The campsite looked deserted when Corey and Juliet got back from visiting Biddy. There was not a sound to mar the silence other than the fluttering of the tent flaps, and the whistling of the wind across the barren landscape. Juliet shielded her eyes against the sun and looked towards the castle where multi-coloured dots darted about.
“They’ve started the dig,” she ran towards her tent to get the tools needed. “Come on,” she called back at Corey.
Her laptop lay on top of her sleeping bag and she opened it. To her relief it had full power and she would be able to contact her mother, but that would have to wait until later. Now, she was excited about what lay in store, and the story that would unfold as they dug deep into the castle’s history. Corey stood waiting, as she came running through the tents.
“Did Steven charge your computer?” He asked.
“Yeah, I just checked it.”
“Do you mind if I use it later to check that everything’s all right at home?”
“No problem,” Juliet said.
After that there was no more talking, as they needed all the breath, they could muster to run between the rocks dotting the land. The castle looked much bigger and imposing the closer they got, and soon its shadow fell across them.
“It’s fantastic,” Juliet sighed.
“Hey, you two,” the shout came from one of the towers, and they looked up to find Mr Thomas waving at them.
There were close enough to see the condition of the ruin. At such a height, it was open to the elements and showed the scars of wind and rain. Stones crumbled beneath their feet, and they slipped a few times before they reached the ancient stone steps.
“The others are around the back digging. I have checked the castle to make sure it’s safe. Have a look around before you start, if you like, then come and join us.”
He started to walk away and then…
“Oh, by the way; you’ll never believe who I met in the village.”
A shout from one of his students sent him hurrying away.
“I’ll tell you later,” he called over his shoulder.
“I wonder what he was going to say.” Corey said.
“Who knows,” Juliet shrugged. “It’s probably nothing.”
They stood for a moment to study the layout of the ruin. Bricks had fallen from the various floors and lay scattered on the ground. Strange coloured fungi clung to the side of the walls, and ivy trailed like garlands against the bricks. The tower, that Mr Thomas had called them from, was the only one with a standing staircase. The steps were worn smooth from the passing of countless feet and weeds grew between the cracks. Juliet began to climb with Corey following. The view from the top was breath-taking. The rock-strewn landscape stretched out for miles; the ravaged and stunted trees stood like small markers. It was possible to see the ocean from such a height and make out the small shapes of passing ships.
“This is exactly how I saw it in my dreams,” Corey whispered. “I keep getting flashes of how it looks by night and I don’t know why.”
“I’ve never seen it in my dreams,” Julie said. “But I can’t help feeling I’ve been here before. Are you ok?”
“Yeah, just a bit freaked out by all this, and what Biddy said.”
They spent the rest of the day working, stopping only for lunch. The hours passed, as they dug and dusted the small items that jutted out of the exposed soil.
Amber and Sabba closed the office early and ran through the village. Despite being changelings, they had inherited the swift, cat-like movements of their parents, and they knew the layout well. They side-stepped the small rock pools that pitted the landscape, and the pink and white flowers disguising the dangers of sinking sands. They belonged here among the purple heather and the timeless tranquillity of the moors. As they moved through the small wood towards the cottage, they noticed from the corner of their eye, a streak of red keeping pace.
Biddy stood waiting by the open door. It was no surprise to them that she knew they were coming.
“Welcome my princess and young lord,” she poured them glasses of elderflower cordial. “You have come to ask about the others, your shadow selves?”
They looked at her in amazement, and she took this time to study the small differences between them and the others. Both sets of eyes were oval and without the slight tilt of the elfin, and their accents were different.
“They look almost exactly like you.” Biddy answered their unasked question. “Now you must go home at once, it is no longer safe for you here. The Nightflyers have been abroad these past few nights.”
The Nightflyers are the enormous, bat-like creatures the Erebans use to fly. Like their masters they are dark, vicious creatures and trained to fight. Cattle disappear without trace, scooped from the land by huge claws, to be feasted on by teeth sharper than blades. Their wingspan is said to spread over twenty-five feet.
“They have been out spreading their poison,” Biddy said. “They have traveled farther than usual and return only with the coming of dawn. They are making ready for war, there is no doubt about it.”