THE FLUTES OF AERAN

1: Fleeing the Flutes


Well into evening, Keran heard the sound for the first time. It faded in and out over the expanse of grasses, otherworldly, a series of forlorn notes that raised the hairs on the back of his neck. He stood at the edge of a creek bed. A few short trees grew by the water, breaking the monotony of the plain. As the sun set across the wide-open land, the ex-soldier looked for the source of the keening.

“What’s that?” demanded Ulthar, searching the horizon. Keran’s burly friend held a hairy arm up to shield his eyes as he scanned.

“I don’t know,” Keran said. His own gray eyes swept across the plain. The two watched for several long seconds. Keran saw only the tall grass lining the gentle slopes, extending to the horizon. The mud of the creek bed had a few bird tracks in it, meandering around the occasional rock. Keran looked for a large bird for a moment before dismissing the idea that any avian could create such a noise. The evening wind moved through the grass in gentle waves. The sound went on for five or ten seconds, almost lost in the wind. It faded away.

It was nothing, Keran told himself. Wind through an oddly shaped tree?

A new burst of notes sounded out, slightly louder. This time it struck Keran as more animated, less mournful. Keran’s heart sped up. Some instinct combined with his imagination and fear was the result.

Something has found us, and that excites it.

“Maybe it’s coming up the creek bed?” Keran said.

“It’s nearing. Whatever it is,” Ulthar said rapidly. Keran heard in Ulthar’s voice the same nervousness he felt clawing up from his own gut. The sound felt wrong.

Keran was not as familiar as the others with the terrain. He had grown up an islander, amidst a sea of water, not the sea of grass that now surrounded them.

Maybe it’s just some strange creature I’ve never heard before… it could be harmless.

“Let’s go warn the others,” Keran suggested. Ulthar gave him a quick nod. Forcing their way through the weeds and mud to the water’s edge, they finished filling the water skins as fast as they could. Then the two men headed back toward their camp at a half run. Keran was lighter than Ulthar, and his stride shorter, but for his size he was as strong as his friend. They wore the sun-cracked leather of veteran travelers. Scabbarded short swords hung at their belts, cutting rivulets through the tall grass beside them as they hurried along.

Geere and Sharn stood near their preparations for a fire, looking out across the plain. They watched Keran and Ulthar approach with apprehension. Clearly they had heard the same sounds and felt as anxious about the wailing as the other two. Their five horses skittered about nervously. Keran saw that Geere and Sharn had left the saddles on the horses’ backs.

“Did you see anything?” Sharn asked. The man’s shaggy mustache couldn’t hide his frown. His bow and sword were close at hand.

Keran handed him the water skins and shook his head. The weathered skin of his forehead showed wrinkles of worry through errant locks of brown hair.

“It sounds like flutes, almost,” Geere said. “Except louder, deeper. Sometimes it trills before falling back to the long howl.”

“I’ve heard many flutes before, but never music like this,” Ulthar said. “I don’t like it.”

It began to get darker as the sun finally passed the edge of the world, accompanied by the alien sounds. Sharn lit the fire. Keran knew Sharn had been this far from home many times before, but he could tell the man was shaken. At first the sound had been only a curiosity, a trivial anomaly. But now it wore on them. The arrival of darkness was not helping.

Keran drew a breath deep into his lungs through his nose. He didn’t smell anything except the smoke of their own fire. His nose had attenuated to the strong plant smells of the plain.

“Should we keep the fire? Maybe we should just hide here without it,” suggested Ulthar.

“Depends on what’s making that hellish sound,” Geere said. “If it’s an animal we should keep the fire; if it’s something smarter that knows fire, we should hide.”

“No animal I know makes a sound like that.”

“There’s many creatures we don’t know in the world,” Sharn said.

“I’ve read of creatures far beyond our imagining,” Keran said. “There was a book in Woldwall that said Ganar war parties sometimes blow horns to strike fear into their victims.”

Keran realized it was the first time he had mentioned reading books. He had let slip his ability to read Emerish once before, as they negotiated with a merchant over a contract, but they probably had assumed he only knew enough to get by.

“Of course it’s not a Ganar war party,” Ulthar sneered. “There’s no city nearby, and they wouldn’t blow the horns to scare four men. They could just come in and skewer us.”

“Unless they mistake us for scouts. The vanguard of an army,” Keran said.

