Chapter 1Entry: One September 10 That is absolutely the last time I order a rabbit-in-broth from anyone here in Oakcrest, or ever again. Apparently, the connotation of my favorite entree is considered promiscuous conduct to the locals. Now picture, if you will, walking up to an old innkeeper and asking for such a request. In hindsight, the look the he gave me would have been priceless. Only if it were not for the fact that as I proceeded to put my money on the counter, he proceeded to kick me out. Now I'm out fifteen silver coins and a room to stay the night. The last few days or so, of my attempts to find my uncle, have been nothing short of troublesome. I have been riding around the countryside looking for that nomad of an individual, for about a week, to bestow unto him the news of my grandfather's passing and my uncle’s inheritance of the fiefdom. Normally the title of baron would be passed down from the previous baron onto the new upon the original baron’s death bed. In this case, my uncle was nowhere to be found. Due to the letters sent between my uncle and I, in the past, it was suggested by my family that I would be best suited to find him. My exact orders were to find my uncle William and bring him back to our family's manor house to begin the funeral ceremony and to announce his ascendance to the Baron of the Fief of Briarwood. Let’s take a look at how well that is going. It seemed that I was on his trail until I lost my horse two days ago just outside of Oakcrest. I thought tying a horse to a tree would have been just fine. Do you know how easy it is for a horse to rip off a tree branch when it gets scared? I do now. Did you know wolves go for the easier prey? I sure do now. That incident left me sleeping in a tree that evening. That was yesterday and today I'm in a stable.Being without a room for the night, I have commandeered a small stall in a stable behind the inn in which I previously tried to get a room. It smells of dying horse and yet there are no horses to be found. I'm trying not to think about that for now. The fading light of the sunset, flowing in from the stall’s window, is making it difficult to write. Hell, I don’t even know who I’m even writing too. “Chronicle your adventures”, my mother had said, before I left home, in an attempt to make the search for my uncle seem more exciting. All that chronicling my adventures have done has reminded me of the horrid time I have been facing. A small commotion outside has caught my attention. Maybe it is worth leaving my luxurious straw ridden abode to see what is going on. Oh, the sarcasm in the air is thick. I guess I will investigate further. Perhaps rid myself of the stench of dying horse for the time being. Unless anything else exceptionally interesting happens within the next few minutes, this is the end of my first journal entry. + + + Exceptionally interesting does not even begin to describe the events that have taken place in the last couple of days. This room is infinitely better than that dying horse stable. The largest bed that I have ever seen sits between two ornately carved, oak nightstands. Golden candlestick holders sit on each stand but they are not lit. I'm not writing by candlelight! Little glowing orbs of iridescence float and bob around the gray stone ceiling of this bed chamber. It is absolutely the strangest occurrence that I have ever seen. Except for back at the stable. Note to self: do not grab at the floating orbs of iridescence. While they don't look like fire, they do feel like it. I digress. I'm sure you want to hear about what happened back at the stable, no matter how magnificent the happenings around this manor are. Don't worry, I'll get back to the amazing features of my new quarters later. + + + A muffled cry sounded to my right, as I exited the stable. It came from around the corner to the side of the stable. I ran around the corner only to come face to face with a gruesome sight. In front of me were two people. The larger of the two, a tall and muscular man with long black hair and ragged beige clothing, held a woman in a green dress. Cradling her close to the ground in a crouch while blood congealed around her limp form and at his feet. I gasped, causing the man turn towards me. The first thing I noticed was the blood that ran down his face. Starting at his lips and falling to the ground. The blood around his mouth complemented the unusually sharp canines protruding from his snarling lips. The next noticeable thing was his eyes. Each were veiled in a murky blackness that swirled and eddied, covering his once blue irises and causing the whites of his eyes to turn a dark grey.He dropped the woman's body, with a resounding thud, and stood up. He began to slowly walk towards me, eyeing me up and down like an animal sizes up their prey. I took a step back to distance myself from his menacing demeanor. The appearance of this man resembled, only what could be called, a creature of legend. Something only seen by the people of myths and folklore. The being that stood before me was a mere shell of humanity long since forgotten. The darkness clouding his eyes and the blood that stained his teeth were a testament to that. Time seemed to slow down as the man continued to walk forward. I could hear my heart beating in my ears and my I felt my breathing increase in speed. Without warning, he lunged at me faster than I could comprehend. His body was off the ground in a sort of tackle. I took another quick step back and found myself falling backwards. When I had hit the ground, The man was directly over me. I made the split second decision to kick upwards with both of my legs, hitting the man square in the chest. His forward momentum, coupled with that of my kick, caused him to sail over me. He landed past the stable and into the path of several bar patrons that were walking the path in front of the stable. Their laughing and shouts of drunken merriment were halted when they saw the man with blood running down the front of him. With the same inhuman speed as the