On different shores. Book I. Prologue
Someone was watching him. Trail did not know how to explain this uneasy feeling that had arrived with the noonday sun. But he could have sworn by his powerful ancestors that right now someone’s eyes were stubbornly sliding over his lean back. Someone was watching him, and had been for a long time. It agitated him and was badly distracting him from fishing. He kept glancing at his axe lying nearby, while the rod in his hands twitched at every rustle, scaring away the prey that was ready to bite.
Suddenly, there was a splash close by. Trail jumped, almost dropping his rod, and, unable to withstand it, turned around once again.
No one. The sandy shore of the lake covered with cones, pine needles, and old branches. The islets of grass-grown hummocks. The dark green, high hedge of the coniferous forest. A murky, impenetrable veil of gray clouds, familiar from childhood to anyone living in Ergunswald, complemented the traditional northern landscape.
“Just a fish,” Trail concluded grimly as he saw a silver fin going underwater.
Having fixed his hood, he kept fishing. But the unpleasant feeling of being watched was still there, irritating and angering at the same time. A native of Folric, he was definitely not a coward. Despite the sad outcome of the last war with the Empire, he had returned home with trophies and a couple of new scars. Luckily for Trail, and fatally bad luck for those living on the other side of the strait, the northerner was a warrior who never missed an opportunity to hone his skills.
No, Trail was not afraid of the one who was watching him, but preferred to know his enemy in person. Besides, alone on the edge of the ancient lake, oppressed by its strangeness, he felt very vulnerable. And in his personal opinion, there was only one thing worse than that feeling: failing to find a mug of ale the morning after a noble feast.
“So, who are you? A hermit? A chance traveler? A robber?” the fisherman wondered, trying to ignore the annoying hum of the midges around him. “If you want to kill me, then I’m an excellent target right now. Just loosen your bowstring and I’ll go to the ancestors. Or are you waiting for me to fish up dinner? Well, cunning. Or maybe you don’t have a bow, and you’re planning to sneak up behind me and stick a dagger in my back? No, brother, it won’t work out that way. You won’t stand a chance. I always keep my ears open. That’s why I am still alive.”
Trail felt the catch and gently, but sharply, raised the rod. Shiny scales flew over the water’s surface, and Trail’s rough face brightened into a victorious smile. But at the moment when he reached for the catch, the fish suddenly escaped and flopped back into the lake.“God damn it!” the failed fisherman muttered, swearing.
Having replaced the bait, he again put out the fishing pole and kept waiting patiently. He was still being watched from the forest.
“Maybe you’re from wild tribes?” Trail kept wondering and instantly felt his body responding to the thought: his muscles tensed and a light sweat covered his back and forehead. “It’s unlikely,” the fisherman hastened to reassure himself. “Filthy, lousy dogs always attack as a pack… And they don’t take prisoners.” These memories caught Trail unawares. Cold fear still managed to seep into him and down his shirt, forcing him to glance over his shoulder.
No one. Only the wind was playing with the tops of the trees, shaking them from side to side with a lazy creaking.
Trail slapped his face, brushing away a swarm of annoying mosquitoes. He spat, as one of the insects got into his mouth.
“What’s got into me? Clear Beaches is one of the quietest places in the whole North. The wolves have long kept away from these lakes, and the savages have never so much as been seen. I, and plenty of other people, have been fishing here all our lives, and nothing bad has ever happened. The Little Beauty feeds the whole of Folric,” Trail reassured himself. “Eh, I guess I’m getting old, it’s just my imagination. Next time I’ll take one of my sons with me.” The idea helped the man to overcome his excitement.
He caught three heavy crucian carps, and a gentle wave of blissful peace poured over him. Trail’s spirits brightened. He loved the state of serene solitude that fishing generously bestowed on him. Trail could relax and lose the burden of his past on the shore of the clear, ice-like water, with the rare quacking of wild ducks and the quiet rustling of the reeds. Here, far from people, he at last forgot about the screaming cries. The screams that had haunted him since the last war. The hysterical screams of crying children, who fell silent only after blows of his axe…
“Yeah, what a time…” — the warrior closed his eyes and cast the bloody memories from his mind. Frankly speaking, Trail was ashamed of them and had not told anyone about the events in the village near the imperial fortress. Only his brother Sorgi was aware, but unlike Trail, had never tormented himself with regrets. But Sorgi had long been dead, and the Folric native could be sure that his dark secrets would go with him to the funeral pyre.
The relaxation of the northerner didn’t last long. Trail again, even more clearly than before, felt someone’s gaze upon him. Birds flew up behind him, noisily flapping their wings – something had frightened them. He heard a branch crack. No doubt about it, someone was approaching him. Trail’s nose caught a weird, unpleasant, but somehow familiar smell. It seemed like the smell of the northern wolfhounds.
His heart began to pound, his temples started to pulse, and his palms were instantly covered in sweat. Trail threw down his fishing rod and dropped onto his side. Having grabbed the axe, he made a deft roll and immediately got to his feet, instinctively taking the fighting stance.
But the thing he saw stunned him. An inexpressible, animal horror ran through his body. His eye twitched, his lips trembled, and he lost the use of his hands. His fingers disobeyed him, chilled by fear, and he dropped the axe. But it was of no importance. Trail was not in control of himself, and the weapon would not have helped the poor man. The northerner was not ready for such a battle. It is doubtful whether anyone could have fought on equal terms against the one who, at that time, was growling threateningly and gnashing its deadly, sharp teeth, rushing in leaps and bounds towards Trail.
Realizing that he was doomed, the trembling fisherman began to back away. But the terrible creature, whose appearance had driven Trail out of his senses, was inexorably approaching like hell.
Yellow-red, painfully evil eyes and a stinking mouth were the last things the fisherman from Folric saw. Before death, a thought flashed through his mind: “They really do exist…”