I was a strong man. I loyally served our God-appointed ruler. I was one of the King's knights. I hailed from a village to the west, large but secluded thanks to the hills and the Great river. I grew up there with my mother and my little sister. My father died in the last war with the night travelers years ago. Many had. We still heard the muffled murmurs, the the tell-tale cry of night terrors from a few run down houses, inhabited by those old souls that had seen too many wars in their time, who could not forget, could not sleep without thinking of the specters deep in their minds. We knew well enough by now that there was nothing we could do; those people did not remember their strangled pleas by day, and it was best not to remind them. They were still one of us. Like these fears of being ripped asunder, our lives were tied to thoughts of darkness. Or maybe because of our fears, but no one cared about such things. Those of us who wished to hunt down our fears, to dig them up, were seen the same as those who did dig into the ground out of fear. But I knew better; I was no scared soul clawing at my own grave, and I sought out answers. It was seen as idle gossip at best and heresy at worst, but there were trends, and in them one began to learn. Some of it was heresy; I heard many things that would have burned the ears of a scholar, but I was no learned, holy man, I was a poor boy whose only job was to fight. I knew that, we all knew that. These were hard times, they said, and you never knew when the next war messenger would come, seeking able bodies for the king. This is what I knew about the night travelers. They were wicked, incomplete souls, that much was certain. In what way, I wasn't sure. Some said they had holes in them, raw and ragged; others said their blood burned them with hunger. They were like an infection, a disease of sorts that twisted and distorted until there was nothing left. They had a hunger in them for domination, for a body to own. A body that they could rule over, more so than inhabit. They did not hunger in the sense of consumption; this was evident in how they come about. Those who went mad went mad with cold and fear, not with hunger. They did not eat the ground below them, they burrowed into it, seeking the warmth they desperately believed they would find in the middle of the cold, dark earth. Who knew what they were doing? But they had no reason to eat; if they wished to they could have their fill of dirt and rock up here, and there was nothing else below that I could imagine. I was told many times of the origin of the night travelers. Many of the popular stories involved deals with the highest of the demons, unnamed and fearsome as he was, but failed to explain why he would do such a thing. Others told of dark magic, stolen from the people of a distant land, but they never told me which of the many distant lands, though they were hard to tell apart. One story told of a poor man, who wanted to save his sick wife. (The time and place of his existence were never revealed to me, if he was indeed real.) According to his religion, all the knowledge in the world lied within the center of the earth, and so desperately he dug into the ground until no light could reach him. Maybe he found his cure and it backfired, or maybe he went mad. But what emerged from that hole was no man, but a shadow of a soul. The story said that one day a powerful hum came from the hole he left behind and none could explain it. But when night came, everyone was slaughtered or driven mad. There were many more holes. I always liked to assume that the man's wife had died before such a tragedy occurred. But at the time it did not matter because I did not believe the story to be true. When I was enlisted, I already knew much about the night travelers. I knew enough to be scared to death, more than most knew at that age. I already knew the things they would teach us: how to fight them with fire and how to protect our minds from their incessant hums, lest they take over our bodies. But I also knew that a single mistake could leave us all babbling mad. I knew that light was the only way, and that it was better to burn alive than to let them take you, that we were expected to do this if the time came. And yet it never struck me how to save a city. Not once. There was a girl I knew, but I cannot recall her name. She used to talk like a boy, act like a boy, dress like a boy. She intrigued me. She traveled much, but always came back with many stories to share. I learned much of my heretical knowledge from her. When the war messengers came, she enlisted. She kept to herself, and she fought well, and because of that, no one questioned her. I did not lie to myself; I was sad when she left for battle. I left for a different battle shortly after, and everything was as I expected, although it did not make it any less shocking or horrifying. I learned that as time went on, those innocent hums began to sound more and more like screams until you could not drown them out, not ever. When one of my fellow knights refused to