The dim light of the city lamps never seemed less necessary. The higher part of Ebonhedge was now directly facing the moon, whose pale brilliance illuminated the city, making all the streets shine bright as during the day. Yet no light is cast without shadow, and the shadows of the moon grow long and dark. Those cast by the city’s numerous towers helped obscure the paths of those who consider themselves allies of the night. The thief was one of them. He’d hidden somewhere in the city, and if it were anyone else trying to find him, the trace would surely be lost on them. We, however, had the crystal eye to guide us.
“It’s over here,” I said as the eye glowed whiter and whiter as we approached a dark alley so hidden away in the shadows that even in the eye’s light it appeared to be a dark void of nothing. “The strongest light yet.”
“But where did he go?” Cillian asked. The light illuminated his pale face, twisted in confusion.
“Must be an entrance here somewhere,” I muttered as I approached one of the stone walls. I touched it and glanced around, only to hear the sound of metal creaking behind me. I turned around to see Isolde had pressed something, and the wall in front of her had opened to reveal a dark staircase.
“Once again, I have to do all the work,” she smirked.
“Ye only found it because he was no more than a hair taller than ye,” I muttered as I held out the eye in the staircase. Indeed, the light was getting stronger. We were getting closer.
“While it may be true that the switch was in my reach, I would have found this staircase under any other circumstances anyway.”
“Impressive, Lady Isolde,” Cillian said in half a whisper as he followed me down the staircase. The echoing steps and the sound of dripping water in the distance did little to keep up at ease. In silence, we descended, lower and lower, down into an endless abyss. Yet the closer we were to the bottom, the lighter the crystal eye shined. I hanged it around my neck again and hid it under my tunic, worrying the light might give away our position much sooner than before.
We had discussed the potential battle plan beforehand. A band of thieves could pose quite a danger, so we couldn’t take any chances. I went first with Nevermore perched on my shoulder. Once we reached the dwelling, he would fly around the vicinity to give me a proper look of the place. If it was safe, I would launch smoke potion to confuse our enemies, after which Cillian would leap out in his animal form. Isolde would stay by my side as we both searched the place for the sword. It soon turned out we’d anticipated too much.
At the bottom we found the den of a group of bandits, as was to be expected. Sacks of stolen goods were laid out below the walls, and on top of them lay four chubby men of short stature, similar enough to be brothers. They were fast asleep. I went on my toes to check if I could locate the sword before I woke them, but then, suddenly, the beast leapt into the middle of the room, its auburn mane ruffled and threatening, and let out a piercing howl. The brothers jumped up as they woke and screamed, three of them squeezing into holes in the walls that I had not noticed before. The fourth one, however, did not run and pulled out a long sword out of a sheath on his back. It was black as night, its edge was jagged, ancient writing adorned its blade. I had the feeling as if I had seen the blade before.
“Stay back, fiend!” the thief shouted out to Cillian. He was struggling to have himself sound imposing, but his shaking legs revealed his true feelings. “Stay back, I warn ye!”
“Take the bloody blade, Cillian, and let’s be off,” Isolde shouted. “Ye can hack his head off with one bite. Let’s waste no more time.”
“But I-“ Cillian said in protest. Clearly he had reservations about killing a human. But before the thief managed to notice the hesitation in the creature’s eyes, he started shouting.
“Mighty Dullahan, hear my plea!” He was holding the ebony blade above his head, and as he uttered the name, the sword shone a pale light. “Keep me safe, rescue me.”
“Dullahan?” Cillian whispered and took a step back. If he were not in the guise of an animal, judging by his voice, I’m certain his face would have turned pale with terror. It was no wonder. Dullahan was a name that was most well known in the North where the lumberjack had come from. The black rider on a pale mare, wherever he went there was only disease and desolation. A hero of many northern folk tales, he was a demon that in the past had laid waste to many a country. I now knew why I recognized the blade.
“Your wish is granted,” a voice came from the middle of the room. A white flash blinded me, the earth grumbled, and when I could finally opened my eyes, the thief was nowhere to be seen. Instead, I saw him. A tall, imposing figure, clad in ornate black robes stood there. His skin was pitch black and seemed to absorb all the light around it. The hair on his head and beard looked darker still. The only bright feature on his face where his large, yellow eyes of a wildcat. The moment he materialized, I was filled with an immense sense of dread – a feeling that I had not felt in many long years. He glanced around the room and when he spotted me, another bright feature gleamed in the darkness. His fangs were white as snow and as he twisted them in a crooked grin toward me, he took a bow, and uttered a growl-like laugh.
“Do my eyes deceive me now?” he said with a voice as deep as the abyss, as if a thousand snakes hissed with him as he spoke, sending visible shivers down Cillian’s back. “It has been eons, Matoya.”
“I could say the same, Byleth,” I said to him as I gripped Isolde’s hand tightly, beckoned Nevermore to perch on my shoulder with the other, and glanced at Cillian, signaling him to come closer to me. In my heart of hearts, I prayed for a miracle, as I knew there was no other way we could all make it out of this alive.