“I don’t believe you can read books, anyway,” Sharn said half-heartedly, his eyes searching the grasses around them.

Keran looked at Ulthar. Would he remind Sharn of the time with the merchant? No. Ulthar’s attention was on their surroundings.

“Clearly, nothing could make that sound on a horn, human or Ganar,” Geere said.

“I was just saying that out here, it could be anything,” Keran said. He scanned the darkening landscape with narrowed eyes. In a few minutes blackness would envelop the land, curtailing their vision.

“We keep the fire, then,” Geere snapped. “It’s some kind of creature, I think. Or even a group of predators. I’ve heard of things like wolves that use the noise to scare prey toward the other members of their pack.”

“Too loud and strong for a bird,” Sharn said.

“There are flightless birds taller than a man, in the island jungles,” Keran said. “I haven’t heard what they sound like. Never thought to ask. But I have seen their bodies with my own eyes, brought back by brave hunters.”

Geere drew his sword. “I’m leaving the saddle on my horse.”

The four nervously went about preparing the camp for nightfall. They were traveling lighter now, having just sold the season’s furs for coins of gold and a few supplies. Keran decided to leave a pack on his horse, recalling what Geere had said about being prepared to flee. The pack did not weigh much compared to the animal skins that the horses had borne on the way out. Keran kept the gold he had earned on himself, trusting no one. If the strange fluting sounds came from a war party, they would have to snatch the gold from his bleeding corpse. Keran wondered if he would dare charge off into the night on the horse. He decided he would if certain death was the only alternative. He had not even seen a horse until he was a young man, so his riding ability was limited.

The four men returned fireside. None of them made any move to find sleep.

The piping sound grew, another step louder. Some indefinable presence in the clearing sent another thrill of fear down Keran’s spine. The air, which had been dry and smoky from the fire, turned humid, electric, like after a storm. His heart reacted, speeding up again. Keran forced himself to take a deep breath. He pushed a few strands of his wavy hair out of his eyes.

“Do you feel that?” whispered Sharn.

No sooner had Keran registered Sharn’s words than the night exploded with the sound of a scream from his left. Keran jumped to his feet and drew his sword. The scream had come from Geere. Keran’s friend thrashed about, struggling against something, then he bucked and leaned in an unnatural way.

“By the gods!” Sharn exclaimed.

“He’s possessed!” Ulthar said simultaneously.

Keran bolted forward sword first, looking for any foe. Something glistened on Geere in the firelight. At first Keran though it was only blood, but then he saw tentacles of some kind, barely visible in the firelight, wrapped around Geere. Finally the man found his voice.

“Help!” Geere shrieked, thrashing and swinging with his sword. “What is it? Help me!” Then Geere continued to scream as he rose off the ground.

Sharn came up on the other side, holding a burning branch out to illuminate the area. A bit more light was cast onto the tentacles, which were now a sickly gray-green, with white spines or studs on them. Keran took another step around Geere, trying to see if the tentacles were coming from the ground. Then Keran saw a large shape, a thrashing thing attacking his friend. It was so transparent as to be almost invisible. Its presence was only a tall wavering outline, larger than a man, detectable only by reflections of glistening wetness in the firelight. Keran’s shocked mind could only think of it as a huge, diaphanous jellyfish impossibly out of the water.

The shadow hovered a few feet behind Geere. Keran lunged at it with his sword. Somehow Keran thrust completely through the creature with no resistance. He fell forward to hit the ground, stunned by the occurrence. He had not even brushed the thing.

Geere stopped screaming. Keran heard Sharn shouting, the stomping of the panicked horses, and the fluting sound, now diminishing.

“Where is it? Sharn?” Ulthar bellowed.

“It just… it was hard to see…” Sharn said, padding out away from the fire with his torch.

“Are you hurt, Keran?” Ulthar called, moving towards his fallen comrade.

Keran sat up and looked for the thing. He had not wits with which to answer. He did not see the ghostly monster or Geere.

“Are you struck?” Ulthar asked again.

“No. Did it carry him away? Which direction?” demanded Keran. He regained his feet.

“Hells, I don’t know, you were the closest to it!” Ulthar ranted. “Geere was thrashing there, and I started to cut at those arms…”

“Look for the blood!” shouted Sharn, holding his burning branch low. “We can follow it!”

Of course. Keran nodded. All reason had fled his fear-whipped brain, but he grasped the idea and knew it was good as soon as he heard it.

