of these steps a man would be waiting. Setting one foot in front of the other, I began the long climb.

“So you have made it young one,” a voice called, as I set foot on the 1000th step. “You have answered the call and accepted your destiny.”

I nodded, staring in awe at the man, hardly believing he existed. He appeared just as he had in my dream, before I set out on this journey, old and yet young at the same time. “I am here, willing to learn,” I told him, bowing my head before him. He was master of this place, and worthy of great respect.

“Then come my student. The studies of a true dream walker begin for you tonight,” he stated, gesturing for me to rise. Turning he headed into the temple behind him, and I followed, stepping into the legendary Temple of Sleep, a place only those selected to become Dream Walkers would ever see. 

The End

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