The first of the shots started when they were crossing a small creek in the late hours of the night. They
were deep in the forest, its atmosphere wrapped around them like a cold, wet blanket. The only comfort
they had were their Hoofowls. Horse-like beasts that had the legs, body, and width of a horse, but necks
like big birds.
Outsiders considered the beasts uncanny, Damiand didn’t know why. He had bonded with his, Mellow,
at a young age. Many of the other knights of Lorell did the same.
He was in the middle of a yawn when a bolt of energy passed not twelve inches from his face.
Curse whatever had blessed them with that new technology. They could fire at a man from almost half a
mile away without fear of being discovered, or having to worry about any return fire.
“I knew it!” shouted Great Knight Fralon. “We’re under attack! They’re onto us! Shields!”
Yanking the shield off his back, Damian fell into formation with the others as they crammed their beasts
together. He internally cringed knowing Mellow hated touching the other bird-beasts when Damian was
in the saddle. Wings touching, the beasts, shifted as anxiously as their riders. They waited for more
shots. None were forthcoming.
“Quickly, they’re onto us now!” Fralon commanded, rearing back on his beast and charging deeper into
the forest. Everyone hurried to obey, but Damian hesitated. The distinct lack of follow up bolts made
him question whether or not someone was really “onto them,” he had no choice but to continue.
Great Knight Fralon had been put in charge of the Northern Border patrol after bothering and asking
Damian’s father for it for months. He urged that the Kingdom of Lorell’s security and its trade routes
were in danger from thieves now more than ever. Knowing otherwise, Damian’s father had been slow to
respond, Fralon had almost no evidence to back up his claims, but he did have a reputation. Not one for
honesty, but a reputation nonetheless.
Over the last few months he swayed others in the court to his cause, gaining enough of a following to
force Damian’s father to respond to his outrageous claims and made up statistics.
That was why Damian had found himself in some remote forest, half asleep in his saddle. Him and his
father both suspected something deeper was going on, that was why Damian had been placed in the
Great Knight’s command. On his father’s orders, he was simply here to observe and report.
Because of that, Damian couldn’t command the others to slow down and think about what they were
doing. Regardless of whether or not he was prince, this was Fralon’s expedition. He was the one in
How convenient that they were being shot at now.
Cursing that Fralon, Damian urged his Hoofowl after the rest of his patrol. There were only a dozen of
them, they could very well be rushing into some kind of ambush or planned attack. Let’s hope to the
Grand Saint that we aren’t, he thought.
More bolts of energy pierced the forest. Toren was downed, none of them had time to check on him.
Fralon urged them forward, screaming ideals of “justice” and “the King’s will” the whole time. At one
point or another, the marksman turned their gun towards the sky. A golden bolt lit the treetops unlike
anything Damian had ever seen. It was obviously a signal of some kind, the prince hoped he wasn’t
riding to his doom.
Fralon rounded a corner, and Damian lost sight of the others as they surged ahead. He reigned Mellow
to a stop, the beast snorted at the abruptness. Hearing Fralon curse at his “ill luck” up ahead, Damian
reluctantly urged Mellow forward once again.
Walking back towards the patrol, Damian found a small clearing with a few upturned carts and wagons.
Fruit and other supplies like leather, clothes and wood were scattered about the ground. It was a rather
mundane shipment that Fralon was losing his mind over.
Dismounting to get a better look at the scene, Damian heard one of the wagon drivers frantically
speaking to another one of the knights, Keren.
“The scout found you guys?” he asked.
“‘The scout? What scout?” Fralon cut in, he almost sprinted over to the driver from where he was
examining a tipped fruit crate. Since arriving on the scene, the man’s mood had darkened. Sure, Toren
had been knocked off his beast, but Damian doubted the man was dead. He couldn’t give any rational
reason as to why Fralon might be freaking out.
“Ah! Lord Fralon!” The driver dusted off his clothes the best he could. “We were making our way
towards the capital when we were attacked! By a band of thieves! The last of them are right there, two
The driver lifted a trembling finger towards a trampled patch of undergrowth. Damian held his breath as
Fralon, armor clinking, stormed over to where the thieves supposedly were. He almost feared for the
thieves. If Fralon found them, he would be anything but gentle.
Nobody was there.
Damian let out a sigh of relief.