[Fanfiction] Heirs of Darkness (2nd book) - Chapter 1

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[Fanfiction] Heirs of Darkness (2nd book) - Chapter 1

Post by Ommariuolo »

Chapter 1 – The outcast
Night life in the dark country fell silent when Tiara, the guardian of the sky, touched the horizon line with a golden glow and was very close to the world for a short moment before she continued to ascend and begin her graceful flame dance across the sky.
No breeze blew when the heat of the day returned and every movement, even the will to it, paralyzed. Those who were small enough hid in the sparse shade of the dry bushes, stubbornly clinging to the last brown leaves, or buried themselves in the earth to dream of better times.
The shimmering air blurred outlines and distances, shifted what was still far away, and distorted what was approaching.
Goren had to shade his eyes as he ventured into the glaring daylight and let his gaze wander from the high battlement over the Iron Fields. The heat quickly brought sweat on his forehead.
“Goren,” a slightly rough voice came from behind him. “You go out voluntarily? Even for humans, who belong to the races of Light and worship Tiara the Radiant, this is a time to seek out shadows and all the important acts of the dawn and early morning – or to lay in the evening. And the Shaikan are both human beings and brave warriors, but they aren’t up to the challenge of heat.”
Goren laughed when his grandfather smiled and put his hand on his shoulder. But suddenly he became serious again. “I walked in the rain for a long time, dear forefather, in the dark and cold. I’m still not warmed up enough inside, although the fever's embers often seemed to burn me. But it was an unhealthy heat, in contrast to the sun.”
Darmos Ironhand came to his side. The lord of the Shaikan was already smaller than the tall Goren. “Grandson,” he said softly. “What makes you find no rest?”
The young Shaikan put his hand on his chest. In his mature face there was no longer any sign of the youthful innocence that would have been appropriate to his age. His inexperience had died in Lyraine together with his mother and all other victims. “Sometimes I'm not sure if my heart is really still beating. I know that I was dead... and yet I’m not an undead, not a lost soul.”
“No, it wasn't like it,” the grandfather replied. “Starshine took your heart and saved it. It never stopped beating – it just wasn't beating in your chest anymore. And your soul is healthy.”
“Nevertheless, I still have the soul of another, and even if you two, you and Ur, the forefather, want to calm me down... I’m not so sure that one day Malacay couldn’t wake up again. Can he really stay banned forever?” Goren turned to the older one. “I dream about it,” he said hoarsely. “My nights are darker than others and the memory of Malacay's life is still palpable in me. I live through the moment again and again when the anger of the gods cursed him and they left him dying on the field, I feel it and the pain wakes me up...”
“I'm so sorry,” Darmos said sympathetically. “There’s a part of Malacay's inheritance in each of us, and in the nights some spirits wander through the past along the stream of blood and see the souls of the ancestors. We can hear the voices of many dead in the Whisper Gallery of our castle. Some curse us, some are wise and kind to us. But many have gone insane, because the River of Souls is denied to us, the Soul Carrier doesn’t lead us over after death. I wish I could take your weight off you, to give you a carefree youth. But we’re Shaikan; we aren’t granted a contemplative life.”
“And certainly not a good death, it seems to me,” Goren said dry. “Why don't we fear it?”
Darmos Ironhand smiled. “If he dies in honor, Goren, there’s also redemption for the Shaikan. We Shaikan aren’t dependent on people's belief in gods, we don’t serve the Guardians and have to hope for their mercy. As a Shaikan with honor you go into nothing after death, and I still think that is a greater comfort than the thought of drifting eternally in the River of Souls – or the fact that you’re prevented from diving into the River because the Black Messenger may not consider you worthy of it. Nothing is what we aim for Shaikan as the highest goal, because it frees us from the secular yoke and fastened the blood oath, but we don’t always achieve it. The curse made us evil may often than prevent us from: we’re often not grown.”
“How does that fluctuate in battle when we switch sides?” Goren said.
“Shaikan are on nobody's side because nobody is on our side, and there is no shame in switching as long as we remain true to ourselves.” Darmos' voice sounded mildly warning.
“No, grandfather,” Goren looked back at the shimmering steppe. “I think it’s time for us to choose one side. The day of the Convocation is getting closer, and Eo is torn apart by the disputes of the Circle Mages. My mother was right when she tried to create another six races alliance to stop the madness. After all, it affects all of us, since even the dark ones get under the yoke when one of the mages – or all of them – receive absolute power on the day of the Convocation.”
“They could also use them for good,” Darmos Ironhand objected.
