[Fanfiction] Heirs of Darkness (2nd book) - Chapters 2 & 3

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[Fanfiction] Heirs of Darkness (2nd book) - Chapters 2 & 3

Post by Ommariuolo »

Chapter 2 – Norimar
“How much I'm looking forward to a bed again,” Weylin Mooneye sighed while she and Hag climbed off the horses in the late afternoon in front of the Green Dragon inn. She knocked the dust out of her clothes and ran through her long, wavy hair, the color of autumn leaves in the sunlight.
A stall boy came hurrying to serve, but Hag shooed him away with a wave of his hand.
He tied up the horses in front of the stable. “How do you imagine it, Weylin?” he frowned. “We don’t have money. It’s just enough for a small meal if we find an agreement with the innkeeper.”
“We sell a horse,” she explained. “Including saddle and bridle. That could be enough for a while.”
Hag's face was doubtful. The three horses that they had received from the merchant Humrig the Expert were good, but of not particularly good quality. After all, they had been fed a little in Shaikur, and Buldr had insisted that Hag and Weylin chose the two best. “And which one?”
Weylin pointed to the brown one. “It’s the better of both.”
“But we still have a long journey ahead of us,” Hag pointed out.
The elf laughed brightly. “Were you afraid to feel my arms around you?”
Hag blushed against his will. “Of course not, Weylin, and the horse will hardly notice your weight. But it’s very uncomfortable for you...”
“So we agree,” she interrupted cheerfully. “And when we’ve reached Greyfell, you can leave the loyal animal to me as soon as you’re with your family.” She looked around. “Where’s the boy? He should have brought us the stable master.”
At that moment he came out of the stable and glared furiously at Hag. “The boy is very confused because you don't let him do his job!”
“Not yet, he completely misunderstood. But since you’re already here, don't you want to buy a well-behaved horse, good man?” Hag replied and patted the brown's neck. “It makes hardly any demands and is very persistent. Besides, nothing can make lose its calm. You should be able to resell it to easily scared ladies at a good price.”
The man blinked, then saw the dusty and slightly torn clothes of the two travelers. “Probably on the run, right?” he concluded ingeniously. “Well, some spouses are quite angry with the breach of the pledge of loyalty.”
“Nothing like that!” Weylin replied shocked, and Hag continued: “We are only travel partners with the same goal. It's safer these days than traveling alone.”
The man grinned with his incomplete teeth; he didn't believe a word, didn't want to spoil any business, so he didn't make any further comments in this direction. “Anyway, you need money.”
“Thirty pieces of silver, if it’s accettable,” Hag the Falcon said.
The stable master let out a roar of laughter. “Have you lost your head? I could take it as an insult!”
The young nortander didn’t lose his calm. “The horse is young and reliable. It doesn’t shy away from doing what it’s told. It’s neat and healthy. I add saddle and bridle, and that alone is worth more than half the price requested.”
The stable master now had a close look at the brown one, checked the teeth, eyes and nostrils, held the ear to the flanks, examined the hooves and tendons. Finally he nodded and said: “Ten Falcons and we agree.”
Now it was Hag to laugh dry, and the haggling began. After a tough struggle, they finally found a price at which everyone could save their face. The horse changed hands and Hag filled his pouch with jingling coins, giving half of them to Weylin. Now he waved to the waiting stableboy, gave him the reins of the second horse and pressed two Goblets into his hand, saying: “Make sure that there’s a good place, sufficient hay and water, currycomb it and scrape out the hooves. If I’m satisfied tomorrow morning and I still find the saddle and bridle, you’ll get another copper piece.”
The boy beamed. “Thank you, sir! You could rely on me!” He eagerly untied the horse and brought it to the stable.
Weylin stood there with her arms crossed. “Can we finally ask for a room?” she asked impatiently. “I want to get rid of the dust and bathe!”
“As you wish, my lady,” Hag grinned and held out his arm. She knocked him and went ahead to the Green Dragon inn.
The restaurant was full of noisy people, and it took them a while to find the innkeeper, a voluminous man. “You're lucky!” he roared. “This is the best house in Norimar – I even have single rooms, and two have just become vacant, on the top floor! And best of all: the two rooms have their own bathroom!”
“Is it clean here too?” Weylin asked suspiciously as she looked around with a slightly wrinkled nose. She had imagined differently the best house in the place: the ceilings and walls were blackened and stained with soot and grease, and the floor looked as if it had been wiped for the last time long ago.
The innkeeper measured Weylin with an indignant look. “Of course the water is clean, not used by anyone! And I even have bed linen that I change every week!”
Hag took a deep breath in wise foresight, because he knew that with this offer he was faced with another difficult negotiation about the bill. The innkeeper was tough, but finally gave up; apparently he didn't have many overnight guests at the moment and didn't want to lose either of them.