tackle, he ran straight towards them. They scattered, allowing the man to run past them and out of sight. I got up and looked back to see the woman breathing heavily. The sound of blood gurgled with each breath she took. I ran to her. While trying to hold her head up I noticed her brown hair sticking to her shoulders. This was caused by the blood pouring from an open wound on her neck. It was clear that she was not going to make it. "Hey, you're going to be alright," I said in an attempt to console her. "Someone, please help!," I shouted, voice shaking. She cleared her throat to talk,"We both know that I'm not." Her voice sounded raspy and strained. "Take this," she said while putting a small silver pendant in my hand, "Rowen will understand." With those final words, her body went limp and remained motionless. "Who is Rowen?" I whispered, as if talking to her and myself. The world answered with only the low mumbling of voices now behind me and the chirp of crickets off in the distance. I pocketed the silver pendant and noticed that the group of men were now directly behind me. "Get one of the guards," I shouted, "and a doctor!" I knew it was useless. Tears, now streaming down my face. I did not know what else to do. By this time, I had a large group of bystanders behind me. One of them came and placed a sheet, from the inn, over the dead woman. I didn't look up to see who the person was, but by the voice I could tell it was a man. He placed a hand over her head and mumbled something in a language that I didn't understand. Putting his hand on my shoulder, he walked me back into the inn. I did not look up when we were seated at the at the same bar in which I had ordered the rabbit-in-broth. The wood counter top stained from years of food served and drinks spilled. I put my elbows on the counter top, wiped the tears from my face, and then put my head into my hands. The man said something to the innkeeper. I didn't care much to listen. A few minutes later the man placed a bowl in front of me. I didn't care for it, or anything for that matter. I still remembered the feeling of a fellow human being dying in my arms. Hunger was no where near my thoughts at this point. Though the aroma, so appetizing in a familiar way, caught my attention. I finally looked up. "I hear you like to order certain performances from old innkeepers," said the man while a wry smile spread across his bearded face. He started to laugh, causing a small silver pendant to jangle on his neck. "My name is Rowen," he said through his laughter."Go on, eat." I looked down to see a rabbit-in-broth.Chapter 2 Bewilderment turned into astonishment as I asked Rowen,"How did you get this?" "Just one of the many tricks of the trade," he said while still smiling. His laughter slowly dwindling. "Just a trick of the trade." Without further delay, I began to dine on the broth Rowen had ordered for me. I looked up to see Rowen signalling the innkeeper. A quick hand gesture of one finger up, then two. Moments later, the innkeeper slid two glasses of water in front of us and placed another rabbit-in-broth on the counter for Rowen. The broth was absolutely delicious. Almost making up for my first attempt at acquiring the dish. We both took our time savoring the meal. When we had finished our dinner, only a few candles remained lit. No other patrons were left in the room; they either had gone home or to one of the rooms upstairs. I was truly grateful for Rowen taking my mind off things, even if only for a short while. "That was one strange sight back at the stable, huh?" Rowen remarked nonchalantly while gathering some of the broth onto his spoon. I looked over, studying him. He had shortcut autumn-brown hair that was complemented by a long beard and mustache. His body was lean and muscular, making it difficult to estimate his age. Each feature culminating into an overall calmness, even when asking such an off-putting question. I remained silent for a moment, remembering the events which had taken place. "It was exceptionally horrid," I said. "I have never seen anything like it." "Don't let it get to you," he said, then added,"The guards will apprehend the man in no time." "What about the woman?" I asked. "She," he paused, "is no longer with us." "I'm sorry for your loss," I replied. "My loss?" "Yeah, I just thought that. . ." my voice trailed off. For a moment, I was confused. The woman had said that Rowen would understand, whatever that may have meant. I assumed that she knew him and vice versa. This combined with the peculiar, inhuman, characteristics of that man made me believe that all was not as it seemed. So I decided to test my luck. "Can we end this façade, now?" I asked. "Perceptive, aren't you?" he replied. "What exactly happened back there?" I began. "The woman, back at the stables, gave me this," I said while fishing the pendant out of my right pocket and showing it to Rowen. "Ah, so you're the one Illia has chosen as her successor?" said Rowen. "Successor? No, I think you are mistaken," I said in an attempt to resolve the situation. "No, there is no mistaking it." "There is definitely a mistake! I'm supposed to be looking for—" "Mistake or not, It has already been done," he said, sounding firm. My mind tried to make sense of what was happening. A woman being killed, the witnessing of a supposed mythological creature, becoming the dying woman's successor. None of it made any logical sense. Nothing in my seventeen years of life has prepared me for such a scenario. There was only one question I could think of, "What does any of this mean?" "Where should I start?" Rowen asked placidly. "Being her, Illia's, successor," I stated. "What does it mean exactly?" "In our order, to be one's successor, it means that you take their rank among us," he said. "You are now a part of our order." "Your order?" I questioned. "What order would that be?" "Quick to another question, aren't ya?" Rowen said mockingly. "We are known as the Dawn Riders." "Any particular reason for the name?" I asked. "Maybe you can take a