[Fanfiction] Storm on Shaikur (3rd book) - Introduction, Chapters 1 & 2

Discuss about all topics which belong to the book series "Shaikan Cycle" by Uschi Zietsch

Moderator: Forum_Manager

Post Reply
Posts: 30
Joined: Tue 8. Nov 2022, 17:06

[Fanfiction] Storm on Shaikur (3rd book) - Introduction, Chapters 1 & 2

Post by Ommariuolo »

Introduction – What happened until now
The Mage Wars ended around year 518 before the Convocation, after that the rulers of all kingdoms and peoples made a secret pact and prohibited the use of any magic. A year later, however, the nonsensical ban was lifted again and a Circle was established as an independent body to control the mages.
Thirteen grandmasters of the six races belonged to the Circle. However, they didn’t even think of subordinating themselves to the “worldly” rulers of the kingdoms, but secretly conducted research decrypting, among other things, the Archfire and receiving immortality. In year 507 before the Convocation, they discovered indications of this upcoming event and drew up the “plan of the 500 years”. The Circle Mages hoped for the day of the obscuration – when a sky roamer hides Aonir’s Light, which only happens every three thousand years – to gain god-like status.
Over time, however, enmity and discord poisoned the Circle. The closer the Convocation came, the more fragile the community became... until it finally broke apart around year 51 before the day that was eagerly awaited.
The following year the Convocation War between the Circle Mages began. It has been led on many fronts for decades, flared up again and again and affected all the races.
A few centuries earlier, around the year 950, probably the most talented alchemist of all time, Janus Malacay, was born from the humans. Ambitious and only focused on his own goals, Malacay achieved a high status alongside the God Emperor in the Hybernian Empire. He witnessed the decline of the dragons (which he was responsible for) and the exile of the Renegades. Similar to the later Circle Mages, Janus Malacay desired unrestricted power in order to re-shape what he considered to be “imperfect creation” and to bring perfect peace over the world Eo under his aegis. The deeper Malacay got involved in his research, the more insane he became. The madness was additionally stimulated by a life-prolonging serum that kept him alive for centuries. Finally, Malacay uncovered the mystery of materia Prima by making a covenant with the great Ur, the oldest and most powerful dragon remaining in Fiara. The two were now inseparable. When the Guardian gods punished Janus Malacay and cursed him for the blasphemous outrage to create his own life, the dying alchemist transferred his soul to his little son and thus the blood covenant was transferred to all offspring, regardless of the laws of the Guardians.
The Shaikan people were born.
The construction of the Shaikur fortress began around the year 450 before the Convocation, with Ur as keeper. The construction period was almost fifty years.
The sleeping soul of Malacay has been passed down from generation to generation to the dragon-blood people, who other people call “the godless” behind the scenes. To say such a thing openly to a Shaikan, no one dared.
The Shaikan was valued as fighters, but not as friends. Since they were only committed to themselves, it could happen that they changed their sides in the middle of a battle. Over the centuries, the Shaikan became feared and most of the other peoples too. According to popular belief, even a minor Shaikan weighed three good soldiers from other ancestries. However, their number was always small, outside of Shaikur there were only two or three clans that had chosen a new home. The Shaikan never aspired to rule, as they always had to live with the fear that Malacay’s cursed and darken soul could be awakened and become more powerful than ever. There has always been a prophecy that with the awakening of Malacay the demise of the Shaikan was brought about – and maybe even that of all Fiara.
Around the year 60 before the Convocation, Goren Wind-Whisperer was born, son of Derata, daughter of the lord of Shaikur, and Ruorim, a powerful magician of a Shaikan clan based in Nortander. Ruorim, who heard the soul of Malacay louder than other Shaikan, obeyed the orders of the ancestor, and so Malacay’s "rebirth" was almost in the way after about seven hundred years by Ruorim’s son, Goren.
Goren, who grew up in the peaceful town of Lyraine in the Highmark without knowing his origin, had to watch his father murder his mother and vowed vengeance. But he was captured by Ruorim and Malacay’s soul awoke. There followed a long and hard struggle of the souls in the body of the young Shaikan. In the end the ancestor was subject to the strong will of his offspring, not least thanks to the help of Goren’s loyal friends. Malacay’s soul was again put to sleep, and Goren’s mind was free for the time being.
But Malacay’s soul is still in Goren, who has feared and rejected magic ever since. Meanwhile taken in Shaikur by his grandfather Darmos Ironhand, Goren has acknowledged to be a Shaikan. He wants to fulfill his mother Derata’s dream and achieve more for the proud but lonely people: recognition from the other people – and at the same time the Shaikan’s clear commitment to the people of Light.
When Raith the Black, norcaine’s Circle Mage, plans to use the grimoire liber sinistrorum to awaken the Fial Darg – the most powerful worldly creation of the Renegades – Goren goes on a journey, together with Buldr Redbeard and Starshine, to Aonir’s Blade in order to stop Raith.
Meanwhile, two other fellows from the Valley of Tears, Hag the Falcon and Menor the Thin, along with the new ally Craig Un’Shallach, free the city of Norimar from the Ruorim’s claws. There’s a reunion with the hairy orc blacksmith Wolfur Grimbold, also an old fellow sufferer from the Valley of Tears. From Norimar, the four make their way to the desert to meet Goren and the others.
But the necromancer Hokan Ashir, human’s Circle Mage, who is in open feud with Raith, hasn’t remained idle. With a very special soul stone, he created the Invincible, an insurmountable Iron who, together with an army, is on his way to Shaikur, where he’s supposed to meet Ruorim. The Shaikan fortress becomes the focal point of the battle for power.

