When Shadows Fall
Location: City of Chian-ti, 200 leagues east of the City of Skulls, Xia
Timeline: October 3550
The blond haired woman attracted a fair amount of stares as she walked through the streets of the High-walled trade city. Chian-Ti, the city of Silk and Steel was used to strangers landing with exotic wares, but golden haired travellers always attracted stares, the Vanir notwithstanding. Eracane did not pay any heed to the glances, she knew the attention her looks gained her, and learned to handle that. It had greatly unnerved her at first, when she had arrived here - it had been exactly this port that the ship had taken her to.
She smiled, somehow she could still see that brash, adventurous girl she had been, who had paid her farewells to her brother in a backwater port in Wildlandia to join a ship bound for Xia. She still could feel the wind of that evening, a hot summer evening as the ship had sailed past Skellig Hanár, her brother standing out on the rocks, his golden hair shining in the light of the setting sun. The goodbye of a lifetime, they had only been children then. She knew that now.
As the years passed, became decades which slowly turned to centuries, Eracane had come back to this city, to talk with the sailors, the captains, mostly for stories of Aereth, but also to subtly inquire about her family. Often she had come up empty handed and in other moments her brother had not disappointed. Involved in the civil war of Shyrakhan? That sounded like him. Travelling with the Vanir? Just like him. Then the silence had set in, and the rumours had started, rumours about a darkness in the North, about the Wyr fighting and losing a war. With the things she had learned in the City of Skulls, Eracane had not needed to enter the Wyr-Dream to know her family was drawing closer together on the Amber Islands.
In a dark night as the storms ravaged the Mountains outside the city of Skulls, Eracane had woken screaming, pain wrecking her body, as far away, across oceans and woods, thousands of leagues away from her, her mother was slain. The Dream had made her sensitive for such shifts, but the loss had hit her unexpectedly, and the few things she had glimpsed from the dream had not been calming at all. And again the silence had stretched, while Eracane’s own children grew up and made their way into the world. It had been a sudden and strange surprise that she would hear her brother’s name again, from a Vanir trader coming to port. How in the world had he become the High Guard Captain of the Lords of Cymeria? At least he lived, though she had glimpsed the bloody shades of his already lost children.
Sometimes she wondered if he had ever missed her, if he had ever asked himself where she had gone? Most likely not. He had their father’s wild blood, which she too shared. Though the pangs of missing had come from time to time. Did her brother miss his fallen children? She could not tell, only guess. Maybe. She certainly did miss hers.
Which brought her back to why she walking through the sprawling market quarter of the city. When her son, Kurenai had left the City of Skulls over a century ago, she had known it was the Dawnrunner Blood in him awakening. If any of her children was a Dawnrunner at heart, it was Kurenai. She had smiled and let him go, only now and then, looking at him inside the Wyr-Dream, knowing he was alive and travelling. But then, the contact had been severed, and for decades she had not sensed him at all. Careful attempts at gathering information of his whereabouts had only led her to learn he had left Xia by ship, for parts unknown.
A few weeks prior, she had suddenly sensed him again. Moving north, far away from her. Inside the dream she had tried to reach him - only to be pushed aside, losing all sense of him again. But in those critical moments she had sensed another presence. A female, who shielded Kurenai against her. She had learned little else from dream but enough: she knew Kurenai was alive, in the hands of some powerful female, and he was North… more towards the direction she knew her brother in. That gave her something to work with. And it was the source of her frustrations.
If Gero only ever had bothered with the arts of the mind. Or to delve into ancient Wyr lore. Eracane knew that her homeland was horribly primitive when it came to that. Her people took their gift for a natural thing and never bothered to wonder what other skills they might have. They hunted, fed, procreated and went happily ignorant about their lives. Four centuries in the city of skulls had taught her different. But still not enough to reach her brother - which was why she was here.
