They were nomads. People with no real place to stay. They go where the wind blow them, and back then, the wind blew south, out to the wastelands where people seldom venture.
The path was not of their choosing, for the last town from where they came from had an outbreak of an unknown disease. Hundreds died and were dying.
They said it was something in the water.
The nomads boil their water before drinking, thus only a couple of their children got sick, while the town's folk fell one by one, mouth frothing, bowels bleeding...
"Witchcraft" They said.
"They have brought this into our land!"
"Finish them all before they finish us!"
The nomads did not think they would actually go through with it, but 8 of their own were lost before they got to leave.
Not to the pestilence, but by the townsfolk's hands, their minds crazed by the fever that comes with the unknown disease.
They chased the nomads to the wilderness, blocking all other paths. They thought that the wasteland would finish them off, for they themselves cannot. But these people were an old race.
Older than the towns. Older even than the wasteland.
Cautiously, the head nomad made his way to the swamp, keeping off the sucking mud and the poisonous gas, the secret paths passed from elder to child.
For others, it may seem a mere swamp, but to these people's eyes, it is a kingdom lost in time.
"The fallen tower points to Inanis, where the Dark resides." they whisper "You should never go there.
These instructions are passed by the elders to every child when ever they are in the wastelands.
"You should follow the shadow of the turrets when the sun starts to set," they say, "walk the parapet that leads to the outer gate, from there you shall see the rampart, and beside it, the bridge that goes over the moat."
"Only there can you walk safely to the other side."
They go silently. The Dark may be in the south-most part of the swamp, but it's shadow can wander the wasteland in search of prey.
No one has actually seen it.
No one has lived to tell the tale, but some of the elders have heard its prey before their screams got cut short.
They say it came from a dark star, that it was the star itself, and looking at it will cost you your soul.
"Listen well, children, you youngsters will soon take our place. Soon it would be you that leads our people out of the wasteland."
"Yes elder." answered a child, the most inquisitive in the group. "But what if the dark comes to us? What do we do?"
The head elder stops, turns around, and gently places a hand on his shoulder.
"The Dark has been trapped in the middle of the keep. Only its shadow can slip out to take souls from unsuspecting travelers who loose their way. But we have a way to prevent even that...
He raised his hand to cover the child's eyes. "The Dark steals souls through people's eyes." he continued, "Thus you must avert your eyes when it approaches."
"But how do I know when it comes?" the child asks again.
"When darkness rises from the earth. When the world looses sound. When your breath seems to be sucked out from your very lungs."
He must have noticed the child going pale, for he smiled and ruffled his hair.
"Fear not," he said with a wink, "even if the Dark itself arrives, we elders have a spell that would trap him in a container for another thousand years."
"Will you be teaching us that spell too?"
"In time... Though I hope and wish it would not be too soon. Now, We must get going, the sky is beginning to... "
He did not get to finish. There came a blood curdling scream. People came rushing from the back, their mouths open, but no more sound came out.
They were yards away when they fell, their eyes wide open, hands scratching their throats.
"Take the children through the outer gate!" shouted the head nomad. Several others were suddenly behind the children, urging them along the way.
They were about to pass the outer gate -- an enormous gnarled tree, long dead and fallen, making an archway through which led to more swamp land,
but before they could pass, a dark swarm, like a dense smokey curtain, rose from the ground in front of them.
"Cover your eyes!" yelled the elders above the screams around them. "Don't look!"
They desperately covered the children, surrounding them, using their bodies to shield the innocent eyes from the carnage. But one child couldn't look away.
An eye stared through a gap between the arms. The dark curtain seemed to billow and twirl and weave together to form a dark silhouette of a tall man.
"He's escaped!" some of the elders shouted from the front, trying to turn the dark away.
"Don't look" again they say, but still, the child cannot look away.
The head elder's voice takes a different tone and the wind begins to howl. A scornful laugh, turning into a scream of rage-- like a wild animal cornered. Desperate.
The dark image bends over. Silvery light was being sucked into it, the people in front , falling one by one, until only one remained -- the Head Elder.
He held a small vial in one hand and a green twig in another. He crushed the vial. It made no sound as he mouthed words that reached no one's ears.
He aimed to throw the twig at the image, but before he could, the dark figure convulses. Its head jerks up, showing two yellow eyes that pierced through the darkness.
Bright light filled the whole swamp.
The last thing the child saw where those two yellow eyes staring at him...