It was a lovely, crisp autumn evening for a leisurely hike through the hills just north of the Wall. The air held just the faintest hint of the coming winter, but was easily warm enough to erase the remembered chill of travelling through Death. Were the breeze coming from the South, Yrael could probably feel the lingering heat of high summer in Ancelstierre, but today the wind was from the North and the West, sending the cooler air over the Old Kingdom over the Wall into the summery south.
Northerly winds always bode ill for the Perimeter Scouts.
"Lieutenant! Report!" shouted the major to the out-of-breath younger man who approached, half-carried by another soldier. "What happened to you?"
"Broken leg, sir," the lieutenant managed to gasp out, "Fell crooked... trying to get back."
"You fell? Why? Where are the rest of your patrol?"
"Dead," he said, hoarsely. "At least, the Charter Mages. The rest I... don't know. We scattered."
Charter Mages, thought the major. Over half of all patrols into the Old Kingdom are Charter Mages. There're only a few things that'll go for a Charter Mage first, and neither of them mean any good for us. "What was it? Dead hands? A Mordicant?"
The Perimeter Scouts know better than to hold to the rest of Ancelstierre's scoffing attitude towards the Old Kingdom tales of magic and the walking Dead.
"No, sir," the young lieutenant shook his head, feeling dizzy. "I'd never seen anything like it. Some sort of creature, I'd guess." His brow furrowed as he tried to remember the details. "It was so bright, it was hard to tell what it looked like. It," he swallowed hard, "tore the throats out of Parker and Warren, and... just ignored us while it drank their blood, then it went for Simpson." His face wasn't just pale from pain, but from the sickening memory. "Our bullets didn't even faze it, and when it came at us, the guns stopped working at all," he finished, looking ill.
"An Old Kingdom creature, it must have been, sir," the soldier supporting the lieutenant spoke up, trying to be helpful and failing.
This is just what we need, thought the major, grimly. "Free Magic," he said, shortly. "Get this man to the infirmary before he passes out," he ordered the soldiers nearby, "tell those who're on watch to keep an eye out for any returning survivors, and call back the other patrols this instant."
"Sir," one of them said, dread already audible in his voice "I think they've come back."
The major, his mind already on the letter he will be sending tonight to the Abhorsen, whirled to look at the distant gate under the Wall, where a number of soldiers in much the same condition as the lieutenant now being shuffled off to the infirmary were stumbling though, back onto the Ancelstierre side of the Wall. None of those the major recognized bore the Charter Mark upon their foreheads.
He should have known not to expect any good from a night when the northerly wind blew down across the Wall.
The Free Magic creature, the Bright Shiner
(Who would not fear the Nine Bright Shiners, highest of the high?)
wandered unhurriedly north through the woods. The night was cool and the moon was high and bright, an orb of mirrored sunlight in the night sky. As he traveled, Yrael hummed a serene little tune composed by the current Abhorsen's great, great, great, great aunt. Or was it her great, great, great, great, great uncle's daughter? Ah, memory. He smiled to himself. Soon, his path will intersect the Old North Road and he shall make his way up towards Roble's Town.