When Hag wanted to pay for himself and Weylin, she already gave the innkeeper her share. “It's nice that you want to be gallant, Hag,” she said and shouldered her travel bag. “But I’m free and take care of myself.”
A servant took them up to the third floor, where there were two tiny chambers directly under the roof, which were connected by the bathroom.
“Why do so few people stay here?” the elf wanted to know on the way. “I thought there was always a lot going on in a border town.” Norimar was close to the border to Grarg and Windwall. Accordingly, a melting pot of the people of Fiara met here in a mostly peaceful manner, and there was brisk trade. Norimar has been neutral for a number of years since the Iron Falcons no longer ruled here; however, the city continued to belong to the Highmark, and accordingly the military protection force, which was present everywhere, carried the banner of the human kingdom, the golden eagle on a dark red background.
“It’s troubled times,” answered the servant. “Many travelers only stay for a short time, do their business and then move on immediately.”
“It’s currently not safe anywhere on Fiara,” Hag remarked. “I hope, however, that we can sleep in peace.”
“Certainly, nobody will bother you up here. Your bathroom is ready right away. Have a nice stay!” The servant clattered hastily down the narrow, shaky wooden stairs when his master shouted furiously at him.
Hag turned to Weylin: “First I wanted to wipe away the dust in my throat with a beer. I can also go around a little. Enjoy your bath, I’ll take mine later.”
“All right,” she agreed.
Hag unloaded his pack, hid most of the money and only went down to the restaurant with a few pieces of copper in his bag. The air was there like a wall in his way – heavy with smoke from cauldron fires, torches and candles, mixed with spicy tobacco, in addition the smell of sweat and dirt that has clung to skin unwashed for a long time. But Hag bravely ventured inside anyway, squeezeing himself at a table and ordered a beer. After the first sip he didn't even notice the bad air, and a feeling of well-being spread through him. He got bacon and bread and then a plate of stew. Hag was starved and happy about this decent meal. Satisfied with himself and the world, he filled his stomach and listened to the scraps of speech that buzzed through the room. As everywhere, the main focus of the conversation was on bad harvests, higher prices, infidelity, sloppy or quarrelsome wives and high taxes. But as soon as there was talk of fighting, Hag listened. It appeared that there had been frequent skirmishes along the borders recently, and many traders joined forces in caravans with armed escorts. Some suspected that because of its strategically important location, Norimar could soon be the location for a battle between the peoples if the Circle Mages pushed their struggles towards a new climax.
The man sitting opposite him raised the jug and toasted Hag. “You're not from here, boy,” he stated; he was gray-haired and might be in his fifties.
Hag nodded and returned the greeting. “From Nortander.”
“Old nobility, huh?”
“Ah! Proud guys. I once had a friend in the royal house, a long time ago... well, surely before your birth. I lived with him near Greyfell for some time. Rugged land, no such a hot furnace like this cauldron here.”
Hag could only agree. Norimar actually lay in a valley of the mountain range, in which all the hot winds met, from the Iron Fields in the southeast and from Aonir's Blade in the north, and agglomerated in order to pull the last bit of moisture out of the limbs. No wonder the inn was so full, even though the beer, which was quickly becoming stale, didn't offer much cooling either. “I'm on my way to home.”
“You have a long, hard road ahead of you. Brave boy.” The man asked for the next pitcher.
Hag, whose head became visibly lighter, did the same. They toasted themselves. The first sip from a cellar-cool pitcher still tasted best. “I’m a soldier. I can find a way.”
“When was the last time you saw your family?”
“A good year ago.”
“Then I wish you that you’ll still find everything the same as when you left,” his sidekick said with a dark face. “Nowadays you always have to expect changes.”
Hag thought about Goren and the others. He was still in conflict as to whether he had made the right decision. On one hand, he felt guilty for abandoning his friends, above all Goren, because the conflict with Ruorim the Butcher wasn’t yet over. On the other hand, his clan needed him. Hag couldn’t fight on all fronts at the same time and had to choose one side. To make the choice easier, Goren had even asked him to talk to his father in his country home about a possible alliance with the Shaikan, and to bring the other royal houses, especially the Hallits, to the table. However, this was a big task in itself, and perhaps the bigger challenge for Hag. Goren had grown up and could now take care of himself. He was a big, brave guy, trained by his mother Derata to be one of the best Fiara’s fighters. He was with his people and had found his grandfather again. Hag owed him nothing more.
Now it was time for Hag to return. Who knows if his family still believed that he was alive. “Don't leave them in the uncertain for too long,” Goren had persuaded him.