“What?” Goren said mockingly. “They could only do that by not using the power. Otherwise – act only in their own favor. It’s not possible differently, otherwise they wouldn’t strive for the highest power to be equal to the Guardians. It's a vicious circle, grandfather, and I think the Shaikan could tip the scales. You’ll see, the Circle Mages themselves will one day force us to choose one side without ever staggering and yielding.”
“You spend too much time with Ur,” the grandfather stated grieved. “You deal with melancholy thoughts that you shouldn't load on your shoulders alone. You have friends with whom you can be what you are – a young man, only recently convalesced, with a life just beginning in front of him. And with a home where you’re welcome.”
Goren let out a dry snort. “What friends, grandfather? Hag the Falcon and Weylin Mooneye have left us. They are on their way to their families in Greyfell and Eloni. Menor the Thin has locked himself in and indulges his lovesickness while writing tearful poems, Starshine goes his own way and hardly speaks to me, only Buldr Redbeard is steadfast as always, but unfortunately quite often drunk. And the Shaikan are not quite sure how to treat me since I’m the Ruorim the Butcher’s son – as I don't know what to think of my people.”
Darmos Ironhand shook his head. “I wish your mother hadn't taught you so much seriousness. As a child, Derata was far too strict with herself, and I think that's my fault. Only now in old age I’m in a milder mood, but the past cannot change. I can only try to show you that life consists of much more than honor and duty, and dark thoughts.”
“If I no longer have to deal with revenge on my father, it’ll certainly be so,” Goren grumbled grimly. In his brown-green eyes an ominous fire always glowed as soon as the speech came to Ruorim. “You know that is still open. I have to make a decision soon, grandfather. I can't sit around all the time.”
Darmos nodded. “I know, it drives you away. You don't feel connected to Shaikur and I can't blame you. In addition, all young Shaikan who have not yet found themselves understandably have to go out and prove themselves.” He winked. “And you think your thoughts will become easier if you expose yourself to the scorching sun and wait for your brain to roast?”
Goren had to grin involuntarily. Then he denied. “I felt like this... it's like... I don't know either. I have to watch the land.” He stopped, then grabbed his grandfather's arm and pointed northwest. “There! That's it. That's what I've been waiting for; I knew it was happening!”
Darmos peered concentrated. His eyes were nowhere near as sharp as the Goren’s. But then he finally saw a narrow, thin shadow moving in the shimmering heat curtains. “What could...” he started, but Goren was already gone.

The horse stumbled wearily, with its head hanging and a cloudy look, through the yellow and brown withered steppe. Half-thirsty, the fur rough and dull with dried sweat and blood, it was slowly hoof-to-hoof. Its ears twitched when suddenly a distant neigh sounded.
Goldenbolt's hooves drummed on the rough, harden ground, as if Goren was heading for the lonely horse in front of the rest of the troop. The stallion whinnied a second time. The strange horse paused, raised the head slightly, and answered in a weak voice.
“It drags something!” Goren cried turning backwards.
“Goren, by my beard, what are you in such a hurry?” Buldr called with a roaring voice, who had also left with Menor. “This horse is running towards us, not away from us!”
“You'd better stay in the back!” Goren replied. “Draw your weapons and be ready in case it’s a trap!” He had almost reached the horse now and forced Goldenbolt step by step. The stallion snorted and whinnied softly. The strange horse danced nervously on the spot and then turned, dragging his load around with him, and Goren saw a tall man in dark armour, whose hands were tied to the stirrup. Remnants of charred boughs and spiked branches hung in the sorrowful tail of the horse. Who knows how long the poor animal had been tormented by them until the fire went finally out and the majority of the thorns had fallen off the burning tail. The fact that it had been running a long time and dragged his rider with him was evident from the condition of the leather armour, the tattered clothing and the dirt above – and seeing blood-encrusted, battered body.
Goren dismounted and walked slowly towards the frightened animal, which seemed ready to flee but was too exhausted to hold another gallop.
“It's all good, my cub,” he whispered. “Don't be afraid.”
The horse neighed miserably. There was fluffy, bloody foam around the mouth and its wide-blown nostrils. Goren turned and hurriedly raised both hands to stop the others. With signs he motioned for them to wait so that the horse in sudden panic didn’t accidentally trample on his rider.
Some Shaikan swarmed out and secured the area with their swords twitched. Two of them rode along the trail of the horse. Buldr and Menor dismounted and slowly came closer.