It was glorious times, say those who were born later. But I tell you: these were cruel times.
In view of the approaching Convocation, the Circle Mage fought for supremacy over Fiara, wanting to secure the power for themselves. The former allies, who had lied to us about their motives for centuries, were in personal feud. And it didn’t matter to them that they dragged all the people of Eo into their quarrel and brought death and misery across the country.
Heroism? Poo! Speak to me of great fighting and win, only if you have been there yourself and not just the romantic songs of the bards. You get yourself in tavern mood and brag about stories that you have never experienced. You should be thankful for it and also hope that you will never experience it!
You have no idea what it’s like to go on battle. There’s nothing that is noble and sublime, and honour is certainly not far off. You fight for your life and that of the soldier next to you. You knock heads, sever limbs and wade in blood. You have to close your ears in front of complaining, cries of woe and begging for mercy. Maybe from someone who was once your friend!
No war is good. War is a dirty business, bloody, cruel – just pointless murder. Anyone who thoughtlessly enjoys battles without ever having taken part in them has no respect for life.
At least one thing is true, I can confirm it: in combat we’re all the same, whether dwarf, elf or human, norcaine, orc or troll. We kill and bleed... and have fear.
And at the time we all equally cursed the Circle Mages to whom we owed the Convocation War, above all Hokan Ashir, the Necromancer, with all his terrible undead and Irons. Hokan Ashir wasn’t able to fight an honest and open fight, but brought on his scary, magic-created unbeings to win an easy victory. He believed he was safe from betrayal. Because the undead don’t ask for peace, they have no personal ambition and certainly no understanding. And they never give up as long as they are ruled by a strong will that drives them forward.
And the Necromancer had incredible willpower.
Yes, at the time we thought he was insurmountable, especially after Shaikur fell into his hands. But Hokan Ashir didn’t consider everything. What he had never expected occurred – but I’m anticipating. Listen in the order as it happened, because I was there myself at the time. You get the story from me first hand and without any gloss over or exaggeration.
And yet – whenever I talk about it, I often ask myself whether it could really have happened that way. Doubts also sprout in me who was there. In the end, however, I know it steadfast: yes, that’s how it happened, and I, Buldr Graybeard, who was once called Redbeard, now tell you about the incomparable battle of the Shaikan and the change of the godless...

Chapter 1 – The request
“Are you looking for your grandson, old friend?” Fugin came to the side of Darmos Ironhand, who had stood on the highest battlement for hours and stared into the distance.
“Nonsense,” the lord of Shaikur growled. “Goren only started fifteen days ago, it’s impossible that he’s already on the way back.”
“Then let me put it another way: you worry and try to outwit the distance to your grandson by staring at the distant mountains for a particularly long time. Maybe you want to burn holes until you get to Goren?” The greying scout grinned when Darmos gave him a half-amused, half-irritated look.
“Every day I want to go to Ur and ask him what his clairvoyant eyes see, but I don’t dare,” Darmos finally replied. “The signs that I can grasp with my old human eyes are bad enough and give me little hope.” He pointed to the northern horizon, where a streak of black water formed the boundary between the sky and the land. “Every day the darkness grows over Aonir’s Blade and spreads more and more across the sky. The summons of Raith the Black progresses rapidly. We don’t know where Goren is right now – and whether he can still arrive there in time to prevent the awakening of the Fial Darg.”
“The Dark Princes,” Fugin mumbled. “If there’re still Guardians somewhere who care about Eo, may they stop Raith.”
The lord of Shaikur let out a contemptuous snort. “The Guardians are no longer there, old friend, otherwise they wouldn’t allow all of this. In order to curse Janus Malacay, the founder of our people, they came together. All of them fought against a single mortal man just because he braved them. And what happened after that? Did they stop the Mages who drive our world into the abyss? In their function as a guard, did they prevent any of the bloody wars?” Darmos Ironhand’s angry voice echoed from the walls and got lost in the desolate steppe of the Iron Fields.
“Then it’s probably up to us,” Fugin said after a while. “To us, the godless, to save this battered world.”

The night breeze brought little relief. The stone walls looked narrower than ever. Inside the fortress it didn’t seem to be enough air to breathe. Darmos Ironhand rolled restlessly, plagued by nightmares, on his bed.
The aging Shaikan muttered in a fever. His face was contorted and his hands shot in the air as if to ward off insidious enemies.
The lord of Shaikur sat up and stared blindly into the night for a moment. White moonlight fell through the open window, but only gave dim light. Darmos was drenched in sweat, his breath wheezed as he listened.
Finally, he heard it, a faint murmur and whisper that seeped through the bricks that the ancestors had built in the sweat of their face and defended with blood.
“What do you want from me?” the one-armed man whispered.
You have to prepare yourself, descendant. The dark Shaikan will come and demand his right.
“His right? And who do you mean? Ruorim the Butcher, the outcast from Nortander? His clan has long since turned away from him. And he’s no more than a henchman of the Necromancer.” Darmos was tempted to spit out. How could he once have put his daughter Derata’s hand in that of the Butcher? His daughter had turned away from him in the dispute. Darmos had been narrow-minded and hadn’t been able to see that Derata assessed correctly the candidate. She had recognized the dark soul that lived in the man despite the elegant outside.
The one-armed man rubbed his forehead and forced the pain back. Derata, what have I done to you! We broke up unexpectedly – and you died unreconciled, without knowing how much I regretted and longed for you. I had thrown myself at your feet if you returned. But you were too proud for that. You were right about everything, the last time we stood together on the wall. You have foreseen what suffering comes from Eo and that one day the Shaikan will have to choose one side. You dreamed of bringing all six races to one table again to work together against the Circle Mages. But I held on to our freedom, to don’t have to obey anyone. I was such a fool!
And you still are, it giggled inside the walls. Don’t underestimate Ruorim! He’ll do everything to claim his right.
“I ask you again,” Darmos said loudly. “What is the right of the Butcher?”
But the ancestors no longer answered. Darmos Ironhand swung his legs over the edge of the bed and sat bent over like an old man. The heated air in the chamber weighed heavily on him. What have I missed out? he wondered.
He startled when another voice echoed through the night, a hiss that was carried in by the wind through the chamber window. “Darmos, come to me. We need to talk.”
“Ur,” the lord of Shaikur murmured. “Do you never sleep?”
“Do you find rest?” the whispering voice of the dragon replied, and Darmos heard his breath outside the window. The forefather had left his lair and was waiting for him up on the mountain while everyone else was sleeping, peacefully and without any responsibility.
“All right, then,” Darmos Ironhand sighed. “I’m coming.”