Ulthar lit another thin piece of wood to light the ground. Ulthar carried the stick around the fire. Keran saw fresh blood on the ground where Geere had been before the attack.

“Look at this,” Sharn held his torch down to the ground beyond the pool of blood, away from the campfire. Streams of clear ichor scintillated in the light. Keran realized the glistening reflection in the substance was exactly what had outlined the creature.

Then Keran saw something else. Several large white spikes lay on the ground.

“They look like shark’s teeth,” Sharn whimpered.

An old memory flared in Keran at the mention of shark’s teeth. He flinched. The image of a huge maw opening through murky water came unbidden to his mind.

“I misspoke, Keran,” Sharn said. “They’re not shark’s teeth. Just thorns or something.”

He’s seen the scars. He knows what happened to me.

Keran focused on the white spikes again. They did look exactly like teeth. But he could not use that word.

“Spikes from its arms,” Keran noted. “It’s almost all that’s left of what we cut off the thing. It was big… it towered over him. Yet I could barely see it. It must be covered in that slime.”

They circled the fire many times, but they did not find blood trails leading away from the camp, or even signs of the horrible thing’s passage. Keran saw only slime, spikes, and blood by the fire.

“Are we just going to sit here?” Ulthar pleaded.

“He’s dead. We can’t go looking for him anyway,” Keran said. “We’d never find anything in the dark, and if we did find that thing, what would we do?”

“Whatever the thing was, it’s been sated,” Sharn told him quietly. “It won’t be back. By the time it gets hungry again we’ll be long gone.”

Keran didn’t say anything. It seemed cold to brush aside the death of their companion so quickly. But Sharn was sensible. Best to be callous, and concentrate on survival. Keran had learned that lesson from his time as a soldier.

Keran noted the fluting sounds had ceased. He now only heard the insect sounds of the night. No trace of the weirdly musical tones lingered. He walked over and took the equipment off the horses. He was still wide awake from the adrenaline of the ordeal.

The rest of the night was unpleasant, trying to take turns sleeping and starting awake at every noise. Keran felt miserable, knowing the pool of Geere’s blood dried only footsteps away. It brought back dreams and memories of the shark that had scarred him, his time at war, all the things he thought he had managed to forget.

Several times he caught himself imagining the thing, whatever it was, ready to take another one of them away to be eaten.

The three survivors wasted no time in leaving the area the next morning. No one mentioned the attack, although Keran walked about the camp, looking for anything they might have missed in the darkness. Somehow the creature had taken Geere away swiftly without leaving a trace. He saw more of the spikes on the ground. They were just like shark’s teeth. His hand shook as he collected them into a travel bag.

I want to know more about this thing.

They mounted the horses and left in haste. The group had been on the trail for several hours, traveling towards the city of Tokele when Sharn pulled his horse alongside Keran and mentioned the creature.

“What did you see last night, Keran? You were as close as I was when you fell.”

“I tried to run it through, but I just fell forward where I thought it was,” Keran told him. “It was so big, yet I missed it. I fell flat.”

“It wasn’t just you. At first I couldn’t see it, but then, when I did see… something, I could see right through it. Like it wasn’t really there at all. Your sword must have gone right through without striking flesh.”

“Those spikes were really there. Geere was really there.” Sharn did not argue these points. They fell silent.

It was two days later that the sound came again. Sharn heard it first, and nearly panicked, riding up to Keran, pointing back the way they had come.

“It’s back! It followed us!” he told Keran, his voice rising in fear. Keran simply spurred his mount faster. They galloped for the few minutes of light they had left, trying to leave the monster behind. When it became too dark to continue at speed, they stopped and circled on their horses.

Keran couldn’t discern which direction the sound came from. Sharn saw him looking all around.

“It has to be behind us. It has to have followed us.”

Keran listened and he heard the alien keening again. It was unmistakable in the fading light of dusk. A nervous sweat broke out on Keran’s brow, stinging his eyes. His thin lips tightened further.

Not again. Please, not again.

“Do you think we should ride through the night? The way isn’t safe in the dark,” Ulthar said uncertainly.

“It’s better than waiting for that thing,” Keran said.

Everyone agreed. They continued on though the light failed them. Keran lit a torch and rode in the lead. The horses picked their way carefully along for another hour. The mysterious calls grew louder.

Keran felt the air change again. He drew his sword. The horses spooked a bit, picking up their pace. Keran’s mount darted to one side, outpacing Ulthar’s horse behind him. Keran tried to guide it back.