Goren turned back to the maltreated animal. He searched in his pockets and finally found a piece of pressed oat cake; mostly he had some with him when he rode out as a small reward for the horses. He stretched out his arm carefully. “See what I have here... it's yours if you let me get closer. Just be calm, everything will be fine...” Persistently talking to the horse, he continued to approach. The animal kept shaking its head restlessly, its eyes rolled, but at least it stopped. Finally its fine nose caught the sweet scent of the biscuits, and then it calmed down. Its neck grew longer, and its lips pursed. Finally, it carefully took the biscuit out of Goren's hand. While chewing, Goren dared to gently touch its neck, and from there its head. Then he gently reached for the reins, caressing the animal incessantly and muttering soothing words. Finally the horse sighed deeply, relaxed and lowered its head as a gesture of submission and trust. It felt that its torments were now over and someone would help it.
“Take him,” Goren said to Menor, who was standing behind him, and turned to the rider, of whom little more than a bloody bundle remained. It was impossible to tell which race he belonged to. Together with Buldr he knelt down at the injured. While the dwarf cut the bonds around the bloody wrists, Goren groped for the carotid artery.
He felt silent for a while, then announced: “He’s alive.”
Durass, captain of the guard, come closer. “There’re no signs of a fight here in the immediate vicinity. Judging by the condition of the horse, it’s longer than a day on the road. A miracle that the man survived!”
Goren said doubtfully: “That isn’t yet certain. His heart still beat, but we can’t see how deep his wounds are. Buldr, do you think you can carry him?”
“Of course,” the red-bearded dwarf answered. “However, his legs will grind on the floor because he’s a pretty big guy.” He grabbed the wounded and indeed lifted him up with ease; the dwarfs' physical strength was not just a legend. A Shaikan prepared his horse, on which the three of them hoisted the unconscious warrior and tied it carefully so it didn’t fall. Then they slowly went back.

Marela the Gentle and Starshine awaited them together with Darmos Ironhand in the healing chamber, which was crammed with all possible utensils for examination and treatment. The shelves were overflowing with books about medicinal formulas, stacks of bandages, glasses, bottles, pots and bowls full of herbs, powders, ointments and oils. A distiller stood on a table on the wall, and water boiled on a small flame over a brazier. Above the fireplace were two cauldrons, in which spicy and strong-smelling liquids steamed. Herbal bouquets hung from the ceiling everywhere and spread a strange comforting scent.
“On the examination table, come on!” the dragon priestess and healer pointed it for the heavy dragging Shaikan. They carefully laid the wounded on the table. Marela looked at him and shook her head. “By Ur’s scales, it looks bad. I'm afraid we have to cut him out of the armour, it’s all irreparably glued together and entangled.” She turned to his head. “First the helmet, so he can breathe more freely and above all we know who we are dealing with.” She touched the mud-encrusted helmet, found it close, and had to poke and jerk for a while until she could open it.
“We'll know in a moment,” Darmos Ironhand hummed. He was no less curious than Goren and the others who crowded into the small chamber.
Long black hair fell on the table, pale skin and long, pointed ears appeared. A hard, striking face with high cheekbones and a sharp hooked nose.
“A dark elf!” Buldr said in horror. “By Niethalf’s hammer, it's a bad sign.”
Starshine touched the left shoulder and jumped back when a dirt crust fell and exposed a silver insignia. “A Dracon! Kill him, kill him instantly!” she gasped. She twitched her knife in a blink of an eye and fell upon the wounded. She was so quick that no one could follow her, let alone stop her, not even Marela, who was closest to the warrior.
Before one of the participants could understand what was happening, Starshine struck, the tip of the knife pointed at the man's throat. But at that moment he opened his eyes and grabbed her arm, squeezed so hard that she could no longer hold the knife, and threw her away. Starshine screamed and staggered back.
The man closed his eyes again and his arm sank limply; he had lost consciousness again.
Darmos Ironhand blinked. He wiped his eyes, as if trying to shroud a veil of mist. “What's going on here?” Slowly he turned to Starshine, who stood trembling and holding her arm.
“Kill him!” she repeated accusingly. “He’s in Raith's service!”
The Shaikan, who kept watch at the entrance, immediately took up their swords. Buldr's hand also pulled the belt.
Goren was still stunned, gazing Starshine. It wasn’t the first time. When Starshine was still Silent, she had already demonstrated this ability and above all the physical strength of her small, dainty body. But he was shocked by her sudden ferocity and above all her lust for murder. He had never seen her like this. Starshine had never been violent before; he hadn't trusted her either. He pulled away from her unconsciously, gripped by sudden doubts.
“Nobody will be killed here,” said the lord of Shaikur sternly. “You can speak of luck, girl, that the man can obviously still defend himself very well despite his serious injuries. Otherwise you would have fared badly now. Nobody wield weapons in Shaikur without my permission or my order.”