The gray-haired man gave a quiet groan when he finally took the last step. In the last moon’s phases change, advanced age had made itself felt, probably due to the heavy load that was pressing on his broad shoulders.
“We had been able to talk through my window,” he said reproachfully to the dragon, who slowly lowered his powerful head towards him.
“It’s fresher up here and we’re all alone,” Ur replied and laughed softly. “Moreover, you should get used to stay your body in shape, because you’ll soon need all the available strength.”
“What are you talking about?” Darmos asked worried.
“Darmos, why haven’t you come to me since Goren’s departure?” the grandfather asked a counter question. “You avoided me all the time.”
“I learnt bad news early enough,” Darmos growled. “I wanted to be alone with my worry.” He looked up at the golden-red dragon. “And now it seems to be ready. Did something happen to Goren?”
“His fate is in other hands,” Ur answered. “I can no longer see him, he’s hidden behind a fog wall. But Derata’s son is in good company and can now take care of himself very well. It wasn’t for nothing that his mother brought him up and taught him so strictly. You should trust him more.”
“If I didn’t trust him, I wouldn’t have let him go,” Darmos blew up. “After all, there’s nothing less than the awakening of the Fial Darg, which Raith the Black is aiming for!” He made a sweeping gesture. “And that brings me to the question: where are the other Circle Mages? Why don’t they stop him? Why is Hokan Ashir the only one dealing with the norcaine?”
“Because there’s no longer a Circle, Darmos,” the dragon replied patiently. “Each of the former grandmasters is only concerned with getting the Archfire on their own, on the day of the Convocation, to become godly – or even more powerful. Each patiently waits for himself what becomes of Raith and Hokan, who remains of both, and then deals himself with the survivor.”
“But if Raith succeeds in summoning...”
“I think that the great majority of the Circle Mages assume that they can command the Fial Darg. Most of them will welcome Raith’s success and will work to win over the Princes of Darkness to their interests. That’s why they don’t do anything. They wait and see what happens.”
“And how do you think everything will come?” Darmos asked, tired.
The dragon moved the wing slightly. “I think that we have to get rid of both Raith and Hokan, at the moment that seems the only way to me.”
“But we needed allies, right?” the lord of Shaikur whispered. “Our pride in being a unique people that owes no one obedience and tribute, that is not committed to anyone, is outdated. Is wrong. We have to decide...”
“Yes. Goren has already decided. And he has allies: Hag the Falcon from the humans of Nortander, Buldr Redbeard from the dwarves of Windholme, Weylin Mooneye from the elves of Dun Shael, and the most important of all: Craig Un’Shallach from the norcaine. And the young Starshine that emerged from the connection between human and norcaine.”
“Individual from many – what can they do? Should I send out messengers? Request help from the other people?” Darmos looked out over the sleeping land, which was covered by long deep shadows. “You know the answer as well as I do: no one would come. We stand alone, as always. Derata’s dream will never come true.”
“Darmos, a great evil threatens Shaikur.” The dragon’s voice echoed gloomy. “And as you say: we stand alone, we’re in the middle of the Convocation War, we stand between the mages... and one of ours is also our enemy. We’ll have to fight – not only for us, for the entire Fiara.”
Darmos eyed the old dragon, whose face was distant and barely interpretable as always. “Do you seriously want to say that someone is planning to attack this fortress?”
Ur slowly moved the huge skull up and down. He half closed his glowing eyes. “That’s it.”
“But it’s unthinkable!” Darmos cried. “Shaikur is impregnable under your protection! Since it was founded, no one has dared to approach it with force of arms!”
“And yet it will happen,” Ur replied. “Arm yourself, Darmos, and brace yourself. The Shaikan fortress becomes the focal point. I have no doubt about it.”
“Well.” Darmos turned to go. “Then we prepare, old friend. But I trust that you’ll intervene, as the oath requires.”
“I have never broken my part of the agreement, Darmos Ironhand.”
“Then you should slowly become accustomed to your old body again, forefather Ur.”

The heat swirled around the parched land. Only occasionally in the distance were hoofed animals and also a small caravan. But nobody moved to Shaikur across the burning Iron Fields. This summer they appear to be drier and hotter than anyone else before, and the black over the distant desert continued to spread.
The guards were on duty in the scorching heat. Every lunchtime at least one of them suffered a heat stroke and fainted. Marela the Gentle had a lot to do in these days and watched with concern the loss of her supply of medicinal herbs. The Shaikan blood infused with dragon essence was strong in battle and possessed great healing power, but it could hardly do anything against the sun’s blazing heat.
Darmos was also worried. The longer they waited, the less chance they had of surviving a siege. No city was close enough to be able to organize replenishments from there in a short time. Of course, Darmos was careful and always planned ahead. But he had never believed in a siege.
However, Ur remained certain that an attack on the fortress was being prepared. Though he could only catch confused scraps of images; his vision of the future was blurry. The magical flows were too strong.
He will do it, wasn’t he?” Fugin said to Darmos one day when they stood together on a battlement and watched the country. “Ruorim, Goren’s father.”
Darmos Ironhand waved. “Ruorim is Shaikan. He won’t dare. Not even the Butcher will go so far as to betray his own people.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“The shaikan honor, which means a lot to him. He may be eaten up by lust of power, but he cannot hope for an advantage if he moves against Shaikur.”
Fugin wrinkled his nose. “You haven’t seen him in a long time, old friend. After everything Goren told about him and what I hear about him in different places, he has changed since he asked for Derata. He let everything bad in his character break out and that which might have been good has been eradicated, probably he’s only Hokan Ashir’s submissive doggy that eats out of his master’s hand.”
Darmos turned away. “It wears us down,” he growled. “Soon we will eat out of the hand of everyone who knocks on our gate with a fully loaded car.”
They fell into a dull wait again.