turn his torch upon himself, a group of five or six did it for him. His screams were almost as unholy as those in my dreams. Many weeks went on and the war seemed worse than ever. I had heard legend of the wars of old, but I had not expected to see one in my day. No, I had prayed never to see one in my day. When the battles were at their worst was when the command came. Any village being attacked was to be burned to the ground, and no one was to be let out alive. It was almost guaranteed that such a measure would win us the war, but at what cost? I had recently been promoted, and essentially had a small army at my disposal. I disobeyed the king, and fought with honor against the shadows that plagued us. My men were loyal to me; I had saved them many times before. I found that if I commanded them to march west, they would march west regardless of the king's orders. So we marched west at a frantic pace to a small village surrounded by hills. It was then that I understood what could drive a man to crawl down into the earth so that he could rip at the souls of others. We had arrived too late; the village was mostly soot and ash and fire and rock. But before we even entered the village I saw the bodies of knights, stabbed and slashed and bleeding. Blood was such an odd sight, and it meant only one thing: mutiny. And that was when I saw her: my strange, beautiful, tomboyish girl. Only I knew her for who she was, and only I understood the value of her life. She turned and saw me, and those eyes made the humming in my mind just stop like it had never lingered there at all. She and her men approached me, serious as the scene before them. They, too, had deserted the king. They had also come too late, but had been there first to enact revenge upon those who would destroy our home. Strangely enough, she looked at me and she smiled, smiled like a wild dog, or a wild man about to dig his way to freedom. She handed me an amulet, drenched in blood. It had a large, red talisman held up by two cords so thick that when I clenched the amulet, blood dripped from the cords. She told that the war was over, we had won, and that no matter what happened I was to place that amulet around the king's neck. It was his; he deserved it. She moved close to me and told me that sometimes, you had to let go, to do that which you most fear. With that she ran off, faster than I had ever seen her run, into a dark cavern I had never seen before. I was too dumb struck to follow her, instead staring down at the strange necklace in my hand, and when I thought to look up, she was in the hillside, at the entrance to the cave, staring straight at me, impossibly far away. And she was gone. I now had two armies at my command, and the return to the capital was long and sobering. I thought over her words, and our home, and the king, and what this all possibly meant. There was no more screaming to be heard, and the silence was frightening for once. Many weeks later, we arrived at the palace, and the silence broke. We were surrounded by fanfare and cheers; we had been the only surviving armies to return. Our wounds were treated, and we were given fancy clothes to wear, more intricate than any clothing I had worn before. I felt entirely out of place as I stood there before the crowd, as the king spoke so artfully of our heroism, of my heroism. All the while the amulet in my hand burned in my mind, leaving behind a fear I had long forgotten. Afterwards the king summoned me in private to talk about what had occurred on the battlefield, as he called it. I told him about some of my findings, stressing that I had learned important new information about the night travelers, the damned shadows. All the while I bit my tongue, wishing I could shout insults and spit in his face. My mother! My sister! My friends! But no. I showed him the amulet, and he seemed mesmerized by it, the horrible brown crusty thing that it was. In one motion I darted behind him and fastened the clasp around his neck and his body slumped to the ground. Was he dead? I reached down towards the amulet and suddenly his eyes flickered and then opened wide and wild. The king, or whatever was willing his actions within him, ripped the amulet from his neck and proceeded to jump out of the window nearby. I did not turn to the window immediately, first I picked up the amulet. It's incessant humming was calling to me. I stared at it intently, hoping for something to happen, and that's when I heard the noise from below. I turned to the window but did not look down. The heavy breathing and the scraping, bony noises were enough for me to understand. Finally, I turned to the king's room, and opened these wide, intimidating doors. Here there is not light, it is all darkness and humming. I miss my sister and my mother. I miss my father more than ever before. I know they'll come for me soon enough, but I feel so exhausted, and whatever they wish to do will come when it comes. I only wish to sleep and dream of my family, before this amulet begins to sound too like the king's distraught screams for help.