Suddenly Ulthar’s mount screamed and bucked high into the air. Keran brandished his sword and brought his horse about with difficulty. He saw Ulthar struggling with something wrapped around him, then falling from the back of his horse. The riderless animal immediately bolted away out of sight in the darkness. Sharn’s horse bolted as well. It seemed that Sharn had simply spurred his mount ahead to escape.

Keran came up alongside Ulthar as he struggled. Keran tossed the torch on the ground and dismounted. Keran ran up to slice at some of the wet arms that were wrapped around Ulthar. The man fought silently before Keran, as some of the appendages were wrapped around Ulthar’s face. Keran wasn’t even sure his friend could breathe. He worked his sword at the tentacles vigorously. He may have even sliced his friend’s flesh in desperation.

“I’m here, Ulthar! Fight!” Keran yelled.

A wet tentacle slapped against Keran. He felt the sharp bite of pain in his arm. Ulthar started sliding along the ground, fluttering the grass in a chaotic pattern as he struggled. Keran followed along clumsily, bent forward and grabbing at Ulthar’s legs. Keran’s view faded as they left the torch behind. He got a hold on his friend, but the creature’s pull was strong. Keran fell forward. He lost his grip.

Ulthar let out a sharp scream. Keran stumbled after, trying to get another cut at the arms that pulled his friend. But the man faded away as if melting into the grass. Keran searched around desperately, but the monster was gone, taking Ulthar with it. The trail of flattened grass ended as if they had sunk into the earth or lifted up into the sky.

Keran stood panting. He had failed to save Ulthar. Underneath his fear and anger he felt a guilty relief that Ulthar had been taken instead of himself.

He called his horse for the better part of an hour before finding it. Then he rode in circles for quite some time as night took hold. He lit a torch and called out to Sharn in the darkness. After several more minutes Sharn reappeared, holding a torch in one hand and a sword in the other.

“Ulthar is gone, isn’t he?” asked Sharn.

“He’s dead,” Keran answered morbidly. They talked about what Keran had seen. Moving over to where the battle occurred, the two survivors discovered white teeth and the slimy jelly by the light of their torches. Keran thought about chastising Sharn for running away, but he knew it would do no good. When they saw the beast again, Sharn would flee.

Sharn licked his lips nervously. He looked at Keran and said, “If the thing tries to take me, if it’s really got hold of me, I want you to kill me. Just run me through.”

“No! That’s stupid. I won’t run you through. What if we kill it next time?”

Sharn shook his head violently. “Ulthar was still alive when it disappeared. He was still screaming, you heard it all. Promise me you’ll kill me if it grabs me. Nothing scares me more than the thought of being eaten alive by that thing.”

“If it gets me I want to go down fighting to the last breath,” Karn replied. “Sometimes you get lucky. You can kill a bear… or even a shark, if you get lucky.”

He wanted to inspire Sharn to change his mind and vow to do the same. But Sharn only shuddered.

“We should split up,” Sharn stated abruptly. “If we take different courses, it can only follow one of us. We’ll each have a chance to survive.”

Keran considered this in silence. He remembered the arms of the thing, coated in slick wetness. He could imagine it living in bogs or rivers. The thought of the thing in the water like the shark made Keran ill. His body shook. He hadn’t had the nerves so bad since he was a young warrior, preparing for his first battle.

“It’s slimy like a snail or a salamander. Maybe the thing likes water,” suggested Keran. “I think I’ll move into the wastelands. It may not be able to follow.”

Yes. Far, far from the water.

The thought made Keran feel better.

“Whatever it takes. I’ll head for the city. Maybe there will be other travelers.”

“It must smell something. What are we carrying? Why is it following us?” Keran wondered.

“To it, we’re just prey. It’s following us like a wolf follows an old grazer,” Sharn said. “That’s why I’m heading for the city. Maybe it’s afraid to go where there are more people. I’ll hide among the herd.”

“Then I wish you luck, Sharn. Maybe we’ll meet again.”

“We won’t ever meet again. It’ll get one of us.”

Keran nodded.

The two men took all of the waterskins and then cut the extra horses loose. They parted company. Keran turned north toward the wastelands.