Finally, one morning, Darmos Ironhand was awakened from restless sleep. It was time.
“Alarm! To the arms! The enemy moves!” it sounded from Shaikur’s battlements.
Darmos was immediately on its feet, in full armour. While he closed the sword belt, he looked through the window. From here he could already see the approaching dust cloud rolling through the Iron Fields towards the fortress. He could only vaguely perceive shadows in the haze of heat. Rider, no doubt. But how many?
Darmos was already expected on the main battlement, all the corridors were occupied by Shaikan, and the fortress was in an alarm state. Together with Fugin and two officers, Darmos awaited the enemy.
Slowly the armed riders stood out of the dust cloud, swarming apart and forming a front. Just a stone’s throw, they stopped in front of the mighty gate and waited for the dust to settle.
Fugin snorted. “It’s hardly more than a hundred men, what do they want to do to us? Odd-job men services? Polishing armour?”
The men and women in his environment laughed harshly and made more mocking comments that relieved the tense mood a little.
Darmos was silent. He had recognized Ruorim’s red and black dragon flag. Fugin was right, Ruorim turned against his own people. The aging warrior didn’t want to believe it. Involuntarily he turned slightly, his eyes slid up. But there was no sign of Ur. Had the dragon not been able to recognize who the enemy was because of this? Because it was a dragon blood from his own ranks, a mage too?
A man with a white flag pulled away of the row and approached the gate. “Hey!” he cried out loud. “Are you ready to negotiate?”
“Do you see?” Fugin said with a grin. “They want to talk even before they have rattled the sabel.”
However, Darmos noticed how serious his eyes were. “Answer him,” he ordered the old friend.
The grey-bearded man stepped forward to the parapet and leaned slightly over it. “What do you want?” he called back. “We don’t buy anything, nor we accept beggars!”
A muffled giggle sounded behind him.
“There he comes,” suddenly a soldier whispered and pointed to the left. Darmos followed his arm and saw a big black horse in a gorgeous saddle pad. On top of him sat a man in black and red armour, with the Shaikan coat of arms. His face was covered by a dragon helmet. A long sword hung on the left side. Even his own people backed away from him as he slowly trotted between them and finally paused beside the messenger.
“Darmos Ironhand,” he cried with a harsher, deeper voice. “Come down and let’s talk! I assure you a safeguard.”
“You and who else?” Fugin replied.
Ruorim paused briefly. Then he gave a sign and another man came in, two crossed blades on his back. “We walk ten steps from the gate. All others from my followers will not budge.”
Fugin looked at Sarmos, who nodded. “All right!” he answered. “We come.”
Ruorim and the man with the two swords then dismounted, handed over the reins to the messenger and, under the watchful eye of the archers, approached the gate. No one moved, not even sweat dripping from the brows was wiped away.
The heavy gate was opened some time later. Darmos Ironhand and Fugin stepped outside.

