Book 1 - Chapter 1.6

A drawing of Sol and Nyx walking through a dark field at night, behind them is the river, a wall of mist, and large cumulonimbus clouds. Sol is holding her hand lantern in front of her as she leads the way with its light, and Nyx is following behind her, though casting a glance back over her shoulder.

The sun was as good as set, though the sky still glowed a dull blue with the remnants of its light. The moon had not yet risen, which made it difficult for Sol to see ahead of her as she and the cloaked woman left behind the soft orange glow of the town’s oil lantern lights.

While making their way through the back roads towards the main street and the border walls, they had heard the sounds of footsteps following behind. Some patrons from the inn had decided to stalk them, either to make sure they left the town's borders, or kill them if they lingered. Sol had picked up the pace and pushed the cloaked woman ahead of her as they jogged towards the exit until they ended up panting onto the damp grass outside of the town's borders.

Sol took out her hand lantern, which she sparked to light with her thumb and pointed it ahead of her. She decided to lead them in the direction of a tall standing stone she had seen not to far from the town itself, back when she had woken up on the hill. She thought it would be a good idea to make camp near a tall structure to ward off any wind that might come blowing across the open fields. They were about to have a rough night.

"I told you they wouldn't let us stay." The cloaked woman said after some minutes of silent walking.

Sol breathed in steadily. "Yeah, three times now. Can you finally explain why?"

The cloaked woman lapsed back into silence for a moment then said, "Because they're frightened. The fight has been beaten out fo them, and they cannot bring themselves to strike back for fear of being punished for it."

The cloaked woman then took a shaky breath as if to calm whatever intense emotion was simmering inside of her then continued, "They would sooner kill someone offering them a way to fight back than the things terrorizing them."

Sol stopped and turned to face her shadow. "What's terrorizing you? No more vagaries."

The cloaked woman looked up at her with the all too familiar silent confusion. But yet again she refused to answer, and that was what worried Sol most. There was some unspoken thing that stalked these lands and frightened the people living here into violence against each other.

"I've faced terrifying things before. I'll face whatever is terrorizing you here." Sol said with a reassuring smile at her companion, but the cloaked woman only narrowed her eyes at her in skepticism.

"You don't even know what it is." She said.

"Then tell me what I don't know."

But the cloaked woman only shook her head silently, her expression seeming to beg Sol not to pry further.

When the cloaked woman wouldn’t answer her, Sol hunched her shoulders and said "fine" and turned back around to continue their trek towards the ghostly shape of the standing stone.

"I don't know how I can help anyone here if you won't tell me what the problem is."

"No one has asked you to help them." The cloaked woman said quietly at Sol's back.

"But you all seem to need help." Sol said, then looked over her shoulder at her companion. "You needed help in that alley. Would you have preferred that I looked the other way and kept walking?"

The cloaked woman renewed her skeptical look and said, "Did you really come to help me out of concern for my wellbeing or some desire to do good?"

Sol knew the hesitation before her answer may have already damned her, but she forged ahead. "Yes, out of the goodness of my heart. I had a feeling that you were in trouble."

"Even when you called after me, when we bumped into each other right before, you knew?" The cloaked woman stared at her intently.

"It was the main reason I wanted to help you." Sol continued, picking her words carefully. "You were also the first person I met who spoke my language, that's why I chased after you. Though it seems that everyone in town could speak it. I don't know why they wouldn't in the first place."

Sol looked over at her companion to see if her answer passed her scrutiny, but the cloaked woman looking at her again in puzzlement.

"What." Sol said, stopping now to face her judge. "What did I say now?"

"You speak our language." The cloaked woman said quietly. "There is no other tongue spoken in this region."

"What do you mean?"

"Exactly what I mean." The cloaked woman said with a shrug. She then glanced towards the horizon where the mist still gathered as a shifting grey wall. "Let's keep moving towards that stone you're leading us to. I don't want to linger too out in the open."

Sol breathed in and said, "alright" and renewed their walk.

A drawing of the top tip of the standing stone. It is lit up by the glow of a camp fire. Behind it is the night sky, speckled with stars.

They stone proved to be a good camping spot. It was tall and broad enough to protect them from any sharp blowing winds if they huddled against it. It was secured in the earth next to another large dais of stone that was enough space for them to set up camp on. Their sleep wouldn’t be very soft, but it would it be dry.

Sol unwrapped one of the peat logs and lit it with some kindling and flint from her bag while the cloaked woman settled herself against the standing stone. The fire was welcome to them both in the chill air that only grew colder as the night wore on. Sol pulled out her blanket and sleeping roll to get their bedding ready and warmed up by the fire. The two of them sat side by side on the bed roll as they waited for the brick to heat up enough to cook on.

