Dark Guardian



Lucian Walachia, 1400

The village was far too small to stand against the army advancing so quickly toward them. Nothing had slowed the Ottoman Turks. Everything in their path had been destroyed, everyone murdered, cruelly murdered. Bodies were impaled on crude stakes and left for the scavengers to finish off. Blood ran in rivers. No one was spared, not even the youngest child or the oldest elder. The invaders burned and tortured and mutilated, leaving behind only rats and fire and death.

The village was eerily silent; not even a child dared to cry. The people could only look at one another in despair and hopelessness. There would be no help, no way to stop the massacre. They would fall as had all the villages before them in the wake of that terrible enemy. They were too few and had only their peasant weapons to fight off the advancing hordes. They were helpless.

And then the two warriors came striding out of the fog-filled night. They moved as one unit, in perfect accord, in perfect step. They moved with a peculiar animal grace, fluid and supple and totally silent. They were both tall and broad-shouldered with long, flowing hair and eyes of death. Some said they could see the red flames of hell burning in the depths of those icy black eyes.

Grown men moved out of their way; women shrank into the shadows. The two warriors looked neither left nor right yet saw everything. Power clung to them like a second skin. They ceased to move, became as still as the surrounding mountains as the village elder joined them just above the scattered huts, where they could stare out at the empty meadow separating them from the forest.

"What news?" the elder asked. "We heard of the slaughters in every direction. Now it is our turn. And nothing can stop this storm of death. We have nowhere to go, Lucian, nowhere to hide our families. We will fight, but like all the others, we will be defeated."

"We are traveling fast this night, Old One, as we are needed elsewhere. It is said our Prince has been slain. We must return to our people. You have always been a good and kind man. Gabriel and I will go out this night and do what we can to help you before we move on. The enemy can be very a superstitious people."

His tone was pure and beautiful, like velvet. Anyone listening to that voice could do no other than what Lucian commanded. All who heard it wanted only to hear it again and again. The voice alone could enthrall, could seduce, could kill.

"Go with God," the village elder whispered in thanks.

The two men moved on. In perfect rhythm, fluid, silent. Once out of sight of the village, without speaking a word aloud, they shape-shifted at exactly the same moment, taking the form of owls. Wings beat strongly in the night as they circled high above the timberline, searching out the sleeping army. Several miles from the village the earth below was strewn with hundreds of men.

Fog moved in, thick and white and low to the ground. The wind ceased, so that the mist lay dense and stationary. Without warning, owls dropped silently out of the sky, razor-sharp talons directed straight at the eyes of the sentries. The owls seemed to be everywhere, working in precise synchronization so that they were in and out before anyone could come to the guards' assistance. Screams of pain and terror filled the void of silence, and the army rose up, grabbing weapons and searching for an enemy in the thick white fog. They saw only their own sentries, empty sockets for eyes, blood running down their faces as they ran sightlessly in any direction.

In the center of the mass of warriors a crack was heard, then another. Crack after crack, and two lines of men dropped to the ground with broken necks. It was as if hidden within the thick fog were invisible enemies moving quickly from man to man, breaking necks with their bare hands. Chaos erupted. Men ran screaming into the surrounding forest. But wolves boiled out of nowhere, snapping with powerful jaws at the fleeing army. Men fell on their own spears as if directed to do so. Others rammed their spears into comrades-at-arms, unable to stop themselves no matter how hard they fought the compulsion. Blood and death and terror reigned. Voices whispered in the soldiers' heads, in the very air, whispered of defeat and death.