So Hag had left. But he missed Goren, and likewise Menor’s voice when he performed songs with joy, or Buldr's roaring laughter. Even the quiet, mostly withdrawn Starshine had left a hole. The short amount of time they had traveled with each other, after they had all suffered the same cruel fate, had tied a tight bond between them that wasn’t so easy to cut.
But we'll see each other again, Hag thought resolutely. There was a special shine in his deep blue eyes. The strong will to follow Goren's goal to the end the Convocation Wars.
“Yes, there’ll be big changes,” he finally said and toasted the other man. The beer tasted delicious.

When later hag climbed up the stairs to his chamber, a little drunk, he felt relaxed and confident. They still had the longest route ahead of them, but it was manageable. They went well together, Weylin and him, to undertake such a journey together. They had particular skills in which they complemented each other.
Now a good night of sleep, and tomorrow morning it went on. He was a little surprised that Weylin hadn't come down to eat at all. But it could also be that she had ordered something to her room; in the restaurant downstairs, women, especially an ethereal elf like her, were rather out of place, especially at this hour.
Laughing, shrill music and obscene songs penetrated up to here; it was now dark and no one was sober. The innkeeper had all his hands full, on one hand happy about the good business, but on the other hand full of worry that the exuberant mood could suddenly change. Accordingly he seemed almost relieved that his paying overnight guest had already said goodbye and wished him a good night.
The water is definitely cold now, Hag thought. On the other hand, it was really time for him to wash up. Who knows when he could have the next opportunity to do it. He opened the door and was astonished to see warm vapor wafting against him. Stunned, almost caught, he stopped when he discovered Weylin, who was just getting out of the wooden tub.
“I... I... I'm sorry, I didn't know...” he stuttered and didn't know where to look, embarrassed.
Weylin raised an eyebrow and reached for a cloth that wrapped around her graceful, delicate body. “All right,” she said amused. “I have to apologize, or rather that fool of the innkeeper should do it, which forgot to keep the fire going under the kettle. It took hours to get hot enough. It’s still a little bit more if you don’t mind using my water – I'm afraid, we won't get anything fresh today.”
“It doesn't matter to me,” Hag muttered, feeling that all of his blood rushing in his ears. If only he hadn't drunk so much beer!
She was approaching him. “Is there someone in Greyfell that you particularly wanted to see again?” she whispered. By itself, the sound of her voice made his innermost in turmoil.
Hag swallowed and pulled himself together. “Yes,” he confessed. “Originally... we were about to get married when I got the command to work in the Highmark.” He didn't want to admit that it was primarily the thought of Linn that had kept him alive in the Valley of Tears, the memory of her gentle kisses, the golden brown of her big eyes. After that he had banished all thoughts of her and certainly not talked about her – until now. He was ashamed of his feelings, which were inappropriate for a man of his class and his military rank.
“Do you think she was waiting for you?”
“I hope so.”
Her lips almost touched his ear and he could feel her warm breath as she whispered inside: “Fool. What compels you to duty and honuor and makes you forget what’s really important?”
Hag closed his eyes. “Because there’re things of greater importance,” he replied softly. “The people I serve. This is my job.” At that time it was no question for Linn that Hag obeyed the order.
“What you want doesn't count?”
“That’s it.”
She paused for a moment. Then she asked outright: “And if I now invite you to share the bed with me, would you refuse?”
“It’s so, Weylin.” The answer was easier than he thought, despite the tempting situation. But he didn't want to go any further. “We’re friends, driven by the special bond of common destiny. We shouldn't destroy that.” He even dared to look her straight in the moonlit eyes, but he couldn't see what was in it. The elf had remained enigmatic to him since the first day of escape together from the Valley of Tears, a stranger. Hag didn't know anything about her, her thoughts, her longing.
But her mouth twitched. “For a person who can’t tolerate beer, you are amazingly self-controlled,” she noticed. “So I can go on travel with you without danger.” She walked toward the door to her chamber, then paused again. “Hag... no one knows what I'm telling you now. But you have proven yourself a man of honor and maybe you can understand me. I have never allowed a man to touch me because I have never found anyone worthy of it. This is probably difficult for you to imagine. You short-lived people are frivolous in terms of desire and love, because you’re afraid that your days are too short. But love is far too precious to be careless with it.”
Hag continued to stare at the closed door for a while. He wasn't sure if he understood even a word of it. Then he decided that this advanced hour, with his head full of beer, a hot bath was more appropriate than deep-speaking with an elf.

“How long do we want to wait?” Enart Twohanded approached in his quick, silent way. The handles of the two swords protruded from one shoulder, which he knew how to pull and use with unerring speed.
Ruorim the Butcher, once called Blackbeard, leaned against his saddle, his long legs stretched out, and chewed on a wild stalk. From up here he had a good view of the city, streets and houses of which were lit with many torches and candles in the windows. In the north of the city was a small chain of hills, the last border before the desert in the east and the Windwall Mountains in the west. Here the focus was and they watched for a day what was going on in Norimar. “Just rest, my friend,” the Shaikan replied calmly. “You’re too impatient. As always.”
