The heavens seemed to take on a three-dimensional quality: Some of the stars now appeared closer than others, and Aurel imagined he could sense the depths between those and the ones farther away. Many had hints of color: Distant reds, cold blues, soft greens, fierce yellows. Even the faintest of these shone more brightly than usual, for it was a very clear night; the moon had yet to rise, and the light from the fire was behind him and mostly blocked by the trees. The galaxy ran smoke-blue from one side of the sky to the other, unmoving, like a swath of mist frozen in place by the breath of some terrible, ancient beast.
The horse nickered faintly. Aurel turned to see her grazing at the edge of the thicket. He watched for a while, occasionally hearing a muffled chomping noise. She was a good horse, he thought. Strong and full of heart. Perhaps he should come up with a name for her. After all, they would share many more nights before he reached his destination. On quiet feet Aurel strode past the animal, stepping out of the silvery meadow and into the fire-lit stand of trees. He gently placed two good sized sticks across the flames of the campfire and sat down on his blanket.
Once again he reached into his vest pocket and took out the message. He unrolled it and stared at it, hoping against hope to gather some new meaning from it. Plain, black ink – ordinary ink, made from pine ash and water – lay scrawled across the paper in lines almost too messy to read. It was from Yori alright; there was no doubt about that. He was the only one Aurel knew who would send such a mundane letter. He had not signed his name at the bottom. Just the three lines:
Aurel of Estraal,
Your presence is required most urgently.
Do not delay. The very world depends.
"The very world," he mouthed. A twig snapped behind him, and Aurel looked up to see the horse standing there, ears perked forward, her big round eyes reflecting firelight. "It's ok," he comforted, "It's just me talking to myself again." The horse lowered her head and sniffed at the ground, as if reassured.
"What's the old man gone and done this time?" He mumbled, shaking his head and staring back up at stars that were half hidden through the canopy of leaves.