At first she had considered going to her Mother-in-law’s mother, the great-mother on her late husband’s side, Lia of Bloodfang Pride was an old, withered crone that reminded Eracane often of Sulbeith the Grim, back on the Amber Islands. The traditions of the City of Skulls had demanded Eracane seek out Lia to obtain her approval before joining Darkstorm House. The old Wyr, living in a cave in the Mountains of Wrath had looked long at her, then studied her hands closely. “You are as disloyal to your clan, as your brother is.” she had then said. “And children of blood you will have - you and he alike - that you will bury. I approve.”
Ever since Eracane had avoided seeing Lia again, which left her only with one option. Kaito’s father. Ironically he too had been forced to leave the City of Skulls long ago, his conflict with the Court Eternal a bit more violent than her son’s.
Eracane’s feet came to a halt as she saw the doorway - a green doorway, made of a wooden grate and adorned with flowers, leading into a tea-house. The House of Morning Sun. She had come to the right place. Almost without noticing the straightened her shoulders, raising her chin ere walking through the green archway and entering the garden behind it.
The garden swung gently around a pavilion set beside one of small arms of the sea reaching into the city. Well trimmed bushes of jasmine, rose and almond provided some privacy between niches housing stone benches, chess sets and other commodities. In the front area Eracane spotted a group of men playing Wyr chess, all of them wore varying types of armor and weapons rested in easy distance of them. She inhaled softly, taking another step. She knew what this place was, even if only a part of the men here were Wyr - this was the House of the Most Honorable Guild of Shadows.
A diminutive woman dressed in a dark-blue silk garb glided towards her, bowing deeply. “Welcome, my Lady. What brings you the House of the Morning Sun?” she inquired in sing-sang voice that marked her for being from somewhere down the River of Shining Silk.
Eracane too bowed, not quite as low, but still polite. “I am here to see the Azure Dragon. I have an affair to discuss with him.”
While the woman turned to make an appropriate inquiry to an elder Lady standing by the fountain, soft laughter drew Eracanes attention. One of the chess-players, a Wyr with startling green eyes had leaned back an looked at her. “The Azure Dragon himself, oh Lady?” he asked. “Maybe you will reconsider? Each of us can hunt almost as well, and we do not come as expensive.”
Eracane looked at them, they might appear as customers here for tea and chess, maybe they were the less hidden guards of the entrance, but that did not change what their trade was. “My quarry is of a rather special nature.”, she replied.
Ere she could say more the young woman returned. “Seiryu has had other discussions already, my Lady.” she explained, which meant to say, he already had another contract he was taking. “But you may consider…”
“Would you return to him, and please tell him that it is a personal matter?” Eracane asked again, she had never been forced to seek out the Azure Dragon before. Usually Seiryu had found her, when he felt it necessary.
“My Lady, I doubt very much, that the Azure Dragon is looking for company.” The young woman told her in a more stern manner and it took Eracane a moment to understand what had just been implied.
Trying to reign her temper in she forced her voice down. “Not that kind of personal. I am his son’s wife.”
While the young woman turned to speak to the older Lady anew, some of the chess-player’s studied her calmly. “You’d be Kaito’s hunter.” One of them said softly. “Bad day, when Seiryu heard of Kaito’s end.”
It took all of Eracane’s strength to not show any hurt. Kaito’s loss was a pain that would never go away. And yet… knowing how her son had avenged him, she was almost glad Seiryu had only learned later of his son’s demise. Not that he would not have avenged him, but his vengeance might have taken longer… and been of a type that Eracane might not have stomach for, not even after four centuries in Xia.
She was relieved when the young woman returned, taking her deeper into the gardens. They passed benches and people never long enough to really notice them and Eracane knew should she ever blab one word of what she saw here, she’d die. After turning sharply at a jasmine bush, they came to a rather secluded set of seats, which also shared a stone table with a classic Wyr chess set, though the figurines had been set aside to make more room for a large map still spread on the table. Seiryu sat on one side of the table and opposite of him Eracane spotted the familiar face of Akinari. The Eagle Wyr was well known to her, she had first met him when he had come to her marriage ceremonies in Seiryu’s company. In years that passed she had come to understand that he was a long-term trusted partner of Seiryu and his strategic mind whenever a contract was not single-target but required some greater carnage. The third in the group was a significantly younger man, Xian, like both of them, of whom she could tell whether he was Wyr, part-Wyr or other. She did not know him, but judging by the armor and weapons she saw, guessed that he was a younger warrior those two had taken under their wing. Who might he be? Did he know what kind of adventure those two would drag him into? She could not tell, but she could see that he was very respectful towards both of them, which meant he was new to their team.
