In a world very different from ours, there is a large stretch of land. No one quite knows where it is, but in that stretch of land, the trees were taller than any trees on our world, stretching on for what seemed like miles. In the forests, there were three large lakes. Rivers and streams all ran through these lakes, connecting them like the veins running through your own body. Impassable mountains surrounded this rather large valley, trapping those residing by the lakes to an eternity fighting for their own boundaries. This stretch of land was named by the locals, Pergamum.
By each of the three lakes, there were five cities, and each one had as little to do with the others as possible. As a result of their refused cooperation, each of them, in turn, has a very different way of life than the others.
Where it all began, when the first domino was tipped on it's side, was in perhaps the most undeveloped of cities, Omega. It was so underdeveloped in fact, that the residents in that city had only just invented a plumbing system for their houses, that were still mostly in small, wooden cabins. Most of the work done in these cities included farming, hunting, carpentry, metal work, and watchmen. This was of course excluding the aristocratic leaders, but they were a group all by themselves, and interfered very little with commoners.
Around this unsuspecting little city was a thick wall, put in place hundreds of years ago by their ancestors. The wall was graffitied with symbols and sigils that were unexplainable, but were carved into the wall and covered in black pigments. Many of the citizens had theorized several possibilities, but no one had ever come up with a solid idea to date. No matter what variation of the myths surrounded it, it was all connected by a singular theory, to protect them from shadows.
Yes, the shadows. They were the constantly looming threat, hanging over the existence of every person in that city, as well as almost all the other cities. They came in the night, mostly taking livestock and pet dogs, but once in a blue moon, they would take some bigger game, sneaking in from above the tree lines, dropping in from above and taking weeping children from their mothers, or adolescents wandering curiously through the forest at night.
It seemed everyone in that city feared the shadows, all but one. She respected them, and was clever enough to be cautious at night, but she had not cried at night when she thought of them coming in and snatching her and taking her away, covering her screams from anyone who could hear.
Her name was Saorise Hadraniel, a well-known and respected caretaker of the outcasts, and her little brother. They had lost their parents at a young age, they were both watchmen, and they were on watch the night of the first shadow attack. Ever since then, she had watched over him. Even thought they were less than a year apart from each other, and technically she was younger than him. If you had asked someone, they would all tell you the same thing, Saorise played the role of the bossy big sister; she was a wild, untamed spirit, and she refused to be treated as 'the little sister that needs her big brother.' Raphael would probably laugh and agree with them, he's never had a problem being her little brother anyway.
Just after Saorise had celebrated her 17th birthday, her brother contracted a deadly disease, one for which there was no cure. She had asked the leaders of their city to let her travel to the neighboring cities to search for medicine, but her request had been declined each time she asked.
So she fetched him fresh cold water from the pond each day, making a brave mile-long trip to get water for her brother, and the four others that had contracted it as well. Really, all it did was cool their fevers, but it also gave her time alone to clear her head and let her mind time to wander.
So far the shadows have been dormant during her travels, they were mostly active during nighttime. Each of the buckets she carried, two buckets per arm, held enough water to sustain all four patients. They had water normally from the well in their city, but it was never clean and only seemed to worsen their conditions.
"Raphael, I'm heading out to the pond, will you be alright here by yourself?" asked a young woman, black hair falling past her shoulders, sharp features defined on her face.
"I'll be fine." a man replied hoarsely, his reply followed by a gruff coughing fit. His face, however ashen and pale, resembled hers quite well, with a small nose, sharp cheekbones and chin. His eyes were dark to the point of almost black like hers, but his were dulled and unfocused. Even a blind man could tell he was a dying man from ten feet away.
"Don't cause any trouble when I'm gone!" the woman called on her way out the door, taking four buckets in her arms as she left. From behind her, she heard a weak chuckle.
"Well, at least I got something out of him today." she thought to herself.
When she left her small abode, she passed by each of her other patients, making sure they were being cared for and in a stable condition. Then she made her way through the market square.
"Evening there Saorise, off to fetch water again?" spoke one of the shopkeepers.
"That's the only thing I can do really." she replied.
"Be careful out now, the winter solstice is coming up, you're gonna have less time to get them anything when night falls quicker."
"I know, but it'll keep me on my feet. Do you by chance have anything that you could contribute to help my hopeless cause?" she made her way over to the young man's stall where he had several types of bread on display that caused Saorise's mouth to water in delight.
"Well, I don't know what your sick people need. I guess I could send them some bread, goodness knows the leaders keep making me raise my prices, putting something on them called a tax. That sure helps nobody. I'll see if I can send them a loaf or two." he reasoned, finishing with a grin on his face.
"That sounds great, I'd better get going, it was nice seeing you!" she waved goodbye as she walked toward the main gates of the city.
She aroused no suspicion when she passed through the gate, the huge wall looming over her like an omnipresent being; strange, indecipherable symbols tattooed on nearly every inch of the thirty foot monstrosity. Even though she passed under it each and every day, it never failed to amaze her. The guards payed her little attention as she walked by, their eyes focused solely on the forest beyond.
The leaves under her boots crunched and crackled with each step, the icy wind piercing through her furred shawl. The forest was particularly quiet that day, birds hardly called to each other, there was no familiar rustle of small animals hiding and moving through the bushes. Saorise didn't notice, her mind was preoccupied with thoughts of her brother, and all the sick townspeople. Two people had contracted it in the last week, and already a few others were showing the first symptoms of it. Until they had a cure however, things would only continue to get worse.