“But don't you understand?” she cried desperately. “He's from the Dracon caste, who only live for war and murder! As soon as he can get up again, he’ll take his sword and keep bloody harvest until none of you are alive! He can’t be stopped...”
Menor came up to her and put his arm around her trembling shoulders. “Calm down, Starshine,” he said softly. “I know you haven’t good memories of your people, but don't condemn a man just because of his origin! We didn't do that to you either, if you remember.”
“Bring her out, Menor,” Darmos ordered. “See to her, if she calms down again. And the others will leave the chamber, with the exception of Marela, Goren and me. This man needs help and we’ll give it to him. We’ll see if he can speak again and tell us his story. Then we know whether he’ll be treated as a guest or as a prisoner.”
Buldr Redbeard kept his hand on the belt. “I hope you know what you’re doing,” he said in his roaring voice. “At least you shouldn't lightly leave it in an open room once it could take care of himself.” He nodded to Menor and Starshine. “Come on, we go.”
Goren watched them go – and conflicted about what he should do. But his grandfather had made it clear that he wanted him to be there.
“It’s strange that he’s here all alone,” he murmured.
“That's why we have to find out what happened,” Darmos said and leaned over the table. “Can you already tell us something, Marela?”
During the dispute, the healer had scooped the norcaine out of his armour, cut open the clothes, and started cleaning his body with a sponge to find out where and how deeply he was wounded. She sighed. “It looks worse than I suspected. His body is full of slash – and stab wounds, I think there are also a few arrow wounds. And he was dragged across the steppe by the horse for more than a day. They wanted to kill him in this cruel way.”
“Both failed, for him and for the horse,” Darmos remarked. “That alone is reason enough to take care of it. One rarely find such a warrior.”
“Do you think we should tie him up? Or bind him magically somehow?” Goren asked.
“No,” Marela replied. “In his current state, he’s unable to do anything. His reaction earlier... was a miracle, but I doubt that he could repeat it. He’s completely at the end and closer to death than life.”
“Do what you can, Marela,” Darmos said insistently. “The man shouldn’t make it so far, only to die here.”
The healer looked at Goren. “Tell Starshine that I need her.”
Darmos frowned gloomy. “I don't think it's a good idea.”
“She’ll pull herself together, because I’ll never give up her healing gift.” Marela waved a finger in front of his face. “Don't be so strict with her, Darmos. The girl went through a lot in her young life! Didn't you want to be more indulgent in your old days?”
“On your responsibility,” Darmos growled. “I’m in the throne room and await your report.” He turned away abruptly and left the chamber.
Goren hesitated. “Can I really leave you alone, Marela?”
“Go, boy. If I’m destined to die by the hand of a Dracon whose life I’m trying to save, then nobody can prevent it.” Marela waved her hand impatiently. “Let me work now, otherwise he won't have enough life left to survive the healing.”

Goren met Menor and Buldr outside, who had been waiting for him. The entrance to the healing chamber was guarded by two Shaikan. “Where’s Starshine?”
“In her room,” the lanky young man from Nortander answered.
The dwarf had crossed his arms over his mighty chest. “Is it right what we’re doing?”
“A dwarf is afraid of a norcaine wounded to death?” Goren asked.
“Never,” Buldr replied darkly.
“If Weylin had been here, she would have, for once, agreed to Starshine and killed the Dracon,” Menor remarked.
Weylin Mooneye, the elf from Dun Shael, had never made a secret of her dislike of the half-blooded Starshine, even though she had been part of the small fellowship and last but not least saved everyone from the Ruorim’s claws. When Starshine was still the hooded, unknown Silent, trapped in the Valley of Tears, Weylin had trusted her. But this had changed since the revelation. Nobody knew why; the elf had never commented about it. But Weylin had decided to leave for Eloni, where her relatives lived.
“I had also supported Starshine when I knew what she was up to,” Buldr growled. “But she’s so incredibly fast, not even a falcon eye could follow her. How this man managed to defend himself against her – it can only be dark magic. I'm afraid of nothing good.”
Goren shook his head. “I grew up with these prejudices, did you know?” he started to his two friends. “I was treated the same way as Starshine and the man in there, throughout my childhood, although I never hurt a fly and had no idea that I was a Shaikan. Even though I’m a human being in every way, I was an outcast among my peers until I met you! I thought you were different. After everything we've been through together – I don't know you again!”
Menor's freckled face looked embarrassed, and he drove through his scrubby red-brown hair. Buldr grunted something in his gorgeous red beard styled into two tight plaits.