2: The Lone Tower


Ragged gasps shook Keran as he staggered forward. Desperation drove him across the desert sand, step after step, as he listened to the horrible fluting noises filtering in from the distance. He had accepted that the creature chose to follow him instead of Sharn, but refused to accept death. He had decided to run, and, if necessary, to fight.

For three days Keran moved deeper into the desert. The creature followed him, harassing him, sending him ever onward. Always the eerie sounds came leagues before it, wearing down his soul, stealing away his sleep.

Keran’s hawklike nose no longer dripped sweat. His sunbaked skin felt taut, encrusted with salt and sand. His tongue was the worst, a sticky mass that burned with his every breath. Keran tried to take solace in the knowledge the sun might kill him before the monster.

As far as Keran knew, it could not be stopped. Still, he would not give up. He remembered telling Sharn he would not stop fighting until his last breath, and he meant it. Despite his intentions, fear ate away at his gut. He told himself that the fear was useless. It would not matter. If it caught up to him, then he would fight. He would simply live or die.

Keran’s determination to survive never flagged, only his body. Even as a child, when Keran had caught the fever, he had come through it almost through sheer force of will. His parents had given him up for dead as he lay on his bed, his breath the slightest whisper. But he had come through it. He clung ferociously to life.

When the shark tried to eat me, I fought it. And I survived.

He had saved himself. He had stabbed the creature in the eye and it let go of him. Then he swam up to the boat through the bloody water and back into the arms of his brothers.

Keran stopped briefly and considered his sword. It seemed an immense weight, yet how could he leave behind his only defense? Swords had proven to be no help to any of his comrades, yet he was loath to abandon his weapon. His heat-muddled mind considered the dilemma in circles. What if he could outrun it without the sword? But maybe the thing would leave to find easier prey if enough tentacles were severed. But four of them had been unable to kill it, how could he fight it alone? Struggling with this decision, Keran examined the horizon, and let out a gasp of surprise.

A gray stone tower loomed over the top of the nearest sandy ridge. He had been so tired that he had not noticed it before. Keran thought perhaps he had finally snapped, but his legs started forward almost of their own accord. The terror incited by the strange keening call gave him more strength to move. Keran replaced his sword in its sheath as he moved towards the structure. He clawed his way over the last rise, and saw an oasis of trees behind a low wall of stone and sand. The circular tower rose tall and strong in defiance of the harsh desert.

Keran called out as he staggered the last stretch.

“Help! Help me! Please!” he tried to yell, but his voice was a harsh grating whisper. Still the noise of the thing that stalked him sounded in the distance. No one answered his calls. Keran shuffled through an arched entrance to the enclosure, and looked for signs of habitation. Vegetation clustered about the low wall. An outcropping of rock sheltered a small pool of water in the center of the interior. A stone building joined the tower at its base. It had a single sturdy looking door of weathered wood. Narrow window slits faced in toward the pool. Keran looked into a couple of them as he approached, wondering if anyone watched him from within. He did not see or hear anyone.

Keran walked toward the door. Almost at the limit of his strength, he noticed the calls of his hunter had ceased. Fatigue gripped him too deeply to allow him to question the change, he simply felt thankful for it. The door opened for Keran when he pushed on its iron handle, so he stepped in without taking time for his eyes to adjust to the dimness inside.

If there are enemies here, I’m finished.

Keran drew his sword, though he hardly had the strength to raise it. He closed the door then leaned against it for long moments as he caught his breath. After a moment Keran could see from the light coming in through the narrow windows facing the inner courtyard. He stood in a large room with four beds against the walls. Each bed had a locker at its foot. A large table and chairs occupied far corner. The place seemed to be a living quarters of some sort. Another door on the far side of the room led into the tower.

There is no sand or dust here. So it must be occupied.

Keran walked through the room and into the tower, searching for inhabitants. Stone stairs around the outside wall led up and down. Keran turned left and went down the stair first.

The tower had a chamber below ground, a deep cistern full of cool, clear water. Keran dropped to the stone, reached an arm down and scooped up a sip. It tasted more wonderful than anything he could imagine. Through an effort of will he allowed himself only one more swallow at first. He remembered stories of men who drank themselves to death after a desert crossing. He could not kill himself now, not after surviving such an ordeal.

He sat back to allow himself to acclimatize to the water. He was still thirsty, but at least the heat of the desert bled away in this cool, wet place. For the moment he felt a little better. Keran noticed a large iron door across a walkway around the cistern. The cistern was dim, so he walked over to get a look. The door had no lock, only two giant metal rings set in its middle. He had never seen such a door except once at the gate towers of Woldwall. That city had an iron door behind the portcullis of the main gate. It seemed quite a feat to create an entire door of solid metal. He had been very impressed with it.

