The boy trudges through the misty bog. His legs are weary, but his eyes burn with a furious determination. The back of his head is matted with blood, not all of it his. The marks of a dozen battles are etched indefinably into his expression. He will be twelve this summer.
The bog soon gave way to the foothills of Mnir. He'd spent much of his youth with his lowlander cousins The valleys in spring would be rich with the scent of jasmine in bloom. Now they were heavy with smoke.The Khal Du-Nur had swept through the valleys like a storm of blood and steel, leaving nothing behind but ash, charred bodies and those all too familiar blue-feathered arrows.
The boy's aunt used to tell him stories of this place. Tales of ages long past, when the armies of Heaven marched over the earth. "Here," she would say as the autumn winds played in her hair, "here is where Great Hala-Mnir, the Dragon of God, fell from heaven at God's behest to form the mountains and the valleys.
"See here, at the base of Mount Hodr, the claw marks of the Great Dragon etched deep into the ground. It is said when the blood of the Mnir is spilled on this ground, Hala-Mnir himself shall return to purify the lands of wickedness." Such a silly story, the boy thought. So pointless a hope in such a bloody world.
His head turned toward the distant, growing rumble. Shadows formed in the low-hanging smoke. There was a sudden chill in the boy's chest, followed by a searing heat. He looked downward and saw, hanging gently from the centre of his breast, a plume of blue feathers.
The ground rushed up to meet him. The rumbling turned into the passing hooves of a score of battle steeds. The boy rolled to his side. Blood flowed down the arrow shaft into the earth. He looked up toward the heavens, and heard the beating of mighty wings.