Goren ignored them and went two steps up to Starshine’s room. He knocked and listened. No answer. Without further ado he turned the knob and entered.
Starshine was packing. She didn't turn to face him while stowing her few belongings in a bag.
“What you’re up to?” Goren asked, startled.
“What does it look like?” she replied, squeezing the bag and starting tying it up.
Goren was with her in two steps, took the bag from her hand and forced her to look at him. “Don't do that, Starshine,” he asked softly.
She met his gaze from calm purple eyes. “I don't belong here,” she answered. “See it, Goren. Our alliance has broken up as soon as it has been forged. We were away for a short time, but now we have to go our own way. Hag and Weylin made the right decision when they left.”
“Don’t talk nonsense,” he contradicted. “Hag left because he cares about his family, whom he hasn't seen in a year. And Weylin... can't forgive herself that her father died and half of his family with him. She blames herself for being alive and therefore runs away. Before herself, not before of us. Who knows if she will arrive to her clan in Eloni. But Menor and Buldr are still there and they’re friends. Buldr is completely on your side, by the way.”
“You belong to the Light.”
“Oh, all of us? Menor and Buldr, Hag and Weylin – yes. But I'm a Shaikan, just like you as a half-blooded, someone who doesn't belong to either side, neither to the Light nor to the Dark. I chose the Light myself, like you. Nothing separates or differentiates us both, and as far as the others are concerned, they trust you and like you.”
She looked at him closely. “Do you really think so, or are they just empty words? I saw the doubt on your face earlier.”
“You scared me. I don't know you that way.”
“Because you only want to see my human side, Goren. But I'm also a norcaine, I can't deny that by my looks or my behavior. We’re not capable of gentleness, as Weylin is. We don't know good feelings, especially love is alien to us. You try to see in me something different than what I’m.”
“Are you getting out of my way because of that?” he asked slowly.
She sighed. “I'm not getting out of your way, Goren, you're standing in the way of yourself and you're impatient. But this is also quite normal, because you’re human. It will take time for you to understand me. If anything.”
“Why are you saying that?” he asked, hurt.
“I tell you the truth, nothing more, nothing less, Goren. Face it, finally! I swore my allegiance to you because you saved my life and freed me from slavery. I would never do anything that harms you. But there’s nothing more between us.” Starshine reached for her bag again. “Your grandfather made it clear to me where my place is, Goren – No, don't misunderstand me,” she anticipated him when he wanted to object, “that wasn’t a reproach. On the contrary. My behavior was unforgivable and dishonorable, both regarding the Shaikan and the norcaine. It just can't go on like this! I can't stay here, these walls choke me. And all the strict rules... I... just don't feel free, even though I should be. I’ll do as Menor used to: go where my feet take me, offer my services when I need accommodation and food, and then move on.”
“You aren’t like that, Starshine,” Goren said sadly. “What you did for me... the Starshine that you’re about to show me certainly hadn’t do that.”
“It was just Silent.”
“What’s your problem? Let the man come and talk to him first! You can't hate and loathe him just because your father did you bad. As far as I know, the Dracon warriors are honorable and upright, unlike the Archon, who rely on magic and intrigue. Stop blaming yourself for what you are! You can't do anything about that. But you’re responsible for what you make of it. And if you go now, you run away from yourself just like Weylin.”
She put the bag down and stroked her black hair behind her gracefully curved, pointed ears in a resigned gesture. “So why did you really come?”
“Marela needs your help,” he replied without going into it and starting a new dispute. “She said she couldn't do it without you.”
She thinked about. “And does your grandfather agree?”
“He looked rather angry, but finally he gave in.”
“Well, I'll listen to you and stay for the time being, but this is only a delay, nothing definitive. And I’ll speak to Darmos later.” She pointed to the bag, “Clear this up, while I help Marela.”
“Me?” he replied stunned and shook his head. “That'll be the day.”
She stood on tiptoe to get closer to his face and bwitched him with her eyes. “It wasn’t a request,” she said sharply.
Goren blinked. The next moment he was alone.
“Now I know again why we have been avoiding each other lately,” he growled, but then he got to work.

Darmos Ironhand brooded over a mug of beer at his table as Starshine entered the hall. Apart from the two of them, no one was present.
“Marela sends me,” the dark elf began hesitantly.
“What's new?” the gray-haired man asked and beckoned her to get closer.
“Tonight and tomorrow will be critical,” Starshine gave as information. “If he survives the second night, he'll make it. At the moment he has a high fever, but that comes from the weakness of his body. So far he has no gangrene. It’s astonishing: even one of the wounds he suffered would normally be enough to kill a man. He’s exceptionally strong. Marela thinks he can get through.”