The stars were fully out and Sol could recognize all of the constellations that belonged to her home hemisphere. The familiar sight put her at ease and she once again pulled out her map to determine where these grasslands were located.

The cloaked woman had been warming her hands over the fire, but moved on to unpacking their fish dinner. Sol set her map aside to stop her companion for a moment so that she could retrieve and unfold her cooking grate and place it over the fire, and she directed the other woman to place their dinner on it so that it could cook further.

Sol then took out a small bottle of dispellant and dripped a few drops on their dinners. When her companion shot her a quizzical look Sol explained, "It's dispellant, a type of anti-poison. Just in case." And she gave her companion a wry smile and a half shrug, to which she nodded back in understanding.

"Will it work?" Asked the cloaked woman.

"It was brewed by a witch, so it should." Sol said with a small smile. It was one of the last potions her mother gave her.

Her companion watched the fish sizzle over the fire then turned to her and said, “What is a witch?”

"You really don’t know, huh?" Said Sol with growing concern.

"No" the woman replied. "You asked me if I was one as well."

Sol reached for her map again and studied it further while saying, "Well a place that doesn't have witches, or the people don’t know what they are, definitely narrows down where we could be."

Her companion had leaned in a bit look at the map as well, her large catlike eyes roaming over the oceans and mountains she had only just learned about.

“You didn't answer my question." She said as she moved her attention away from the map and back up at Sol.

"Oh! Well..." Sol began. "A witch is a person who has devoted themselves to a God, and can work witchcraft thanks to that devotion. They serve the common people and a few nobles, crafting enchantments, potions, and wards to make life easier."

Sol then got a thought that would help her with situating where she was. "Actually, worth asking to help me get a sense of place, which God do you worship here?"

The cloaked woman leaned closer with her chin on her hand and said. "What is a god?"

Sol flinched. "What do you mean, 'what is a God?'"Her expression must have been wild because the cloaked woman had leaned away from her with a concerned side glance.

"I've never heard of them before." She answered quietly, then seeming to want to change the subject she said, "The fish is starting to sizzle, should we take it off of the fire?"

"Yeah." Said Sol, swallowing hard, and she moved the grate away from the burning peat.

They picked the meat from the fish and ate in sombre silence. The dispellant had been cooked down into the flesh enough that it didn't leave a bitter taste, but Sol barely registered the flavour of her food. Thoughts paced about in her mind like a dog in a kennel.

A woman from a small village who didn't know what an ocean or mountain was could also not know about Gods. Though when she glanced to her map she could not conceptualize a place that wouldn't worship one of The Three. Earth was the most obvious one for a place so bereft of mountain and sea, and the Coven of the Earth God stretched far. It was Sol's home coven, so she should know.

And what of the kingdoms? Even a villager would know about which royal family they served. Every continent in the world had a kingdom on it. They stretched as far as the covens. Even the royal family worshipped the Gods, though not with as much devotion as the witches.

"Do you have a King, or Queen?" Sol asked.

"I don't know what those are. Are they the same as a god?"

Sol shook her head and said "never mind." Then "You said I speak your language. Is it possible that we just speak the same?"

"Maybe." The woman said. She had finished her fish and was eyeing Sol's half finished meal. "I haven't heard any other language other than the one we are speaking. Are you going to eat that? It's getting cold."

"I am." Sol said, a bit sharply, which made her companion pull back a bit more. "I'm just thinking."

The cloaked woman was still and silent as Sol mulled over one final question in her mind.

"Do you know about the Fae?" Sol asked.

The cloaked woman shook her head silently. She was watching Sol uneasily with her queer bright eyes.

"Could you describe these things you are asking me about? I haven't heard their names, but perhaps we have something similar here." The cloaked woman said in a placating tone.

Sol breathed in slowly to calm herself. She could tell she was frightening her companion, who had already been though at least one near death experience. She didn't need to fly off the handle.

"A God rules over a part of nature. There are three of them, The God of the Wind and Sky, The God of the Ocean and Trade, and The God of the Earth and Death. Where I am from we worship them, we give thanks to them for what they do to maintain order in the world. We thank them for every crop successfully grown, to traveller who makes it home safely, and we give offerings in hopes that they continue to bless us. Do you have something like that here?"

The cloaked woman was silent. She was watching her, Sol could tell, out of fear for what her answer would summon. Sol regretted her earlier hostility.

Sol closed her eyes and breathed in to calm herself again and she said, "Give me an honest answer, it's alright, I won't get mad."

"We don't worship, we don't have anything like those gods you mentioned" Said the cloaked woman.

Sol breathed in and out again. "Alright."

"But we do give offerings" the cloaked woman continued. "Like the tithe. But it isn't out of thanks. The tithe is given out of fear. Do you give offerings out of fear?"

