Old Mattias sits down on the worn tree stump he’s used as a chair for fifty-two years and clears his throat. Like a miracle, the throng of children falls silent in rapt attention; they’ve waited all year for this moment.
“The torches are lit,” Old Mattias begins, his raspy voice echoing in the silent town square, “the gifts have been given, and now the story is told. This is the way it’s been done for three thousand years, this is the way it will be done for thousands more.”
“This is the pact,” the entire town replies in unison.
" The Pact of Thorns made long ago protects us to this day. These are the words of the Calanian Elders, to be told down the generations, so that we may hear and live.
“Gather leaves of fiery oak,
Dig up rocks of purest gold,
Gather drops of clearest dew,
And cries of babies born anew.
Gift them yearly, without fail.
For the Dark to keep at bay.
Should you fail in your endeavor.
Wicked Nur will reign in terror.”
“This is the pact,” the town once again chants as one.
Old Mattias throws some glintpowder into the nearest torch, making it explode in a flash of multicolored sparks to the fright and delight of the children. He always indulges himself a cheap trick at the end of the rite to lighten the mood.
“Alderman,” whispers the guard waiting in the shadows.
Old Mattias sighs and hobbles slowly over, his knees in pain after sitting for so long. " What news, Jurgen. How fare the…" Jurgen’s pale face makes the Alederman stop.
" Freedonia is gone," he whispers, shocked. “Their torches were lit, the gifts were given, but Freedonia’s gone.”
“Was anyone spared?”
“No, Alderman, you don’t understand. Freedonia is gone,” Jurgen whispers all but crying. “The whole village is gone. The land bears the marks of buildings and square and people, but the whole village is gone.”
The laughter and squeals of children playing in the square only make the news all the more terrible, and Old Mattias knows the end has begun.