“But only if you don't help...” Darmos said.
Starshine bowed her head. “I beg your forgiveness, sir. Everything happened so fast! I could hardly understand what I was doing. I had already left your castle if your grandson hadn’t prevented me from doing so.”
“Sit down, Starshine.” He indicated the chair next to him.
She obeyed hesitantly.
Darmos silently held the mug in his hand for a while before speaking. “I never got over the loss of my daughter. When I should have been like a father to her, I was a ruler.” He looked at Starshine. “Shaikur is all I have. This castle determines my life, I’m part of it and I’m responsible that it’s protected and safe. It’s considered invulnerable, but that’s why we cannot rest. In the meantime, an enemy has grown up out of our own ranks. All of Fiara has become a country of war; the earth is bleeding and the sky is getting dark. I have to prepare my people for the day of the Convocation, because who knows what will become of us, the dragon blood.”
“And whether Malacay wakes up that day, Starshine added. “That's your special concern, wasn't it?”
“We only banished him, girl, and his soul is still in Goren. There... it should stay if there’s no other option.” Darmos emptied the mug.
Starshine examined him closely. “I understand. You don't want him to ever have children so Malacay’s soul doesn't nest in them and try again to get hold of the power.”
Darmos nodded. “He’s not even twenty years old and the time is not far away, since he’ll notice that the women are very fond of him. I see the looks that are thrown at him, from the maids to the warrioress. He broods too much about his revenge thoughts to notice, but it's only a matter of time.”
“He’ll leave Shaikur soon,” she said, staggering. “And then what?”
“I was hoping for your support.”
“Mine? In what way? Do you hope for another magical summon?”
“Why not? Norcaine don’t have any feelings, it’s said, they act cool and calculating, only by reason. Maybe you should think about that, and what is best for Goren... and thus for all of us.”
Starshine rose. “It’s true that norcaine can’t feel love or passion, but they have the sense of honor and friendship. Goren trusts me, sir. And not too long ago I held his heart in my hand; that obliges me. Tell him your wishes yourself, but don't use me. Goren have the right to free choice of his life, and if you allow me to make this remark, you have not learned much from the discord with your daughter. Now excuse me, I’ve to look after the wounded again. Marela is waiting for me.”

The norcaine survived the critical time. Marela soon had him taken from the hospital bed to a recovery room, with a large window that let in at least some mild air at night, but had to remain covered during the day. Smouldering smoky herbs provided a pleasant fragrance that should strengthen his lungs.
Starshine took over the morning watch on the wounded man, changed the cooling wet wipes on his hot forehead regularly and checked the bandages. Most of the wounds were closed and healed well. She was bringing a bowl of fresh water and was startled when she found him awake, his dark glowing eyes on her.
“You are the half-blooded one who tried to ram the knife into my throat,” he said. His voice was harsh and hoarse, and he paused every now and then.
“You recognize me?”
He nodded and closed his eyes again. “I have a half-blooded daughter myself. If you know it, you recognize it immediately. Did I break your arm?”
She put the bowl down and dipped the cloth into it. “No.”
“Then I must actually be at the end of my strength and almost dead.”
“You don't remember what happened before?”
“It only returns little by little. Most of all I remember febrile dreams, a horse, fire... and heat, great heat. I don't know how I got here.”
She placed the cloth gently on his forehead. “You’ll find out everything, as us hopefully something about you.”
He silently allowed her to examine the breast bandage. “What has changed your mind?”
“I haven’t changed my mind.” She covered him again. “I feel ashamed, however, because of my hastiness, because it’s hardly a heroic act to give a half-dead the blow of mercy.”
He looked at her. “What did they do to you?” It sounded almost soft.
“My father belongs to the Archon caste,” she answered. “He sacrificed my human mother when I was little and sold me into slavery.” She brushed back her hair and showed the dark scars of the slave ring around her neck. “I am marked for life and understandably feel little devotion to the people who gave me this look.”
“You marked yourself,” the norcaine replied. “You accepted that others see you as flawed. But you cannot clean your blood by pouring mine.”
Starshine turned away. “Now I’ll let Marela know that you’ve awakened and then you’ll be given food and drink. Then the lord of Shaikur, Darmos Ironhand, will want to speak to you.”
“Shaikur...” the Dracon said thoughtfully. “Of all places, this is the best where I could get. And it seems... the rumors about this legendary castle aren’t quite correct,” he noticed that with a sidelong glance at Starshine.