Seiryu looked up and the shadow of a smile sparkled in his eyes. “Eracane, there must be a very compelling reason for you to visit me here.” he observed, even as he made a small gesture to Akinari, that had the warrior rise, roll up the map and leave along with their young comrade.
Eracane stepped closer, a slight smile on her face. Seiryu was nothing like she had imagined a father-in-law might be, nothing like her own father Hendric, yet somehow she found she trusted him deeply. “I am here with a worry that has been plaguing me for a long time.” she said, sitting down cross-legged on the stone seat Akinari had vacated.
“Kurenai.” Seiryu waited until a servant had brought fresh tea for both of them. “I would think that you of all people would understand his leaving. He takes after your blood after all - we might never see him again, though I do entertain hopes to hearing about his handiwork sooner or later.”
And there was that, the Shadow-Warrior talking about the Bloodguard, the differences between the two were seemingly small and sometimes chasms she could not quite grasp. “While I know that Kurenai is alive, he seems to be in the presence of a powerful female that shields him from the dream. Whether he is there of free will or captive, I do not know.” Eracane said. “They have been moving North recently. Which means they come close to my brother’s hunting grounds.”
“Kurenai may not wish for your interference. He can take care of himself.” Seiryu seemingly aimlessly began to set a few figurines on the empty chess set. The Archer, Death, the Hunterman and the Wanderer took positions like they were locked in a game she could not see. “The way you never sought your own blood for all these years, I am surprised you try to cling to Kurenai.”
“I know Gero’s alive,” Eracane replied a little defensively. “My mother is dead, my father went North, back into the ice. And Gero seems to do well for himself. There was little reason to worry.”
“Was there?” Seiryu leaned back studying her. “That is not the story I hear… but then a warrior’s failings are his own, just like his victories. But if you want me to kill the female holding Kurenai, I will have to tell you: no. I have my own thoughts where he went and why - it is his hunt and his alone.”
“Not knowing her, I have no plans to kill her quite yet.” Eracane replied swiftly. “Seiryu, when I was taught dreaming, I was also shown a technique to make myself heard in the dream of an untrained Wyr. My brother… Nighthunter … he was never trained, when I walk near his dreams I can see echoes of the past, of his dreams but he does not hear me, I am like a ghost to him.” She explained her wish. “And you are known to be a strong Dreamer.”
“All you want is to give your brother a message?” Seiryu arched an eyebrow. “Curiously little, but then I cannot judge your family, little that I do seem to understand them. You are aware that your brother possess strong protections against someone breaking his mind? His mind, his dreams, they are protected by powerful and ancient arts - I only once saw him in the dream and it happened by accident, yet I could sense a shadow shrouding him and a white light shielding him - whatever your message is, it will have to be very short, very concise. And you need to memorize it well… only then you might be able to focus it strongly enough to enter his dreams.”
Her brother protected? Shrouded by Shadow and shielded by a white Light? The shadow she had sensed once or twice, when she walked close to him. She could only guess that it came from their homeland, it had an echo she knew but the Light? She did not know that, nor had she ever sensed it. How and when had Seiryu strayed close to her brother inside the Wyr-Dream? It was a question she better not ask.
“The message is simple, it can be phrased in one sentence.” She replied, knowing that she better not tarry. “I can meditate on it, for a night to make it sink deeper into my mind.”
“You will meditate on it for three days and nights until you have embraced it fully and become the message.” Seiryu replied. “Then we both will take the Draught of Dead Sleepers and I shall guide you towards your brother’s dreams.”