“I mean only, it's already dark and you said...”
“I know what I said. And while you restlessly ran around here, the army has long spread down in the city and is just waiting for my sign.”
Enart sat down next to him. “How did you get them in?” he asked in astonishment.
Ruorim's shrivelled army consisted mainly of Shaikan and mercenaries from Nortander, but there were also a few orcs among them.
“Just as you didn't notice that only twenty of us are left,” Ruorim replied with a grin. His right half of the face, with the reddish eye and distorted by a deep scar, lay in the shade. The left side, however, was flawless, dominated by a wolf-like yellow eye that missed nothing. “What do I always teach you? Don’t let yourself get distracted! You pay too little attention to the minor issues. Over the course of the day, my people gradually went and marched through one of the gates in unobtrusive outfits without any difficulties whatsoever. Norimar has no strict controls, because they don't want to mess up with anyone, neither dwarfs, orcs, nor elves – and certainly not with humans.”
“However, the stationed guard may comprise a hundred men, so the city isn’t entirely defenseless.”
“I didn’t assert it. But they don't expect me. So far, it has been assumed that I follow Hokan Ashir's army.”
Enart Twohanded rubbed the frayed goatee. “Now at night all gates are closed except for the southern one. Do you really think you can just walk in?”
“It’s exactly my intention.” Ruorim spat out the stem, put on the dragon helmet and rose. “Saddle up and mount. It starts.”
Shortly afterwards they trotted down the hill and turned onto one of the trading streets towards south, in order to get to the other side of the city and thus to the south gate. There was no one else on the road, the air was stuffy, and the horses were soaked with sweat and smelled an acidic stench that even covered the no less unpleasant stink of the riders. It was the new moon and the illuminated city was the only bright spot in view. It couldn't be missed. Whoever approached Norimar out of the dark today could be spotted very late.
The house-high, two-winged south gate was actually open; in the lower edge, which was tipped with pointed stakes, there was a portcullis lifted up. Fires burned to the left and right of the gate, and two soldiers stood guard on each side.
The usual nightly noises came out of the city – bawling from drunken people who were on their way home, occasional clattering of hooves or squeaky wagon wheels, the howling or yawning of a dog. Otherwise everything seemed to be pretty quiet, in contrast to the noisy bustle during the day.
On the top of the hills the paralyzing heat had given way to a slight cooling with a pleasant breeze, but nothing was noticeable down here. The heated air of the day still weighed heavily over the valley, and it was clear how the guards were tired and how much they suffered from the weight and the pent-up warmth in their armour.
But suddenly they were wide awake when the armed group passed the first torches and left the darkness, above all a man in a black and red armour wearing the Shaikan coat of arms.
The guards blocked the way, and the captain was hastily woken from sleep in the adjacent watchtower and called to the gate.
Ruorim had his men stopped at a reasonable distance and motioned Enart to follow him. They approached the soldiers who pointed the spears at them after only a few steps. “I wish you a good evening,” said the Butcher gently. “Would it be possible to get accommodation and a little bit of food for this night? A modest plate of stew and a pitcher of water for everyone, we didn't ask for more.”
“I know who you are!” The captain arrived breathless; he was still closing the sword belt and his leather breastplate was lop-sided. “Not a step closer, Ruorim the Butcher! You aren’t welcome here!”
“But look at me, me and my skinny group,” Ruorim replied, still in a friendly tone. Purring like a cat before it exits the claws. “Didn't you hear it? We lost the battle and we had to leave the field beaten. This is all that is left of my hundreds and we don’t want more than an accommodation for one night and some food. We can also pay.” He rattled his bag, which hung from his belt on the left.
The rest of the guard gathered behind the captain. “Not a step further, I say,” the man threatened. “You don't set foot in this city, which is under my protection!”
“And it’s said that Norimar is neutral and welcoming.”
“Neutral, open and welcoming for everyone who comes with a peaceful mind to do trade and business: certainly, that's true. But you’re a murderer and butcher, only in war trade. It’s right what happened to you, since you behaved badly, and it would be desirable all your group had been wiped out together with you!” The captain was now fully awake and ready, and his eyes flashed in the torchlight. He wasn’t afraid. “I ask you for the last time, turn back! Otherwise I’ll give the order to attack.”
Ruorim twiddled his long black mustache and smiled. “Are you not under the orders of the burgomaster?” he asked thoroughly. “Don't you have to follow what he tells you?”
“Of course,” the captain said, puzzled. “But...” He turned when he heard a shout from the back rows.