“Be prepared for a few surprises.” She moved and left him.

Marela the Gentle wanted to resist vigorously when Darmos Ironhand, Goren, Buldr and Menor entered the small chamber.
“It’s good!” the wounded exclaimed. “Let them in, healer, we should talk.” Starshine, who was just putting plates and mugs aside, noticed the melodious deep sound that his voice had now taken on; he also sat up. He seemed to be recovering very quickly.
Darmos stepped forward. “I’m Darmos Ironhand, lord of the Shaikur fortress, and these are my grandson Goren Wind-Whisperer as well as my guests Buldr Redbeard and Menor the Thin. They picked you up out there and brought you here.”
“And I’m very grateful to you for that – and more, because without the prudent and great healing power of your wise woman and her helper, I would not have escaped death.” The norcaine spoke politely, and Darmos visibly relaxed. “At any other place I would hardly have been welcome enough to be looked after.” He turned his dark glowing eyes one after the other to each of the men. “I’m the Dracon Craig Un'Shallach.”
His name struck the chamber like a lightning. Goren, who noticed the great amazement and speechlessness on the faces of the others, seemed to be the only one to whom the name said nothing. Only Menor seemed to be as perplexed as he was.
“That's a real surprise,” Buldr roared. “That naturally changes a lot.”
Craig slightly raised a long, pointed black brow. “Changes?”
“We – we thought you were a devotee of Raith the Black,” Menor babbled in between.
The Dracon bowed his head slightly. “Understood.”
“I suppose that this assumption is invalid,” Darmos Ironhand remarked.
“Yes. I travel alone and on no one’s assignment.” Craig Un'Shallach looked tired, his face took on a strained expression.
“You have stressed him enough,” Marela said immediately and waved her walking stick in front of the men. “Go out! The wounded still needs care, and is far from out of danger.”
But menor had another concern: “By the way, your horse survived. It’s still very thin, but I’m – we nourished it.”
“This isn’t my horse,” Craig replied. He eyed the young from Nortander. “Menor, right?”
“Yes, Dracon.”
“You seem to like the horse.”
Menor blushed slightly. “I... well, yes, it’s very friendly and welcomes me when I come into the stable.”
“It's yours.” Before Menor could say anything, Craig lay back and closed his eyes.

They had barely left the chamber and entered the aisle when Goren could no longer hold back. “Who is he? You all seem to know him!”
“Except for me,” Menor butted in. “At least he doesn't seem to belong to the thieves guild.”
Buldr pushed him lightly on the side and motioned for him to be quiet.
“Well, ‘know’ might be exaggerated,” Goren's grandfather replied. “There are many stories about Craig Un'Shallach and he’s well known as a powerful warrior; certainly with all races. It’s said that he had to go into exile because he rebelled against the ruling Archon caste. Since then he has roamed the land of Fiara away from Lar, and is said to have already fought on the side of Light.”
“That means Raith wouldn’t accept him as a soldier.”
“Right, Goren. I don't think the relationship between Craig and his people has improved in recent years. Raith emerged victorious from the last battle against Hokan Ashir, when Craig appeared lonely and wounded.”
“Will he tell us what happened to him?”
“I can't imagine, boy,” Buldr roared. “It should be embarrassing enough, that we find him like this. That's probably why he was so tame and polite. What are you going to do with him now, Darmos?”
“Treat him as a guest, like you, dwarf, and since he gave Menor the neighing bag of bones and thus has proved a keen eye that the same likes to join and listened together, I’ll give him a horse to go with,” the ruler answered. “It’s better to have an ally than an opponent in Craig.”
“I agree with you. However, I consider him a man of honor, after everything I have heard about him here and there over the past few decades, on my travels along the Misty Coast.”
“He’s the best of the Dracon,” Starshine interfered surprisingly. “He was the great example of the caste and its leader. My mother once told me that he fell out of favor because he saved a couple of people from cruel death.” A shadow fell over her delicate face. “She told me before...”
She didn’t finish, but Goren understood it anyway. “Then did you change your mind about him?”
“Yes, Goren. Craig Un'shallach is a driven one, not concerned with dominion, but with securing peace and justice. But we still shouldn't forget which side he’s on. He’s in exile, but that’s why he hasn’t renounced to darkness. He may not be a friend of the ruling Archons, but the norcaine people are very dear to him. He’s still loyal to them.”
“Whence do you get it?” Darmos Ironhand asked surly.
“I saw it in his eyes,” she replied calmly. “And in his heart that spoke to me. You humans couldn't understand how close the norcaine are. We know other ways than just the word to exchange thoughts.”