guess," he said. "Anything that you have observed so far that might lead you to an answer? You seem to be perceptive enough." I thought back, once again, to the stables. Nothing about the woman gave me any signals, she seemed normal enough; no off putting signals on her part. Aside from her murder of course. Then, I thought about the man. Blood drenched, sharp canines, black veiled eyes, the list goes on. I didn't wish to admit it to myself or anyone else. It couldn't be true. The very idea was preposterous and yet it seemed to be the only plausible explanation. "Vampire," I said flatly. "Something like that," Rowen said. "A vampire's thrall, to be more exact. A thrall. I knew, all too well, what that meant. Often heard from the bed-time stories told to children. Stories of valiant warriors defeating evil vampires and their servant-like thralls. The warriors becoming heroes to the kingdom and revered by all. My mother had told me these very stories as a child, at least before my father left us and the fiefdom. "What does your order do, hunt vampires?" I said sarcastically. I was joking. Hoping that Rowen, too, was joking. The idea of a vampire or a thrall was absurd. "Your order as well," he said," and yes, we do." My stomach dropped with his remark. Simultaneously, a few people came shambling into the room. The same bar patrons from back at the stable, no less. They were still joking around and laughing. A bit late at night to be up and about, I thought. They said something relating to the man back at the stables. "Yeah, that is exactly what happened," The tallest of the men said while flashing a wide grin. "I fought of that blood covered, murderous, ruffian single-handedly, but he managed to get away. Lucky him, or I may of had to do something he would've regretted." They all began to laugh and cheer for the tall man. "I think we should resume this conversation at another time," said Rowen. "That would probably be for the best," I replied as we both got up and started towards the door. "I got you a room," he said. "Room four. It is up the stairs and third room on the right. I'll be in six." I wasn't sure if I trusted Rowen at this point, but a room to stay the night is always welcomed. Especially if it does not smell of dead and dying horses. "Thanks," I said. "Before we head up, I think I should introduce myself. I'm Sectum Reid," I said as I paused just before the door to the next room where the stairs led up to the second level. "As you may already know, I'm Rowen," he said. "Reid, huh?" "Yeah, sound familiar?" I asked. "That name sparks some old memories. Do you happen to know anyone in Briarwood?" "The Baron, actually," I said as we both stepped out of the room. "Your grandfather?" Rowen guessed. "Yes," I said. "But now that title will be for my uncle William." "My condolences towards you grandfather," he said. "William Reid, eh? "You know him?" I asked. "Coincidentally, yes. I talked to him recently on the western trail. His cart had broken down a little ways before here. We traded. . . supplies. Said he was headed north to Windhollow. Something about some sort of feral animal infestation." The way he said infestation gave me a chill. What would my uncle be doing all the way up in Windhollow. I did not know what it meant or even if I wanted to know, but I was still charged with locating him. "I'm supposed to find him," I said. "Deliver him a message declaring his ascendance to Baron." "Wouldn't you want to keep that information private?" Rowen asked. "It does not matter anymore," I said as we both reached the stairs leading to the upper rooms. "I've been searching for him too long. Over half of the fiefdom knows my grandfather has died." "Not about that," he said. "The fact that the new baron is out and alone with no protection. Kidnapping, ransoms, assassinations, the list goes on. Plus the job he has to do in Windhollow. There is no predicting what could become of you uncle." The sudden realization dawned on me; I wasn't meant to keep the death of my grandfather a secret, but to keep my uncle's rise to baron away from the public eye. I was supposed to ensure my uncle’s return to the manor house not for the fief's sake, but for his own. "I have to go and find him!" I said. "Hold it, lad," Rowen said as calmly as ever. "It's already dark out and you now know what creatures lurk out in the night. Now that you are in the Order, and a new recruit at that, you are a prime candidate for an attack." "A recruit, prime candidate?" I asked. "How would a vampire know that?" "Comes with the title of the Dawn Riders," he said. "The aura of a Rider shines through the dark and pierces the evil hiding within it." "Poetic," I said dryly. "Poetic perhaps," Rowen said. "First thing tomorrow morning, we can start our search for William on the northern trail to Windhollow. " "Alright," I agreed as we began our walk up the stairs. "Be up and ready at sunrise," he said. "We ride at dawn." I nodded and headed, right, towards my room. We ride at dawn. Was that supposed to be a play on words? I went to open my door, but it was locked. I turned back to Rowen who had a key held up in his hand and a small grin on his face. He handed it to me. "Thanks," I mumbled. He gave a small laugh and went down the hall to his room. As I walked in I closed the door behind me and locked it. I surveyed the room. Thinking back to the whole stable incident, I noted the possible entrances or exits incase of any intruders. The only ways in or out was the door and a small window overlooking the stables. I visibly shuddered when I looked at those stables through the window. The Illia’s body was gone, but the stains of blood remained. Now I turned my attention to the bed. Nothing more than straw and feather filled sacks. "I guess it will have to do," I said. I went over to the bed and pulled back the top blanket. More straw and some loose feathers. I laid down on the bed, not caring to take off my stable smelling over-shirt. I relaxed my head down on the feather stuffed pillow and fell asleep.