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Homecoming

-by Nibbles


The soldier pines and fir trees of the Hinterlands kneeled before the blue sky. Birds twittered in their branches and the wind sighed through their needles. The ground swished with the sounds of wolves prowling. There was a crescendo of hoofbeats as a pale horse appeared, bearing a dessicated rider. It exited from the narrow path that climbed the eastward facing cliffs and turned west. The deathless horse shook its head and moaned a painful sort of whinny, a crude parody of the life it once had.

The rider sat hunched on his horse, breathless. A baleful moaning echoed across the Hinterlands, drowning out the sounds of the primitive and savage Owlbeasts as they hunted. "The ravine has always howled," the troll had said in the beach-front village below, "since before the Scourge. But then, it was a sacred place. Wolf's Mist Ravine we called it. Now it is just the Plaguemist Ravine."

The rider, his face covered by a hood asked in a low, measured voice, full of calculating hatred, asked, "And beyond?"

"Caer Darrow," the troll said. He continued working on his fishnet, trying to avoid staring at the ruin of the corpse's left cheek and empty, clawed out eyes.

The corpse mounted his horse with a light jingle of tackle. "Thank you, little bird."

The troll shuddered. He hated that one. Always the Forsaken were coming to this village to aid their allies in the Hunt, but this one was different, driven somehow. He knew the deathless one was seasons below him in experience, but the others in the village shook their heads when he spoke of doing something. There was something about him, they said. What he lacks in skill, he gains in hatred. And relentlessness.

The rider spurred his horse on, past the Overlook cliffs, into the needled carpet of the Hinterlands. He flew past the stalking Howlers, the Trolls, the Elves. He sprinted on, following his unbeating heart. The Plaguemist Ravine greeted him with a long, mournful sigh. The rider entered the narrow ravine and rode on. His grip tightened on the reigns as he went on, every hoofbeat pounded in his mind. The ridges rose steadily on either side, closing about him, and threatening to topple over and crush him, until at last the ravine spat him out like a soaped Argus.

The great brown expanse of water still called Caer Darrow stank by means of greeting. Nibblez knew it well. Just as now, at last, he knew the great foreboding manse rising out of the one major island. The Scholomance. Nibblez's hatred waxed seeing it. He hated it, because he hated HER and he knew SHE was inside. Seeing it at last, with a clear mind, for the first time in its new form, cowed him. As much as he hated her, he was afraid of her as well. The dark, empty windows stared out across the lake like Nibblez own eyes, and he felt exposed.

He shrank back into the shadows and stared longingly at the school. "Soon, little bird," he said. "Soon."

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