“Doesn't he despise you as half blooded?” Buldr asked in surprise.
“He has a half-blooded daughter, as he revealed to me,” she replied.
“An amazing man,” Menor remarked impressed.

Soon afterwards Craig Un'Shallach was able to rise from his bed. He was a tall, heavy, dark man of few words and, as expected, wasn’t ready to reveal details of his accident. He informed the ruler that he would leave Shaikur as soon as he was healthy again. “I'm not a rich man, but I can offer a few pieces of silver to buy a good horse from you, with the necessary equipment.”
“We’ll agree,” Darmos hummed. “I'll also give you a sword, we've kept enough at the family tree. It’ll do its job until you can have one manufactured.”
Craig frowned. “I can’t accept it. I’m deeply in your debt for saving my life.”
“Nobody should say that the shaikan was ragamuffins,” the ruler replied. “Haven’t the norcaine given us the appropriate name Shaikan and thus secured our independence as a people? This made us unique, almost pure blood and as independent as the proud people of Nor the Silverweaver. We’re nobody's enemy, like no one is our enemy – or our friend.”
“You’re not to be envied, godless,” the Dracon remarked sincerely.
“Didn't you turn away from Nor?” Goren asked in astonishment.
The dark elf looked at him. “How can you, as a Shaikan, as one rejected from the gods, understand what it means to be inspired by the breath of a Guardian and to stand in his protection?”
“Then explain it to me,” Goren replied, embarrassed.
“Nor the Silent,” Craig started, “is the master of the night and knowledge. It stands for clarity and truth; his eye in the night sky is incorruptible and all-seeing. The races of Light insult him as a renegade, yet it was him who was the first to descend from the sky and who brought the knowledge of their creation to the people, who told them how the world of Eo was created by Aonir, whose light is still with us. But the people feared him because he was cool and unapproachable, and his light gave no warmth, and so they turned away from him and toward the Guardians of the light and the sun. Nor was angry because he saw this as betrayal and injustice, and so he sided with the breakaway Zarach, who had once been Ulm the Caretaker before he was betrayed by his brothers and sisters. As thanks for his support, Zarach for his dark brother created us, the norcaine race, who are living images of himself and are always looking for justice – or should be, considering the division of our castes and their respective goals. But change is the course of things.”
Goren had listened breathlessly. Of course he had heard from Master Altar in Lyraine about the origin of the world and the discord of the Guardians, but not with this devotion. And no other person in the city who liked to call one or the other god on certain occasions had ever commented this in more detail.
The Dracon continued: “Even if many things are different today than they were planned: Nor isn’t a destroyer and his exile is unfair.”
“But he also knows no feelings,” Goren objected. “Isn't it?”
Craig nodded. “That's right. Because truth stands above everything, and the world can only ruled with a clear mind.”
“A world without love,” Goren whispered and shivered.
“A terrible thought even for a Shaikan,” his grandfather noticed. “If you strive for this, sir Dracon, we’re far apart.”
“What I aspire to is irrelevant, lord of Shaikur. It’s the people who count, not the individual.”
Goren didn’t find it particularly desirable either. Above all, he wondered why Craig had voluntarily stayed in exile for years and roamed the country alone, away from Lar. But he didn't dare to ask the question aloud. He had another: “My teacher, Master Altar, told me that the Guardians haven’t intervened directly in the worldly happenings since the creation was completed.”
“That's the way it’s,” Craig confirmed. “The people are responsible for themselves and their actions.”
“But... the Guardians have killed and damned our primeval ancestry, and that's how we came into being, the godless, as you call us. How did that go?”
“Your ancestor Malacay has taken over the Materia Prima, young Goren, and he was willing to intervene in the creation by trying to create himself. That was a direct attack on the gods, which of course they couldn’t accept.”
Goren nodded. That made sense to him. One last question he asked nevertheless: “Master Altar also spoke about the general opinion that the gods have now turned away from us and are no longer available, or that they may no longer be able to show themselves to us because their last occur been so long ago. Although the day of the Convocation could be an attempt to attack them, like Malacay's creation, and it could be dangerous. But they’re doing nothing to prevent the Circle from preparing for this event.”
Craig's dark eyes faltered. “Yes,” he said darkly. “That’s what they say.” He rose. “I now have to take care of the restoration of my miserably weak body. The faster I can leave you, Darmos Ironhand, will only be in your interest.” He gave a short, courteous bow and left without waiting for an answer.
“He’s a doubter,” Goren said in astonishment.
“He’s a torn soul, Goren,” his grandfather replied. “Like you. Like Starshine. Stay away from him.”
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