:: City of Chian-ti, early evening, three days later ::
The room was spartan bordering on barren, yet it conveyed a sense of safety that Eracane could not deny. Polished warm cedar wood formed the floor, and a brazier set in the middle, aside of a few mats it was empty otherwise. Nestled within the walls of the Shadow’s hideout, it was shrouded from prying eyes and foes alike. The guard of Akinari and Kurogane, Seiryu’s comrades in arms, provided the absolute surety that they would not be disrupted or woken prematurely. Usually Wyr Dreaming did not bring any danger if the dreamer was suddenly woken by any outside interference, yet Eracane had learned that when attempting deep dreaming the risks of waking prematurely were severe. As were sleeping beyond the new dawn.
Seiryu lit the brazier, the soft fragrance of ashwood and woodlander roses began to fill the room. “Have you thought about your message?” he asked her. “With the protection your brother has and his apparent lack of training, I cannot hope for more than a short message reaching him.”
Eracane had spent hours pondering what she could say that would suffice. Speech was tricky inside the Wyr dream, it was underlined by pictures, impressions and thoughts, making it hard to be precise inside the dream. “Where is Kurenai, Gero? I need to find him.” She said softly, repeating the line over and over in her mind, to imprint it on her dream-to-be.
Seiryu arched an eyebrow but did not comment. “Then let us begin.”
They both settled on the thin mats on the floor, lying on their backs, hands crossed on their chests. It was not a ritualistic pose, even as it looked like the dead, but simply one of avoiding serious injury while dreaming. Eracane closed her eyes and exhaled slowly, letting her breath fall into an unvarying rhythm, each breath and exhale even in length, with exactly the same distance between them. It was harder for her to fall into sleep than it would be otherwise, her own excitement keeping her out of the trance. But finally her body became heavy, and her breaths continued, she lost all sense of her own weight, but the breathing went on, the warmth faded and she still counted her breaths. Opening her eyes Eracane saw the ceiling above them like a silvery dome through which the stars shone. She drew her legs in and rose, seeing her own body lie on the mat like she had died and was now watching her own wake. The first time she had panicked at this step, by now she was used to it.
Looking around she spotted Seiryu - or rather Darkhunter - sitting a few steps aside of her. The usually darkly grey armur leopard was silvery and ghostly to her eyes inside the dream. Like with all Wyr when seeing them in the dream, she could sense echoes of his companions, Akinari’s echo was clear there, hovering beside him like a protector, others were obscured, quite a few where bloodghosts - echoes of the dead.
“You need to guide me towards your brother - you know his song best.” She felt the sending of Darkhunter, his mind-voice sounded absolutely unlike Seiryu’s voice in life, the accent was different, the intonation too. For a moment Eracane frowned, inside the dream, especially when using sendings, one spoke in one’s natural accent, the one that was one’s true speech, and right now Seiryu did not sound like Xia or City of Skulls at all. Yet she had no time to tarry, they needed to travel.
Like always she began the first steps of their journey as if she still were in the physical world, going to the door and opening it to step onto the street while she listened to the songs. The air seemed to sing with echoes, with unknown tunes that rung through the night. Each song the song of a sleeping mind, resting safely within the world of dreams. It took a moment until she found her brother’s song - a powerful rhythm played on a battledrum and a tune that echoed like the war-songs of old, from even further afar she perceived her father’s song, the song of the ships still ringing out in the farthest north. Deliberately she shut down all the songs except the song of the battledrum, that rhythm that announced death and a bloodstorm waking. Then she began running…
The Wyr Dream was nothing like the physical world, it knew no distances and almost no bounds. Eracane ran, racing across grass and then water, the sea silvery under her feet, she knew this was an illusion, a construct her mind made up to account for the distance it was reaching into. Only near the target the landscape became clearer again, houses and trees standing there like silvery unlikely shapes. She had been here before - in her dreams she had walked close to her brother any number of times, and she knew the feel, the echo of this place without knowing the place itself. A kind of city or maybe a fortress of sorts, sometimes she believed to see ramparts, but it all remained blurred.
