Sorceror's Gate

The ghost riders are mere legend; mysterious, shape shifting, black figures that would attack - raze villages to the ground and murder the inhabitants mercilessly, before disappearing back to the dark land of their shadowy master.
But legends are based on truth, and the ghost riders are back - with a purpose that is not what it seems and a cruelty even worse than was foretold.

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1. Daviad's village

It was a dark day, a twilight day. Natyli crouched in the fork of her tree, balancing precariously as the wind gently rustled through it's branches. It was her thinking spot. In a village so small it was difficult to find a place to be alone, the only way was to escape into the surrounding forest.

   She twisted her hair around cold fingers, goose bumps raised on her arms as the trees sung to her. It was so peaceful.

   "Natyli?" The voice was quiet, gentle. She recognised it instantly and smiled.

   "Hello Daviad. How did you know I'd be here?"

   "Guess I'm just good like that." He walked into the clearing and leaned against her tree, looking up at her. "You always come here."

   "Predictable." Natyli laughed and jumped from her perch, landing gracefully next to him.

   "Yep." He smiled slightly and tossed her one of the apples he was holding.

   "You were working on the orchard today?" She asked.

   "Yeah."

   "Good day?"

   "Yeah."

   She rolled her eyes. "Well, great conversation."

   "Sorry." He shrugged. "I don't know what else to say. I just picked apples. It's not really much to talk about."

   She kissed him on the cheek. He was even more standoffish than usual today. "How's your mother?"

   "Today is a good day." He stared at his boots. "They always come after her worst moments. She couldn't remember who I was yesterday."

   "Your sister?"

   "She's been up at the Court, she hasn't really seen Mother. I'm glad. She'd only be upset." Daviad took a large bite of his apple, and Natyli knew that was the end of the conversation. It was heart breaking, no wonder he didn't want to talk about it.

   His mother hadn't been all there ever since his father disappeared. There were rumours of him being attacked by some kind of vicious animal, but nothing had ever been found. Nothing except the axe he used to chop wood. Natyli thought he might have made a run for it, bored with the supposedly primitive life they lived in the village. He did come from the City after all. There was a saying: 'you can take the man from the City, but you can't take the City from the man'. She suspected that had been the case with him.

   "I...I have some news." He threw his arm awkwardly around her. He still seemed to be working out how to act around her. Only natural. They'd not been betrothed for very long, only three weeks.

   But it wasn't like him to put his arm around her. That was upfront for Daviad.

   "Yes?"

   "The...Wildhaven..."

   "My sister's village?"

   "Yeah."

   "What about it?"

   He looked at his boots again, shifting nervously from foot to foot. "Its been burned."

   She frowned. "Wh-what?"

   "The...well you know the rumours of the ghostriders being back..."

   "Stupid, right?" She forced a smile that looked more like a jack o' lantern than anything else.

   "Natyli...th-they're true. Wildhaven was razed to the ground. The survivors arrived here today."

   "And Marda? S-Sigfrid?" She clutched his arm, apple dropping unnoticed to the grass.

   "I...no one knows. But they're not here."

   Natyli slid to her knees.

   "One of the women said...well, she said..."

   "What?" she snapped.

   "She said she saw one of the ghostriders grab Marda. Or wrap round her or whatever they do...I don't know if they have hands...do they grab?" He was mumbling, desperate to distract, to help somehow but with no idea what to do that would. He knew somewhere that nothing would help. Loss was something he understood.

   Natyli's mouth hung slackly open. In any other situation she might have looked funny. But her eyes were so blank, her hands clenched so tightly into fists, he could almost feel her pain. He crouched beside her and patted her back, kissing the top of her head.

   "I...I'm sorry. Maybe they escaped. Could just be lost. Or maybe they're prisoners or something. They might be alive."

   He just wanted to make her feel better. He would have given anything.

    "Daviad. We've heard what the ghostriders do."

   "Just stories."

   "The rumours were just stories."

    "But..."

   "Stop it. Please, just stop. I'm not some stupid kid. I know...I know that my sister's...I know she's..." But she couldn't finish her sentence, it was choked off by a sob. "She was only married two monthes ago." She whispered instead. "She would still be here."

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