The magnificent, well-lit burgomaster's house with the wide staircase was visible from there, since no one was in the large square in front of it. He was now standing on the balcony, from where the burgomaster usually gave his speeches or showed himself to the cheering people on festive days. His plump body was clad only in a fluttering robe, and behind him stood a man in helmet and armour, holding a knife to the burgomaster's throat.
At that instant a rider of the guard came galloping down the street and cried from a distance: “Captain! The burgomaster is captured!”
“I've seen it,” the captain replied hoarsely.
“Enart,” Ruorim said at that moment.
The warrior immediately struck the heels in the side of the horse, which rushed forward, directly at the captain. The soldiers, who were completely surprised and couldn’t jump to the side in time, ran over the mound. Enart quickly pulled the two swords and hit them briefly as he galloped past the captain; a heartbeat later the swords rested in their sheaths, and he reached for the reins, pull up the horse and turned on his hind legs.
It had happened so quickly that the guard had hardly blinked, and they were all staring at their leader.
The captain looked surprised; he wanted to say something and raised his hand slightly. Then the blood gushed out in a fountain, the head rolled from his shoulders, and his torso slumped into the floor, sinking into the red puddle that had already formed at his feet.
At that moment there was a scream from the balcony of the mansion, and the warrior triumphantly held up the burgomaster's head.
“Attack!” Ruorim thundered.
From everywhere the soldiers and mercenaries streamed from hiding in Norimar and rushed to the guards, which was just stand there, with loud cries of war. The first were struck down when they still hadn't understood what had happened.
Two archers behind Ruorim shot the guards unerringly before they could lower the portcullis.
Ruorim drew his flaming sword and rushed through the gate with the rest of the army, spreading huge blows leftward and rightward that never missed their target.
The guards, finally released from their stiffness, bitterly defended themselves, but with the courage of despair, because they no longer had any leader.
Norimar's residents, traders and travelers abruptly woke up from their sleep or were cruelly torn out. Ruorim's men broke into the houses, wreaked havoc, dragged the men onto the streets and killed them, attacked the women, rounded them up with the children. Fires broke out everywhere, and the screaming of the fighting and dying mingled with the crack of bursting dry wood and shattered furniture. The cattle and horses in the stables panicked and intensified the noise with their bellowing and neighing.

Hag woke up from sleep and took a while to find his way around and knew where he was. Then he hurried to the window and was horrified to see what was going on outside. He stormed through the bathroom in Weylin's chamber and shook her awake; she had been so exhausted that she hadn't heard anything in her deep sleep.
“What’s...” she started in distraught.
“Weylin,” he said insistently, “get dressed immediately, take the bare essentials, get our horse out of the stable and leave the city as fast as you can! Norimar is being overrun by an army and I think it’s Ruorim. I saw the symbol of the dragon on a flag.”
She pressed the hand to her mouth in horror. “Elen, help us,” she muffled. “May she weave a fog that protects us...”
“Flee, Weylin! I’ll come as soon as I can. Try to reach Windholme and wait for me there.”
“You want to fight...” she whispered.
“I must,” he answered. “It’s my duty; I can't leave these people in the lurch. Now go! See you in Windholme – alive and well, you’ll see it.” He ran back to his room, dressed in a flying hurry, took the money out of the hiding place, hid it on his body, and girded himself. He had to leave the rest of the pack behind. Hag got an overview and then climbed out of the window. He had already looked for possible escape routes when visiting the room; he always did, that already became a habit. He swung himself onto the roof, ran to the end, sensed the distance and dared to jump down to the next roof of the adjacent barn. From there he climbed down the slope and jumped into a hay wagon parked there. A moment later he was on the street and attacked two orcs who were pulling two screaming women out of a house.

Ruorim had the horse gallop up the stairs, straight into the hall. There, the servants shivered, maids, young houseworkers, and an old, half-blind man. There were no watchmen or councillor.
The Shaikan dismounted and walked slowly towards the frightened people. “You know who I’m?” he asked.
They nodded and clung even closer.
“Good. Then you’ll obey me.” He sheathed his sword. “Take care of the horse, and then bring me to eat and drink in my room upstairs!” he ordered them. “Prepare a bath for me and take care of my men as soon as they arrive! Did you understand that?”
“Y-yes, sir,” the old man stammered. “We’ll do immediately everything to your satisfaction –”
“Clear off!” Ruorim interrupted, indignantly. Then he climbed the stairs and opened the door to the burgomaster's private rooms. He put the hands on his sides and looked around. “Everything is right, the man has done well,” he remarked with satisfaction. “I’ll like staying here for a while.”
Precious fabrics, expensive wood, soft beds with curved armrests, arranged around a table on which untouched fruit, wine and bread stood. The bedroom next door was almost entirely filled by a four-poster bed. From here, too, a door led to the large balcony, which took up the entire side. On the other side was the burgomaster's private bathhouse.