Ruorim took off the dragon helmet when Darmos came up to him. The lord of Shaikur saw the white thread in the man’s black hair, and the wrecked right half of his face. The dark Shaikan now exposed his ugly soul, no longer hiding it behind a beautiful facade. However, it looked even bigger and heavier than before, which might be due to the armour and the long black-red cloak.
Next to him, Ruorim pointed to the tall, lean man with the cold eyes and thin blond hair. “Enart Twohanded, my deputy.”
Darmos introduced Fugin and saw the formalities as finished. His gaze slid across the hundreds behind Ruorim. He must have had a good grip on them, because in fact nobody was moving there. Not even the horses were restless. However, they also had a long, tiring journey behind them and were probably happy about the rest. The armours was dusty, the metal was tarnished, the horses were wet with sweat and skinny. Probably everyone longed for cool shade and lots of water.
“I looked forward to seeing you again, old friend,” Ruorim started with an open smile. “You’ve hardly changed in all the years.”
“What can’t be said of you,” the lord of Shaikur replied. “Let’s save these silly phrases of courtesy. What do you want?”
“Free escort to the castle, accommodation and meals for my people...”
“And as well the key of everything?”
Enart Twohanded pushed forward. “Don’t speak so improperly disrespectful to your lord!” he started towards Darmos. At the same moment Ruorim had struck him to the ground with a lightning-fast, powerful blow. The man rubbed his aching chin in astonishment, blood dripped from his nose. “Damn, what’s that?”
“Darmos Ironhand is a Shaikan noble and pure blood ancestry,” Ruorim replied coldly. “Don’t.”
With an angry hiss, the dragon rider slowly rose again.
Ruorim sharpened to him: “Another remark, and I throw your intestines into the sun. You’re not a dragon blood, but some bastard from insignificant parents. You’ve no right to speak here and you won’t even twitch a muscle if I don’t allow you, understand?”
Enart Twohanded retreated in silence. His face was red with anger, but it was also scared.
Darmos was getting impatient. “I don’t know what you’re aiming for, Ruorim, but what’s it supposed to mean? What’s this brainless idiot talking about?”
“Well, he's cheeky and stupid, but he’s told the truth,” Ruorim smiled subtlety. “Shaikur is mine.”
Darmos noticed how Fugin tensed beside him. “Shaikur, he said slowly, “one day belongs to Goren, your son – my grandson. You, the murderer of my daughter, have no rights here. If you ever cross the threshold of the castle, your life is forfeited and I take revenge for Derata.”
“Darmos, I’m disappointed.” Ruorim’s good mood didn’t seem in the least diminished. “I thought you had been researching for a long time. Didn’t the ancestors of the Whisper Gallery speak to you? Or do you just not want to admit it? Goren may one day inherit Shaikur, but from me, not from you. So far, the boy hasn’t been very kind to his father, but after all he’s young and my only offspring – I think I’ll forgive him if he’s good in the future. If you insist, we can even put in writing that he can take Shaikur if he behaves appropriately. That may keep your soul satisfied. At the same time, however, we’ll draw up another contract in which you transfer all claims to me.”
“Rather, Aonir’s light will go out,” Darmos growled. “Your ridiculous hundreds cannot harm us. Stay or go, it doesn’t matter to me, but you’ll not cross the threshold of Shaikur. Neither you, nor that creep there, or any other of your lousy people!”
Ruorim shook his head slowly and regretfully. “I was hoping you would be more reasonable, old friend. Forgive me if I call you so again, but I still have genuine affection for you and I like to think back on your hospitality. When everything was still all right.”
Darmos felt his stomach turn over. “You have violated her!” he cried out grudgingly. “You robbed my only daughter of her virginity against her will and planted your seed without her knowing. Because you knew Malacay’s soul would wake up in Goren. You only used her for the purposes you want your son to use now! The only one you feel something for, is yourself.”
“Derata was a great woman, I worshiped her.” Ruorim’s voice had dropped to a hoarse whisper, and now the smile was brushed away from his face. “I didn’t shame her, but I did the will of the forefather, the founder of our people. I was his tool. But I wanted to win your daughter for me too.”
“You did an excellent job,” Darmos mocked him. “You have to learn a lot in dealing with women, Ruorim, which is called the Butcher. Even your son hates you! The only thing you’re good for is killing defenceless. Like you did with Derata. Goren saw it, every single movement of your cowardly act. You’re a dragon blood, but an unworthy Shaikan!”
Ruorim’s intact wolf-like eye narrowed. Darmos saw how uneasy Enart Twohanded were, his hands always shrugged his shoulders. Like a lurking cat just before the mouse appears at the entrance to the hole. He wouldn’t be able to hold back for long, even if Ruorim subsequently realized his threat to kill him. And Darmos never doubted it for a moment.
“Your pride is hollow and empty,” Ruorim finally said. “I’m sorry for you, old man. I was hoping that if you realize how wrong you’re, we can reach an agreement. It’s you who bring shame on Shaikur. Ask Ur!” He pointed to the top of the rock. “I have time, Darmos. I give you two days to see your mistake. If you’re still unreasonable, I’ll attack.” He nodded Fugin, turned and went to his horse. Enart Twhohanded paused briefly, then followed his master.

Darmos waited for the two to return to the group. Then he said to Fugin: “Let’s go. The Butcher adheres to this agreement, at least.”
“What do you think, will he really attack?”
“Not with this hundred. He knows that his threat is empty, and he also knows that I know. But, of course, he has to set a deadline for me, otherwise he makes himself laughable.”
“But what will happen then?”
“He will besiege us. Try to break our moral. Ruorim isn’t stupid, he knows what he’s doing.”
When the gate closed behind them, Darmos breathed involuntarily and suddenly felt the comfort of the narrow stone walls that surrounded him. Shaikur, the unconquerable... nobody could overcome the fortress!
When he tried to climb the stairs, Fugin held him back. “Darmos, we know each other from a lifetime. I’m your oldest friend – and your best. What was Ruorim talking about out there? What kind of claim does he make?”
“He has none,” Darmos replied confidently. “I knew that, Fugin. He probably thinks he have a claim from Goren. But there he mistakes.”
“You should use the two days,” Fugin advised. “Find out more in the Whisper Gallery. And meanwhile I’m considering how, with as little of our own losses as possible, we can chase this insane out from the Iron Fields.