Darkhunter appeared beside her again, the cat looking up at her. “He is close? Where is he? This fortress is too huge to search until dawn.”
Eracane shivered, realizing that Seiryu as a master of the dream saw far more than she could. The dwarrow had a legend about one of their kings having a white hawk who scouted the enemy camp for him, maybe he had had far more than that. “I will find him.” she said firmly, focusing again.
For some reason she had never been able to appear directly beside her sleeping brother, she had always been forced to walk the last part of the way, especially in this strange place. She followed her senses, seemingly passing through walls and floors untils she suddenly stood in a room that was clearly defined to her eye. A fireplace, a warm chair, a table and a bed… and her brother asleep.
With Seiryu’s guidance she could see him far more clearly than she could by herself. Eracane’s heart skipped, the youthful, laughing Wyr was gone, the man sleeping in this room, was an old warrior, two short blades at the ready beside him. He bore scars, and his echoes were bloody shadows. She tried to not lose her focus… she knew she too was not the girl from long ago, but somehow she had still the picture of those days in mind. The young warrior he had been, the dreams they had shared… and for a moment she barely recognized that young warrior in the man deeply asleep here.
512full-rutger-hauer.jpgDarkhunter appeared out of nothing and sat down on his hind paws. Do you remember the story of Katsushiro? He asked in a sending. He helped Kanjin to find the jewels of time and found the Empire of the East. Then when the Empire laid siege to Rakhamin, he negotiated with Emperor Taraikhan without recognizing it was Kanjin. When asked what he believed happened to Kanjin he replied: I think he died in one of Tarajkhan’s battles.**
Eracane shivered suddenly, Darkhunter had read her like an open book, he knew what she felt and the comparison was not all that bad. Her brother, young Gero, might as well have died in one of Nighthunter’s battles. “How do I reach him?” she asked, she had been here often, even with the room and her brother much more blurred. “He never hears me.”
I will link you to him. The cat in her dream moved deftly and jumped on the side of the bed, lying down there. Suddenly she could feel Gero’s presence much stronger than before. The bloodied shades became clearer, painfully clear and detailed. A young woman in armor, two boys, many many more… shades of blood. Eracane tried to ignore them, as she spoke, hoping he would hear her. “Where is Kurenai, Gero? I need to find him.” She whispered, her voice not obeying her own shock. “Where is Kurenai, Gero? I need to find him.” she repeated louder.
Suddenly she felt Darkhunter tense, a sense of pain radiating from him. A white light shone through their dream, touching them like a wave of sheer unadulterated pain. The dream was fraying. “Where is Kurenai, Gero? I need to find him.” Eracane called again, struggling against the loss of control, never realizing that she was still speaking Xian.
They were thrown through the air, pain surged and Eracane woke with a scream on her mat. She panted, trying to deal with the pain had had touched her. “Did he hear us?” She asked hoarsely.
Seiryu had sat up, unfazed, but moving more stiffly. “I do not know, Eracane.” he said. “Your brother is still as strong as he was long ago… and he bears his oaths well. He serves a Lord of great power, as we both just learned.”
Suddenly Eracane wondered if she had made a mistake coming here, Seiryu sounded like he knew her brother better than he should.
:: Stormholm Caer, the same night ::
Gero was dreaming, in his sleep he was racing through the ruins of that island at the edge of the world. The sun was setting far in the west and he could see Rhavin standing high on the rocks waiting for him…
Suddenly his dreams rippled, torn apart as foreign voices interrupted his sleep, pictures flitting through his sleeping mind, voices whispering. He woke from his sleep with a start, one dagger in hand but the room was empty. Yet on the moments before waking he had seen it clearly - his sister standing by the fireplace, her hand stretched out to him, speaking in a foreign tongue.
** The Legend Seiryu references is inspired by David Gemmell’s novel “The Eyes of Alchazar” where we have exactly the situation with Druss and Ulrik. Druss does not recognize that Talisman is indeed Ulric and says later, when asked what became of Talisman: “I think he died in one of Ulric’s battles” while down in the enemy camp Ulric wondered if his old comrade recognized him.