Ruorim poured wine into a goblet, broke off a piece of bread and stepped out onto the balcony. He watched the struggle in the streets contentedly. When he heard a noise behind him, he turned and saw one of the young women, loaded with plates full of food and a few jugs. The dishes clinked as she put them on the table, trembling. She didn't dare look at him.
Ruorim hit the body of the burgomaster with his boot. “Send someone here to remove this and clean it up!” he ordered.
The girl nodded silently and ran away. Ruorim dedicated to the spectacle in the city while eating the bread. After a while he heard the Enart’s cat-like steps.
“We found the stores, Ruorim,” he announced. “The fight will soon be over, their courage drops.”
Ruorim nodded. “Lock up them all, Enart, so I can sort out who we could recruiting, who is useful to us, and who we no longer need. Leave the others alone, we’ll later search one house at a time.” He turned to his deputy. “Damn, that was close, my friend. Do you now know why we rode in front of the gate at night?”
Enart nodded. “Yes, because the twenty you kept there were wounded, party half dead, mostly without weapons, no longer capable of fighting, as were the horses. But the townspeople couldn't see that in the dark.”
“Neither our despair,” Ruorim grumbled and took a sip of wine carefully. “I could only rely on the moment of surprise. If it had gone wrong, Ruorim's dragon riders would been doomed. We had pitifully perished, as Raith the Black foretold in his last curse.” He rubbed his forehead. “It took almost all my strength to avert that curse – with success, as we see now.”
“And we'll be celebrating soon.” Enart patted him on the shoulder. “You've never let us down, Ruorim, and that's why your men are loyal to you. But you still haven't told me what exactly you're going to do now.”
“It's quickly told, my friend.” Ruorim leaned against the balcony railing. “Norimar has an excellent central location. This means that we’ll use the city as our base to undertake further campaigns from here. Meantime, of course, we’ll first take care of ourselves and relax, and we’ll make up for the losses in our army. Moreover... the city harbours a secret that can be useful to us, but you don't need to worry about it for the time being.”
“And what about the alliance with Hokan Ashir?”
“It continues to serve its purpose, Enart. As soon as he has recovered, he’ll leave Kaith Halur and begin his move against Raith, which will have worked on Aonir's Blade by then. We wait to see if we can wake up the Fial Darg and win them for our purposes. All of this serves my plans, because I still have a lot of them.”
Enart opened the crossed sword belt over the chest and put it on a chair. “You want to play the two against each other and be the winner in the end.”
“Fiara is a beautiful country,” Ruorim said and smiled darkly.

In spite of the brave resistance, the unorganized, leaderless guards were finally defeated, even before midnight. Norimar had been overrun in a coup de main. Those who survived were caught and taken with all the others to the dungeons under the burgomaster's house, which was also responsible for administration and justice. They were crammed into the cells; sometimes it was so narrow that people could only stand. Children cried for their parents, wounded groaned and whined, questions and names buzzed through the damp, stuffy, semi-dark vault.
Hag the Falcon discovered Weylin Mooneye just one cell further. Especially here, in the gloomy desolation, she immediately stood out from the crowd with her shimmering shape. Carelessly he squeezed himself to the grate. “Weylin!” he shouted.
She heard the sound of his voice, let out a terrible sound and struggled toward him. They clutched their hands in despair.
“Hag! I had almost made it to the wall, but the gate was closed, then they hit the horse and I ran...” the elf breathed out.
“I – I'm sorry,” he stammered. “I should have gone with you instead of worrying about others... I should have known how hopeless it’s. You... are you...”
The tears ran over her, but she shook her head. “Nothing happened to me, Hag, they threw me on the cart with the others and brought me here. And you? Are you hurt?”
He touched his left arm. “Not bad, just a cut. There were just too many...”
“Come closer, maybe... I can help you... at least, relieve the pain...”
He pulled close to the grate and she put her delicate hand on his arm and quietly sang a spell in her old language that he didn't understand. But he felt something pour from her on him, throbbing and relieving the pain in the wound.
But not the despair in his heart.

Chapter 3 – Summons
The tower city awaited its master. Pointed and black, made of shiny obsidian and onyx, the numerous, multifaceted towers of Kaith Halur jutted into the deep blue desert sky. The goal was almost achieved, and Hokan Ashir felt more and more satisfied the closer he got. The defeat against Raith the Black had been painful, but he could cope with. The decision between them was far from over. There were always setbacks, but in this case he could still take advantage of them.
Norcaine Sharek Taith from the Sinistra caste came riding alongside the necromancer. “My lord, do you have any special commands for me?”