Chapter 2 – The army of the Irons
The horses trundled along. Black swarms of iridescent flies swarmed around them, but the nags hardly flinched when the insects settled on them, preferably around eyes and nostrils where they soaked up the sweat. The only moisture in the withered desert.
“Craig, you have traveled a lot, maybe you can answer the question: it has always been so bleak here – and above all so terribly hot?” Hag asked, who was riding next to the Dracon. “I mean, we have barely left the fertile land of Norimar behind us and immediately find ourselves here in dead steppe, as if we had crossed the threshold into another world. It could hardly be worse in the desert.”
“It’s not,” replied Craig Un’Shallach. “And actually I have this area in much better memory.” He pointed in the direction of Aonir’s Blade, where a black sky rose over the desert. “I think these are the effects of Raith’s summoning that are already making themselves felt throughout the day. The liber sinistrorum is a dangerous grimoire and should not be used by a single person. The mage may have overestimated himself.”
Hag twirled his horse’s sweaty, straggly mane. “I’m worried about Goren,” he murmured. “He didn’t want this task. He never wanted to have anything to do with magic. I can’t blame him for the inheritance that he carries within him. No one knows whether this will wake Malacay’s soul.”
He looked around. Menor slumped, thin and pointed-nosed on the saddle. His eyes were half closed, his body limp following the swaying movements of the horse. It looked as if the former thief was going to fall down like a clattering sack of bones at any moment.
The young soldier from the Leonidar clan didn’t trust his ears at first, listened more carefully and then actually heard the plaintive voice of the friend who was singing to himself. “Oh, how it got cold, so sad, black and sore. The songs that I once sang I don’t sing anymore...”
Wolfur Grimbold, who rode beside him, covered his hairy ears. “Stop!” he roared, whereupon his horse jumped forward, startled. “That’s unbearable! Menor, miserable thin wretch, finally pull yourself together! Your love has always been hopeless, the girl was never interested in you, and now she has betrayed you too! Forget the slapper! The elves aren’t to be trusted anyway, they act nicely in front, and they stab you in the back. Beautiful facade, rotten core... like a worm-eaten apple.”
“Don’t talk about Weylin!” Menor burst out.
“Ah, just say there’s still a spark in your life?” the orc blacksmith grinned. “Let’s hope that one day you’ll find your brain again. All you have to do is look for it deep down in the spongy swamp of self-pity!”
“She didn’t betray us!” Menor cried. He looked desperately at Hag. The red-brown hair stood more confused than ever on his head, and the freckles in his sunburn-red face were almost as green as his eyes. “Hag, tell him! Ruorim cast a spell on Weylin that made her dependent! I don’t know what he’s aiming at, but I’ll find out and free Weylin!”
Hag was silent and turned straight ahead again.
“Hag!” Menor pleaded. “You were there! You saw it!”
“Stop consuming so much humid air,” Wolfur warned him sternly. “If you go on like that, you’re just useless ballast and we’ve to unload you somewhere. Do you want it? Definitely not. So, be a man!”
“You have no idea about love,” Menor whined. “Weylin would never want to harm us. We’re her friends, we all went through the same things. I trust her. And that’s precisely why I’ll not find peace until I’ve freed her!”
“And do you think she’ll fall on your knees in gratitude?”
“I don’t care, Wolfur. I love her no matter what she feels for me. It’s my fault I never had the courage to talk to her about it. But it’s my duty as friend to free her from Ruorim’s claws.”
“Well, Beanstalk. One after the other. If goren has fulfilled his duty and we’re all together again, and if no mage intervenes, we’ll free Weylin. Goren’ll have to face his father one day anyway. Until then, be patient.”
Hag no longer listened, nor did he turn around again, but pressed his calves against the horse’s belly. He rode further doggedly.
After a while, Craig, who had been watching him, asked softly: “And what’s your version? Answer the question exactly, because I already know what happened. Just not how you think about it.”
“I don’t know,” Hag the Falcon replied unhappily. “It was bizarre, somehow unreal. We wanted to attack Ruorim, but he stopped us with magic. And then suddenly Weylin was there – and followed him. Ruorim said...”
“Keep talking,” the Dracon asked him when Hag didn’t finish the sentence.
“Ruorim said that Weylin was free...” he whispered weakly.
“And what do you think?”
“It would be... possible. Menor is blind to love, but maybe I let myself be influenced. Maybe Ruorim just let me see what I should see.”
“But perhaps Menor, just like you, doubts whether it wasn’t the truth that you saw. But he clings to an insane hope because he doesn’t want to give up. I have often observed this type of self-protection in humans. This is part of your strong will to live, albeit a completely illogical behavior. I would never be able to do it.” Craig rubbed his protruding chin. “Menor wants to sacrifice everything he believes in for a love that will never be fulfilled. Sometimes... I doubt the sense of my search.”
“You’re not alone with that,” Hag said. “So many are looking for love and only find doubts.” He glanced sideways at Craig and asked cautiously: “But were you really just searching? I mean, because of your daughter Nightsong who, as you say, is a half-blood.”
Craig’s brows contracted darkly. “Mm. Might be. Maybe one day I’ll find out – but now we should turn to the target, Hag the Falcon, and somehow straighten the head of the lovelorn behind us before Wolfur Grimbold does it with his strong and hairy paw.

In the midday heat they found sparse shade under a group of trees, most of which were defoliated. The remaining, dried leaves would soon fall. No animal lived here, not even scavengers swept through the air. And even the flies hadn’t followed them any longer.
Craig distributed the rations of water, watched by Wolfur Grimbold with greedy sparkling eyes, and added a little dried fruit and dried meat. The horses also got their share of water and digestible.
Hag stretched out under a tree, not far away were lay the orc blacksmith and the Dracon. Menor huddled lonely and ruminated on himself.
“You should sleep a little,” Hag warned the friend. “We still have a lot to go. Use the time.”
“Yes, soon,” the former thief muttered.
“I might ride with Durass and the others,” Wolfur annunced growling each word. “They are probably going to have a good time on some wonderful blue lake with fat fishes.”
They originally planned for Captain Durass and his fifty Shaikan to ride with them to Aonir’s Blade. But after careful consideration, Craig had concluded that Ruorim probably was on the way to Shaikur, so he sent the army back to the fortress. It went against the grain that the dark Shaikan had cleared Norimar so quickly, and scouts had reported before leaving town that he had been seen heading southeast. “We can’t compete with the army of Raith with fifty additional soldiers.” the Dracon had explained. “It’s advisable to be as inconspicuous as possible when looking for Goren, and Shaikur may need our help.”
Durass at first didn’t want to believe that a Shaikan was going against his own people, but finally realized that it was better to count on everything.
At Wolfur’s remark, Craig replied unmoved and with his eyes closed: “If you remember, I left it up to you who you ride with.”
“And I regret my decision every hour more. But that have nothing to do with you, friends.” Wolfur scratched the tree with his back, whereupon parts of the bark fell off like old scab.
Shortly afterwards everyone fell into a faint slumber, even the horses’ heads hung with their eyes closed.