He tried the door but could not budge it in either direction. It must be just as solid as the one he had seen in the city-fortress.

I’m weak. I’ll try again later.

Keran continued his search. A storage room took up most of the ground floor. Keran opened a door, which revealed the larder. He saw a food supply of meat, cheese, and unfamiliar fruit that could serve one person for several days.

He remained silent. Though he had tried to call for help earlier, already he had started to think of the potential danger of this new place. Whoever lived out in this desert would be very strange to him and his ways. They might kill him outright.

Keran walked up the circular stair to the next level. He found a large library on the middle floor of the tower. Hundreds of books of all types were arrayed on heavy oak shelves. It was as surprising to him as the iron door.

Perhaps this is a place for priests. Scholars are only found in cities, and this is no city.

Since he still saw no one, he returned to the stair. The next level held a room filled with lavish furnishings and decorations. There were no windows. Light came from a pair of lanterns burning on either side of an elaborate table. This place was no barracks as he had found down below. A single canopied bed, swathed in silk and twice the size of the cots he had found, sat on one side of the circular room. Bright tapestries adorned the walls with scenes from green forests and bright plains. Keran smelled a hint of perfume.

A queen could live here. A queen or princess in exile?

He walked around the room on a soft, thick carpet of hides.

Or a sorceress, he thought as he looked closer at the tables. They were filled with all manner of arcane objects. He saw claws, glass vials, loose gems, and unguents of every color held in short, fat pots. Robes and candles were ready on smaller side tables. He saw tiny figurines and medallions with mystical writings around their perimeter. Keran did not dare touch anything.

Where is she? Hiding? Someone must have filled and lit the lanterns.

He checked under the bed and saw no one. He peeked behind a screen set up in one corner, but saw no one behind it.

Keran continued up the stair, still both hoping and fearing to find someone. He came to the top of the tower. The room there was smaller. He found only an old table in the center, engraved with unreadable symbols. Square holes in the stone walls offered an unobstructed view of the desert in all directions. He found the window looking down upon the oasis below. Still he saw no one. There was a pool of algae-choked water and some fruit trees and plants.

Keran looked carefully at the table. He counted ten of the symbols. Each was dyed a slightly different hue. He saw star patterns carved around them on the table.

This is where they watched the stars… but how could they see?

Keran turned his gaze upwards. He noticed odd handles in the ceiling. When he grabbed a pair of them he caused a section of the roof to partially open. He discovered the ceiling was cleverly constructed in removable sections to provide protection from the weather while allowing someone to view the sky (or stars) in any direction simply by folding down part of the roof.

Once Keran had solved that mystery, his mood fell. No one else was in the tower. He was alone. And though the creature remained outside, he had no one to help him here. That mood, combined with his previous exertions, caused him to become very sleepy. He walked slowly back down the stair to the richly decorated sleeping chamber below.

He stood gently swaying on the soft carpet. He stared at the tapestries again. In each scene a beautiful woman stood amid nature. Here she stood next to a buck, there a bird alighted upon her arm, and there she observed a snake on a branch. His gaze fell upon the large bed.

Keran dismissed the idea of sleeping in the lavish chamber. It belonged to some woman, a powerful woman like a priestess or sorceress, maybe even royalty, so how could a simple man like himself expect to reside in such a place?

No. I will sleep down in the barracks. Like when I was a soldier.

Keran staggered down the rest of the stairs. He staggered down to the cistern and took a handful of water. He returned to the entrance. In the barracks within the square building at the base of the tower, he paused to bar the door solidly with an oak plank which seemed to be for that purpose. Then he checked the first bed. It was old, worn, but seemed to hold no vermin. He took off his scabbard and lay down, putting the sword next to him leaning against the bed.

Keran was soon asleep.

Despite the exhaustion and his sanctuary, dark figures moved in his mind. He saw murky water. A long shadow slid by. Then long rows of teeth flashed. Keran bolted awake with a yell. His sword fell over and clattered away. Keran dove for it, bruising his head on the next bed. He drew his sword and held it before him, his back against the wall.

But there was nothing.

Just a dream. A terrible dream I haven’t had since I was a young man, pulled wounded and bleeding from the waters.