She walked along the path nearly an hour when she came to the pond, it's pristine, glimmering water unnaturally clear and bright, giving a bit of light to the otherwise darkly colored landscape. Kneeling down in the mud and grass, Saorise filled up each of the buckets one by one, filling each one as full as she could, knowing full well of. Just how heavy they would be on her return trip.
She attached two buckets to straps she set on her shoulders, thicker from the warm furs she wore. They wore on her shoulders heavily, but she had done this many times before, and was used to the strain. When she had first set out from the village, she knew it was later than she normally set out, but that was only because she had to check on the diseased more frequently, and talking to the man in the market had done her no good.
So when she saw the already dark landscape turn even darker, the little sunlight that passed though the treetops dimming, a panic alarm went off in her mind immediately. Saorise picked up her pace, hurrying even faster through the forest, water sloshing out of the buckets.
Just when she thought it couldn't get any worse, she heard rustling in the bushes, what few birds had been singing fell silent, and she felt a prickle at the back of her neck, sending signals that someone, or something was watching her.
She continued her quickened pace for ten minutes before the forest turned pitch black, and she heard all the shadows come to life around her.
"Not today freaks, I have work to do!" She called out to them, the fear now replaced by a will to fight, of all the people relying on her back in the village, and how many we're going to die if she wasn't there to help them.
The fearless exterior she had put on however was useless. She could bluff all she wanted, but it would only attract more and more of them to her location, drawn to the human voice as a vulture is to the scent of a dying animal.
She heard them congregating around her whispering and growling in the invisible darkness behind the brush. The buckets on her shoulders were forgotten as they dropped to the ground, and her boots pounded against the forest floor as Saorise sprinted away, the smell of fear only attracting more and more.
Then, they began to manifest, shapes appearing in the brush, some chose forms of fierce, deadly beasts with dagger-like teeth, others chose a contorted form of a faceless human, and other simply went for a shadowy, inconsistent shape, marked only by a pair of blood-red eyes.
Saorise looked on all sides around her for an escape, but there was none, there were too many for her to find a gap that she could slip through, but even if she could, they would get to her before she could run far enough away. Red eyes scanned her from all sides, just waiting for the right moment to strike.
As a last resort, even though she knew it would have no effect against the shadows, she pulled a sharp hunting knife from a pouch from inside her furs. She crouched into a defensive position, ready to strike against any of the shadows that dared approach her at all.
After what seemed like hours, one of them finally made their first attack. Saorise didn't know how effective her knife would be against the shadow, but she slashed and swiped at the shadow as it growled and tried to get a clear shot of exposed flesh. She thanked her stars for her thick pelts she wore to ward off the cold. She laughed at the shadow as it clamed it's jaws down on a mouthful of mink fur, tearing away and being left with a mouthful of fur. Her mirth was gone quickly as the shadow scraped its claws along her arm, cutting through her furs and scratching her skin so that scarlet drops fell onto the leaves under her feet. She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from crying out in pain, and instead took another swipe at the demon, which it easily sidestepped, only to take another swipe at her midsection, cutting through leather and fur once more to scar her olive-toned skin.
She roared at the shadow, her mind running out of logical situations to escape from this. The shadow simply laughed at her, a twisted growl bubbling out of its throat like acid, its black teeth darker than even the darkness of the forest around her.
The shadow's frightening laugh enticed more shadows to emerge from the darkness of the brush around her. Saorise tried to keep her eyes on them, but there were at least five around her now, and they were closing in from all sides.
Then they attacked. She felt one of them tear at her arm, trying to wrestle the knife from her hand even though it could do them no harm. This time she couldn't hold back the cry that tore from her lips as she felt the bones in her arm break, her wrist snap, and blood soak her furs. It only took a few seconds for her to lose all the feeling in her left arm.
It wasn't a moment later when two shadows took out her legs, effectively breaking her fibula and tibula. Her father's words came to her mind, "Once they get you on the ground, I don't care what beast it is, but as soon as you hit the ground, you're a goner."
Keeping his words in her mind, she cried out in pain, tears streaming down her face as she used every last bit of her strength to keep herself upright and on her feet. Her strength was weakening quickly as a shadow jumped on her back, tearing off her fur shawl and tearing at her shoulders and back, raking it's sharp, barbed claws down her soft skin. When the other shadows saw that the furs were removable, they ripped off the ones tied to her shoulders and on her feet, clawing their way under them and spilling large amounts of her blood.
These shadows weren't out for just a kidnapping this night, they were out for blood, and the way they were taking their time torturing her and cutting her, they were doing it merely for pleasure. At last, Saorise's strength gave out and her legs collapsed into the ground, her eyes drooping as the world became still, and her life bled out from her onto the beasts tearing into her.
She was amazed she wasn't dead by this point, but she felt it coming. With each drop of blood spilled, she felt it coming. Now that she was on the ground, she heard more shadows head towards her, easy prey is what she had become. All of her attempts to heal the townspeople, all those years of watching after her brother, all of it meant nothing now, as she was dying at the hands of these monsters.
Just before her eyes closed for eternity however, a high pitched scream bubbled out of her, louder than the others as she felt one stab her through her chest with something akin to an elongated sword, piercing her lungs and heart.