Hag startled when someone suddenly woke him up. He shook off the sleep’s paralysis and looked up at Craig’s serious face. The Dracon held the bare weapon in his right hand. Without asking long questions, Hag was immediately on his feet and also drew his sword. Wolfur had meanwhile raised the sleepy Menor.
The previously barren and deserted steppe had changed. The army had come silently and quickly like the shadow of a cloud. Shimmering patterns in the hot air, unreal like a nightmare; Irons and undead as far as the eye could see. Beings that never needed a rest, neither food nor water. As long as their master lived and nourished them with his magic, they would march and fight.
Menor, who had the sharpest eyes, pointed to a glistening shape that preceded the advancing army. “What is that?”
Hag shaded the deep blue eyes and tried to see what the friend meant. “What do you see?”
“One... yes, one giant!” Menor burst out. “It’s an Iron or something so, because I can only see an armour that seems to move by itself. Shiny metal, spikes and tips and thorns... much bigger than everyone else. It seems to be a single weapon. Maybe the army commander?”
“Would be something completely new: a leader who march before the army and not behind” Hag scoffed.
“By the red claw!” Wolfur Grimbold exclaimed, and stared in concentration. “I see what you mean as an Iron! Zarach himself would be impressed, no question at all.”
“For whom is he leading this army?” Hag wondered. “And where? To Lar?”
“Then this would be a big detour, friend Falcon,” the Dracon replied. “It’s only a short distance from the desert to the east, unless you want to go straight to Dragh’Shar. But I don’t believe that. I think they’ll stop in the Iron Fields beforehand to create a new bastion.”
“Shaikur again?” the orc blacksmith growled. “Since when has any other people been interested in the Shaikan?”
“No people, just a single one, Wolfur. Because of the near to Lar and the Highmark. Hokan Ashir may be planning a conquest against Lar, and to do so, he should first take cover and secure the borders.”
“And if it’s Raith’s army?” Menor opined.
“The summoning is not over yet,” Craig replied. “It must be Hokan Ashir’s army, which is supported by a large number of Irons. Raith uses undead, but not in this quantity, and above all not Irons. Only one person could conceive the mutilation of souls, not even the norcaine ever dared to do so.”
“Then you were right about Ruorim,” the young Leonidar said, turning pale. “It means we have to find Goren as soon as possible!”
“First of all, we should disappear as quickly as possible,” Menor threw in nervously. “Otherwise we can no longer search for him.”
“With that horses? They’re totally finished,” Wolfur objected.
“I wonder how long your horse could carry you, anyway,” Hag muttered.
“We must try.” Craig shoved the sword into the scabbard, checked the girth and climbed on. “Until now I can’t discover any without scouts, maybe we are lucky. If there are no living in this army, the undead and Irons will hardly be interested in us, but will follow their orders. They don’t think about how we could pose a danger.” He pointed northwest. “The best thing to do is to turn around them, there are pronounced hill there, and the rock group behind, which is about an hour away, will offer us good cover.”
“But it also leads us deeper into Grarg’s land, if we continue on this route,” Wolfur Grimbold stated. So far, they had moved carefully along the border lines, however had not met anyone – probably because of the effects of Raith’s summoning. The warlike forces may have been tied up elsewhere.
“Rather Grarg than Lar,” Craig replied.
Hag found this dialogue somewhat strange, because apparently neither of them wanted to get too close to his own people.
Shortly thereafter they sprinted across the dusty plain in gallop. They got everything out of the tired horses, and they actually ran well, as if they understood what was at stake.
Hag, who looked around again and again, couldn’t see any change in the arrangement. The giant Iron stomped on undaunted. It looked like the army was actually strictly following his orders without looking left or right.
The rock group slowly moved closer and turned out to be much larger and more extensive than originally thought. The army of the Irons and undead was out of sight and Hag suggested to take shelter here until it had passed. Afterwards they could continue on the original path.
“Given the marching speed of the army, we can move on a few hours after evening and made up for lost time. If we ride over the rocks here, it’ll take us too long to find walkable paths.”
Menor, who was a little ahead, stopped the sweaty horse and turned on the saddle. “I think I discovered a hollow!” he shouted. “Maybe there is even water here...”
At that moment the horse shied, neighed and climbed. Menor, who wasn’t prepared for it at all, fell from the saddle with a cry. The other horses also became restless.
Craig and Hag had drawn their swords instantly. Wolfur was already on his way to Menor, who stood up coughing and spewing dust.
The attack took place at the same time.