Hokan Ashir nodded. “Yes. I want that you use your powers to magically watch Raith and tell me about every step he takes as soon as he enters the realms of magic. Let the generals know about the distribution and placement of the army. I’ll dedicate myself first to recovery and then to a very special task.”
Hokan Ashir was a tall, slender man of the desert, originally from Xu and belonging to the Order of the Zerbites. Those alchemists had undertaken to protect the people from the dangers of Zarach’s beliefs – until Hokan Ashir, at that time a young very ambitious and promising, found the Mask of Belial in Zarach's Bone Temple, in which the dark people were created. Belial had been a servant of Zarach, the inventor of the necromancy, whose powers were in the mask. Hokan Ashir couldn’t resist the challenge – and had succumbed to the ominous influences of Belial. His will became cold and cruel, ruled by insatiable lust for power. He wiped out the entire Order of the Zerbites and became the terrifying ruler of Xu. In order to bring him under control, he had been forced to join the Circle, which his plan ultimately required. Now he wanted Fiara – if possible, all Eo, on the day of the Convocation.
Yes, they say that about me, Hokan Ashir thought, but it isn’t correct. I found my way back then. I wasn’t spoiled, but enlightened, and I realized that the Guardians are the real tyrants and that if I do nothing about it, we’ll never be free.
When he considered the aims of the other Circle Mages, it was even his duty to do everything possible against them. Hokan Ashir wanted to preserve, not destroy. If others wanted to interpret this as greed for power, it didn't matter to him. He knew his goals and what he had to do to achieve them.

Hokan Ashir felt his strength return as he climbed the stairs to his tower of power. The large arched portal swung open as he stepped toward it, and black veils flowed out, wrapped around him, seeped into him, flowed through him full of energy. The necromancer took a deep breath and entered the tower. The portal closed behind him.
The perfect creature was waiting for him high up in the alchemical chamber: the highest of all Iron, the Soulforger. Monstrous and terrifying, accomplished with magical art, Hokan Ashir was proud – until today.
The Soulforger bowed deeply to his master and welcomed him.
“A lot of work is waiting for you,” the Circle Mage said. “I have collected numerous souls and pressed them into the stones. You’ll create many new Irons, Minions and Weavers, and two Princeps, because I also caught some pure elves. This trip was a great success, despite the defeat at the end. But it forces me to stop. While Raith is wasting his powers on Aonir's Blade, I’m building a force that is at least twice superior to him.”
“I immediately get to work.” The hollow, dead voice of the Soulforger buzzed through the great chamber.
“In your tower you’ll find the soul stones you need. I’ll inquire about the progress of your work when the time comes. Until then, do your work and only this.” Hokan Ashir thinked for a moment. Then he added: “And take the young Ismail with you. So far he has proven to be quite receptive.” He dismissed his most powerful creature and communicated to Shark Taith that he was now being received.
Shortly afterwards the Sinistra entered the chamber. He was tall and very narrow, with long white hair and unusually long, pointed ears. His face mostly showed a pinched expression. “Everything is arranged to your satisfaction, sir. I’ll start my task soon.”
Hokan Ashir took off the intricate, character-covered headgear and sat down in his armchair. Just a few more things, then he could devote himself to recovery and go to work. “Would Raith be able to free the Fial Darg?”
“If he has the right power to do it, it might be possible to break the Guardians’ spell,” Sharek Taith replied. “He would probably have it, otherwise he wouldn’t have dared to summon them.”
“What’s this about?”
The Sinistra explained it to him.
Hokan Ashir rubbed his narrow dark beard, ruminantly. The years hadn't affected his hard, smooth, even face, framed by long dark hair. Only the exhaustion after the clash with Raith was noticeable, but it wasn’t long before. Then he would radiate deadly energy again and continues his fight. This will was clearly visible in his glowing, embers-like eyes. “Could I use it too?”
Sharek nodded. “Yes, sir. But I would advise you against it. As soon as Raith has begun summoning, nothing can interrupt it, otherwise it could end in disaster – at least everything would be in vain. If it were still possible, you had to start over.”
“So it’s better to wait and see.” Hokan Ashir nodded. “Should he do the work; afterwards he’ll be weakened and will not be able to defend himself against me. I’ll destroy him and win the Fial Darg for me.”
“You’re a Zerbite and they’re Zarach’s creatures,” the norcaine objected.
“Right,” Hokan Ashir agreed grimly. “But I was it. And I have the Mask of Belial. I’m sure we’ll agree that an alliance is of great benefit to each of us.” The necromancer rose. “So let's prepare for it, Sharek Taith. Take command as my deputy as long as we're in Kaith Halur, and keep an eye on Raith as we discussed. I’ll get in touch with you when it’s time. Until then I want to be completely undisturbed here. Don't even try to reach me, I'll magically seal off everything.”
“What are you up to, sir?” the Sinistra asked in astonishment.