Sol thought back to her childhood, burying bracelets she wove out of grass, or flower crowns and necklaces, beautiful smooth stones she had found in a river bed, even half of her dinner, into the soil. All the while she was sobbing, begging the Earth to give her the same thing every other witch received with less devotion.

"No" she said. "Not normally."

She was exhausted.

"You can have the rest of my food." She said as she folded up her map yet again and stashed it into her bag. "Just save the bones, I can cook them down into a broth later."

The cloaked woman thanked her and quickly picked the fish clean.

Sol sat staring out at the dark fields until finally she asked, "What do you call this land?"

"In my village we would just call this the grasslands. Some of the road travellers who would visit call it The Everfields." said her companion. She was also looking out across the fields, but her eyes were lifted skyward and trained towards the north.

The Everfields seemed to fit as a name, as Sol could see no end to the flat land, except for what was obscured by the high wall of mist that haunted the horizon.

"What’s beyond the mist?" Sol asked.

"More grasslands, probably." her companion answered, still gazing at the clouds in the north. Sol also joined her in scanning the sky.

"The innkeeper told us to walk into the mist in order to get it over with sooner." Sol said softly, keeping her eyes on the sky. "Is it the mist that terrorizes you?"

"Yes." Said the cloaked woman. She had lowered her eyes and was rubbing her arms to keep warm.

"What does it do?"

"It's what roams inside of it." The cloaked woman said.

Sol shivered with the knowledge that sooner or later she would have to go in there and find out.

"By the way, stranger, what should I call you?" Said the cloaked woman. She had wrapped her arms around her knees and rested her head on the top of them, and she was looking sleepily up at Sol, her luminous eyes brightened further by the firelight.

Sol opened her mouth to answer, but caught herself. The whole day had been strange, the way she ended up in this bizarre land stranger still. It would be a rookie mistake to give away her name to a hunted woman with eerie eyes. Sol may not be a witch, but she was still raised by them, and she knew better.

"What's yours?" She asked back.

The cloaked woman sleepy expression flickered to surprise. She hesitated then frowned, but in the end said, "Night."

Sol scrutinized her and Night stared right back. She was still frowning, but nothing else about her expression changed as she waited for Sol's answer. Sol had her suspicions about the woman. She may not be a witch, but the way the townspeople treated her suggested she was something other than human.

The way everything about her day had the mark of Fae about it, from the townspeople's evasiveness, the strange customs, the two different languages that were really just one.

And here was Night with her shining eyes that conflicted with an otherwise charming face. She had a hint of Fae about her as well, including her strange and simple name.

Sol took Night's hesitation and anticipation as a warning. The only people careful to share their true names were Fae folk, and humans needed to be careful in turn. Sol's conjured puzzle pieces began falling into place.

Though it was unlikely she was in the realm of the Fae, since they couldn’t stand her presence, she had heard about human villages and towns that had been overtaken by them and then turned illusory to confound travellers passing through.

Night had something to do with the mist on the horizon, and the mist on the horizon perhaps had something to do with the Fae. Sol would have to question her strange companion, but she would need to be careful of it.

For the time being, though...

Sol said, "You can call me Ranger." And she watched Night's face for any notable change at her dodge.

But the other woman only nodded and glanced wearily back to the soft glow of the fire. She took her defeat with grace.

"I think I will turn in for the night then, Ranger." Night said softly. "I'm very tired."

"That works for me." Sol said. "I'll take first watch."

The other woman nodded and curled up on the bed roll with the hood of her cloak pulled back up over her head.

Though Sol was proud of her clever evasion of Fae trickery, she still felt a pang at the pitiful sight of the other woman, and as a show of magnanimity she pulled the spare blanket up over the shoulders of her sleeping companion.

Sol then settled in for her watch. She had wrapped and stashed the fish bones away into her bag, and pulled her coat closed around her as she settled in front of the fire.

Though the day had been bewildering she felt she was finally on some kind of solid ground, and with a few pieces of the puzzle in place, she could face the next day with some certainty.

As if in response to Sol's positivity, the silvery glow of the moon finally broke from the shadow of towering clouds. A waxing gibbous lit up the sky, chasing the shyest stars away. That moon was then followed by another, and then another, and as much as Sol rubbed her eyes and tilted her head the other two moons remained, marching their way across the night, and pulling the certainty out of Sol like a tide.

A drawing of Sol and Nyx making camp at a standing stone. Nyx is asleep, rolled up in a blanket, while Sol takes watch with her back to the stone pillar as she watches the sky. Their camp overlooks the fields that lead to the town as well as the warf and river. On the horizon is the wall of mist, then higher up the cumulonimbus clouds, and then in the stary sky the three moons.