From the rocks, highwaymen jumped off and fell on the fellows. Torn, ragged figures that must have brought together by the need – two trolls and three orcs, probably expelled by their own clans and looking for prey for a long time.
“Finally, a decent meal!” Wolfur Grimbold flatten and threw himself with a roar on one of the trolls, which was only a little bigger than him. The two clung together and rolled across the floor. The orcs jumped over them. Hag managed to fight his way through the Menor, who defended himself with his short sword. Soon afterwards they stood up against an orc and a troll. The two other orcs took on Craig at once, and it seemed as if he would greet the fight. In any case, his eyes glowed more strongly than usual, and he went at them with full force, as if there were no exertions behind him. He managed to snatch the axe from an orc. With two weapons now, he kept pushing them back. The two defended themselves furiously, but they were no trained soldiers, and neither were their cronies. They might be good at assaulting unsuspecting, harmless travelers and hitting them down quickly, but they probably could not last long in a man-to-man fight.
However, Hag and Menor got under pressure, because the troll towered over them by more than half a man’s height and was armed with a spiked club. The third orc distracted Hag so much due to his short attack parade that the young man had quickly lost his head if Menor hadn’t push his friend aside in time. The club whizzed so closely over the two that they could feel the breeze in their hair. They fell. Hag groaned. He hadn’t yet fully recovered from the torture in the Norimar’s prison, which was also due to his slowed mobility. The orc let out a roar of triumph and signaled the troll to end the matter.
The troll made another swing, and Menor and Hag tried to get out of range of the club. However, they remained confused when the troll froze in the middle of the movement. The orc also stopped puzzled. The massive creature’s eyes became glassy, then it tipped to the side, revealing Wolfur Gimbold’s grim face. He was just pulling his bloody sword out of the orc’s back. The second troll lay a few steps away with twisted limbs.
The orc blacksmith also awakened his spirit through the fight. He turned to his kin with a broad grin that emphasized his crooked but powerful and pointed teeth. Wolfur Grimbold was much larger than the opposing orcs and, because of his thick hair, was certainly a terrifying sight for them. The third orc, suddenly left alone, retreated hesitantly. He didn’t seem to be the bravest one anyway. “What are you, by the Blood Drinker?” he snapped hoarsely. “A monster made up of curses, created by a mage?”
“I’m an orc, just like you, and you don’t need to know more,” the blacksmith growled, attacked, and killed the enemy with a stone.
Hag also wanted to intervene, but he had only impeded Wolfur, as he had to see. Craig also had only one opponent, who ran into the axe when he wanted to avoid the sword’s blow.
“What pathetic creatures,” Wolfur remarked and spat. “Hoping for prey in this area – they hadn’t been able to fell any lower.”
“For a moment I thought they were scouts,” Menor replied. “But maybe they’ve a warehouse here. I take a look around.” Nimble, the long thin fingers skillfully clawed into the cracks and crevices, he climbed up the rocks. His confused tuft soon disappeared between the towering stones.
“Take care that you stay in cover, otherwise you’re a good target from the other side!” Hag warned.
“Stop talking, better come up! I discovered a source!” It came happily from above. “The guys really stored here! Finally, fresh water again – even more than we need!

They left the bodies there. In the heat, they would dry up within a few hours and perhaps serve as a meal for a scavenger.
In the afternoon they had led the horses along a narrow path to a small spring between the rocks. The completely exhausted animals sighed blissfully and wanted to pounce greedily on the life-saving wet, but had to tolerate being tied up. Gradually they quenched. Menor took care of the animals, and when he thought there was no longer any danger, he finally let them to the water, where they stood up to their knees and where they drank, snorted, or splutter. The fellows also dropped into the water, gratefully felt the soothing coolness and freshness and quenched their thirst.
In the bandits’ camp, Menor found some dried meat and a few not very fresh other foods that only Wolfur enthusiastically welcomed. When later they all leaned against the rocks to some extent, satisfied, and also the horses blissfully dozed off, Craig looked serious.
“We have to separate,” he declared. “Shaikur needs help. The inhabitants of the fortress are far too few to take on the army of Hokan Ashir, even if each of them can fight for three. And I won’t let the Necromancer settle down at this strategically convenient point, so close to Lar.”
“But what do you want to do about it?” Hag asked. “Who would be willing to send help?”
The Dracon turned his dark, glowing eyes on him and said: “The Iron Lord.”
“The clan leader of the Iron Storm? Never in life!” the Leonidar exclaimed. “He swore never to sit down at the table with any of the other races again!”
“May be, but then there was still no Convocation War. Besides, we’re old companions.”
“Who also?” Menor was stunned. “Who have you not actually moved with?”
“I’m over seven hundred years old, young, and got around the world a little,” Craig said patiently. “That inevitably happens in such a long time.”
“Nevertheless, it’s brave to go to such a powerful orc empire and ask for help,” Wolfur growled. “Why don’t you go to Lar?”
“For the same reason why you avoid your people, friend blacksmith: I’m not welcome there, and my word is no longer worth anything. At least not as long as the political situation doesn’t change. It would take me a long time and a lot of rituals to find attention. By then Hokan Ashir has probably already conquered Eo.” Craig raised a hand. “You can say what you want about the orcs, but they’re determined and not as complicated and hierarchically organized as my people. The Elyn Muin alone, which I would probably undergo, took many days to prepare.”
“And the Highmark?” Menor objected.
“We have to get through it anyway on the way to the Iron Storm. At the latest in Connach, before we cross the border, I would make a request that the city treasurer should send on. I know it’s far after Iron Storm, but I expect the orcs the most. They are fast and tough, we’re able to arrive in less than two months. Well, maybe we’ll need three. But then the Iron Fields will bear their name rightly, because there the armours of the Irons will rot...”
“I always hear we,” the blacksmith noticed. “Do you expect me to come with you?”
“Yes, I actually assume it,” Craig replied. “I read it in you. And your support would be appropriate. Or do you have a reason to stay away from the Iron Storm?”
“No, no,” Wolfur said quickly. “That’s fine. I could be very helpful to you in the negotiations, even if I think your plan is crazy.”
“The Iron Lord and I, we didn’t separate as enemies,” Craig repeated. “And he owes me a favor, he said that to me in parting.”
Hag called in between: “Then Menor and I continue to look for Goren, Buldr and Starshine?”
“Yes. Move with the utmost caution. But I think that the way out could now be largely safe – provided that Raith doesn’t end the ritual prematurely and his entire army remains with him. Help Goren and then run to Shaikur as soon as possible, we’ll find ourselves somehow. Pray that we’ll arrive on time – and that goren had stopped Raith until then. If we also have to deal with the Black and the Fial Darg...”
“We don’t want to think about it now,” Hag quickly interrupted. “Goren’ll make it, and we’ll come back with him. You two, try to get help.”
With that everything was said. They reposed the rest of the day and most of the night so the horses could fully relax for the onward journey. At the coldest hour of the night, just before Tiara the Dancer lit the first light of the day, they set off: Craig and Wolfur towards south, Hag and Menor towards Aonir’s Blade.
Post Reply

Return to “SpellForce - Shaikan Cycle”