“Something very special,” Hokan Ashir replied with a mysterious smile. “Now go.”
When he was alone, he reached into a deep pocket and brought out a yellow-green glowing crystal, in the center of which an orange mist circled, through which lightning flashed. His hand stroked it almost gently as he raised the stone to his eyes. The crystal was reflected in them, sparkling and radiant, penetrated by an ominous fire. “You will be,” he whispered. “Yet soon: the actual crowning of my creation, the true masterpiece.”

Then behold, I’m pure and truthful, and this is my destiny.
The majesty of the mighty rock, an hour's walk long and towering over the sand, touched Raith the Black more than he expected. The thing really looked like a blade that had been rammed into the ground diagonally. Since the beginning of the knowledge of the Guardians and the origin of the world, the mountain has been sacred, because it was said that once Aonir cut himself with this blade and offered his star blood to the world, which among other things created the Godstones and the magical aura, which still surrounds Eo today.
At the end of the War of the Six Races, the Guardians created caverns into this massif, spellbound the Fial Dargs and put them in chains there.
With the help of the crown jewel of the dark people, the Princes of Darkness, Raith could become an archmage and unite the world of Eo before the day of the Convocation. That would simplify a lot, make the world clearer and easier. Order would prevail.
The norcaine wasn’t sure whether he could actually lift the spell. Although he had a powerful tool with which he had been preparing for a long time and researched the right saying and put it together. And Raith the Black was convinced that the spell saying was correct and working – but the question was whether he himself would have enough stamina and strength to exert it. It would take weeks to do this and several steps had to be taken. When he would start the elaborate ritual, that required a confident voice and perfect gestures, there was no going back; then he would have to move on without a break, without even stopping for a moment. If there was only a tiny interruption, everything would have been in vain and he had to start over – if he could do it at all.
Provided he came to the end: as soon as the Fial Darg were free, Raith had to bound themselves before he could surrender to the exhaustion. The black man knew that at the end of the summoning he would collapse and fall into a deep, death-like sleep that only gradually gave him back his physical and magical powers. Nevertheless, he had to hold out long enough to enter into an alliance with the dark princes. Otherwise his trouble would have been in vain; they might even kill him. The most dangerous moment was only before him as soon as the summoning was completed.
This was surely one of the greatest challenges one of the Circle Magicians had ever faced, and it was no wonder that no one had dared to do it before. For the Fial Darg were the most powerful of the dark people and completely unpredictable; they usually didn’t submit to any other lord except their exiled creator.
But Raith absolutely wanted the decisive victory.
Despite the unpredictability and the dangers, he could be able to succeed because he was always on the lookout for the truth and purpose of his existence. His soul was pure and clear, his will was strong, his mana powerful. He had studied alchemy and the curse with great seriousness and had never stopped learning. If at all a mage could break the spell of the gods, it was him.

Black rose petals and autumn leaves blew around Raith the Black as he moved his shadowy body, which never seemed to stay in one place, towards the entrance of the caverns. There have been no guards here for a long time. Since it seemed certain that the spell was going to last, and the Fial Darg were perceived almost only as spectres in children's stories, the guards had been given up. Only the superstition persisted that they could no longer be called by name, but “those about whom one doesn’t speak”, so as one don’t have a chance at conjure them up, even if only in a nightmare.
It was completely windless, a blazing hot day of the desert like everyone else. Rain never fell here, there was no life left; even migratory birds avoided moving over this furnace, which sometimes formed hot swirls of sand.
For centuries no one had left their mark on the white-yellow sand. Aonir's Blade was avoided by all people and preferred to be worshipped from afar.
The entrance to the caverns was simply designed, no more than a narrow passage in the yellow stone that dazzled in the sunlight.
Raith ordered his army to position itself around him and Aonir's Blade. He needed protection because he couldn't defend himself as soon as he started summoning.
Probably Hokan Ashir wasn’t waiting forever – but due to his defeat, the rival was currently so weak that it would certainly take weeks before he had sufficiently recovered in Kaith Halur and had increased his army in order to be able to counterattack. By then Raith wanted to have come to an end.
The black mage positioned himself at a safe distance from the entrance to the cavern and placed the instrument of power on the support. He looked calmly at the surroundings and saw that the army had formed a closed ring and was ready to protect it from all sides. Then he closed his eyes.
Immersed in deep concentration, Raith prepared for his task. Nothing could distract him anymore, he had to become one with the magic and the saying. He breathed deeply and evenly and loosened up his arms because they had to make very precise movements without shaking or weakening. Formula and gesture had to go together, complementing each other, and being precisely coordinated.
There was no longer any thought in him that could distract him or arouse doubt. There was only the saying.
Raith slowly raised his arms. His eyes focused on the first rune. He opened his mouth.
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