It is the dead of night but the old forest is alive. I wait, cloaked and cowled, crouched within the lightning-blasted bole of an ancient oak, glowbugs flitting carelessly among its fractured blackened limbs. For a long while I wait, serenaded by the staccato songs of crickets and tree frogs, and the low buzz of the glowbugs. A long while, and I am becoming impatient for I have other tasks that need doing. But finally I catch sight of him – a long furred snout only, snuffling from beneath a fallen log; a hint of pale curved fangs wet with saliva, then gone. Gone, but from my hiding place I hear him padding softly through the underbrush. He has scented me; indeed, has been hunting me for some time. Then, like a grey ghost, he slides silently into view – a huge lone wolf, at least as heavy as me and certainly much swifter, stronger; an experienced killer, confident in his element. He glances towards the old oak where I hide, sniffs the air; begins to stalk, his long lean bulk hugging the ground. Even in this dim light of a new moon his vision is keen, though he has not yet spotted me else he would have charged. When he comes within twelve paces, I send forth the darkness. Suddenly blinded, confused, he twitches up and leaps to the side, frantically scenting the air. Yes, his night vision is keen, but utter darkness is my friend, not his. My first bolt catches him in the shoulder. He twists, snapping fiercely at the sting of it, growling with hate. My second finds his chest and, howling, he loses his footing, limbs flailing. But the poison quiets him quickly. I rise, make my way to him. His huge chest heaves, but he has no power now to harm me. Poor ignorant beast, believing that he was the hunter! It is an easy job to slit his furred throat and be on my way, returning to the dark river bank where my meager belongings are stashed. I must finish loading them into the sturdy little coracle that I’ve fashioned of stretched hides, birch limbs and hempen twine – my makeshift watercraft that will transport me down the Wiccelirne and into – what?.
My orders are clear, though exceedingly odd. So odd in fact that I initially suspected forgery. How is it that there is no mention of our rebellion? But the instructions are coded in the correct high-security military cipher, and my captain’s seal seems genuine. Though I have no knowledge of the mysterious ‘Lord Holfstadt’ mentioned in my orders, still, I shall do my duty: I shall make my way down the Wiccelirne to the lowlands, seek out a certain band of wretched undead shamblers, share news with them, and aid them in their wild ‘cause’ (whatever it may be). Why was I chosen for this distasteful task? What is going on? Nocticula guide me; I am steadfast, but this is beyond my ken!