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Morning began to break. We had allowed the followers of the sun their pathetic sleep and gathered our strength in prayer until the first rays of morning shone down upon the ruins of the holy sanctuary. The time for their execution had come.

I knelt upon a ledge in the wall and looked down to the sun-believer’s camp. They were humans, although this time they were not soldiers. They were either scouts or thieves, judging by their torn leather garments and simple weapons. Between the ruins, wisps of morning mist drifted like ghosts in the golden light where the humans cowered together in their pitiful campsite. The stench of their unwashed bodies and their fear was overpowering, even up on my perch high above their heads. I stood to give my servants a sign and sprang down amongst them. The weight of my armor was soon forgotten as I whirled among them, my blades flashing and their steaming blood surrounding me like a red cloud. Effortlessly, the shimmering moonlight of my swords bit through their pathetic armor and stinking flesh. They were so weak, paralyzed by useless fear and confusion, that I was almost angry at them. I always preferred a good fight to senseless slaughter, but these ones allowed themselves to be butchered like cattle. Distorted faces rushed by me and their screams merged with the tearing of flesh. Soon, only a last one was left standing and I remembered my duty. My sword stopped at his throat and he froze with fear, staring at me over the silvery surface of the blade with his watery eyes, breathing his fear into my face. And so we stood for an instant as the dying fell to the ground around us. “Dracon!” Shain Tal’ ach, a battlemaster of my group, stepped out of the fog. His armored fist held the black braid of a skinny, dirty excuse for a human woman who cried out shamelessly in fear. “She was hiding in the ruins.” I lowered my blade from the man’s throat. “Put them in chains. Both of them.”

The battlemaster let go of the human and shouted out his orders. Instantly, the humans began to cling desperately to each other, pressing their dirty faces together before falling to their knees, crying. My men turned away, repulsed by this open display of weakness. The disgusted gaze of my warlord wandered further, looking out over the ruins to the East where in the halls of obsidian, the Master of Ceremonies awaited us. “Only two sacrifices tonight. The Archon will be angered.” I stared at the human campsite, only a few daggers, and a bit of food – what a pitiful existence. “It will have to do. These were not warriors, only farmers and fugitives. They died too quickly.” Then I looked to the crying pile of human misery at my feet and sought the feeling of disgust that so many of my kin felt. But there was only a strange, unique sensation that at that time I neither understood, nor did I want to. „Get them moving, night comes quickly at this time of year!“

When we reached the city, it was already dark. Without cleansing ourselves, we dragged our offering to the great hall where we were eagerly awaited. We strode through the ranks of our relatives, our breathing heavy from the quick march, barely able to keep the rhythm of the tubular bells that had begun to sound upon our arrival. Under the high ceiling of the hall, our procession continued endlessly, lined by a wall of silent faces, mirrored in the shining floor of obsidian. My wife nodded to me from the crowd and I returned her gaze respectfully, yet I felt so out of place, with my dirty armour and bloody weapons, as if I myself were a barbarian.

The high Archon awaited us as the end of the hall under the round window, where the silver disc of the moon was moving into place.

The cold light of our lord appeared as a shining ray and shone down on the Archon and the Book of Sermons that lay on its massive pedestal of silver. The beam was so bright that the white pages of the book seemed to glow, bathing the book and the pure skin of the Archon in a surreal aura. This was the holiest hour, the brightest of the full moon. Murmurs of prayer floated like a fog of sounds from the hall.

My battlemaster passed me and knelt before the Archon on the polished obisidian while around me, my men fell to their knees in reverence. Only I remained standing. “The Dracon Craig Un’ Shallach comes before the Archon with an offering!” The Archon came out from behind the book, his long robe flowing around his slender figure and seemingly merging with the floor. His eyes measured us and his hard gaze punished us for the unworthy sacrifice. “You bring us a meager offering, dracon.” Then he looked at me and in our eyes, the old fight for power flared up, a fight that my caste had long lost. I remained silent and with an almost invisible smile, he turned away. “First, the man.”

Full of expectation, the hall murmured as the Archon stretched his left hand to the face of the human, a face distorted by fear. He dug the nails of his right hand into the palm of the left, opening his flesh in three wounds, from which dark drops of blood began to drip onto the human’s skin. At first, they persisted as black pearls. Then, as so many times before, it happened – the black drops began to twitch, to slide left and right. Legs appeared and turned the drops into black spiders, a legion of greedy servants of our lord that at once began to burrow into the human’s flesh. Screaming, the faithful servant of the sun began to squirm, while the Archon watched over his victim’s suffering with silent glee.

”Your flesh will decay, the price of your gods’ sacrilege. Your blood will flow as a sign of your weakness and for our lord’s pleasure!”

I gazed down upon that which I had seen so many times before and waited silently for the end, turning toward the within and seeking the pleasure and satisfaction, but could not find them. I looked into the eyes of the woman, saw her look at her dying husband, a desperate look filled with the full power of her senseless emotions, cutting his pain like a dagger and deep as the almighty sea of mourning. Those eyes paralyzed me. Then, as in a dream, I drew one of my blades and severed the screaming man’s head from his torso. A quick step, and the woman also fell to the ground, her throat slit.

An outcry and murmur filled the hall and I felt the unbelieving gaze of my men. The Archon stumbled, stunned by the outrage of my actions. “What have you done?” Confused, I sought an answer for something that I could not explain. As if from another, distant place, my voice sounded, strong and clear. “They were only peasants, their sacrifice not worthy of his hall.”

Silence surrounded me as I looked around. There I stood, my armour covered in the blood of the sun-believers, and was recognized for what I really was: A doubter, already tainted by the worshippers of the light, stained with the marking of their weakness. Rejection flowed like a wave of ice through the crowd and I stood alone.

Yet the Archon smiled his thin, almost invisible smile. I was the leader of my caste and untouchable to him, but in that instant I had given up my power. “Pray, brothers and sisters! May the wrath of the Silverweaver pass us by!”

I started to go, still numbed by my action, hoping that which was inevitable would not follow. “Dracon!” I froze. “You seem to be weary of your task and unable to complete your duties.” He said the formula, and though they were only words, not magic, he might as well have summoned the fire of Barga Gor upon me. “You will receive a new task. You will go to our fortresses in Urgath, where a new challenge will be waiting for you.” It had been said. Slowly, I turned to face him. “Exile?” “It is a long journey. You had best leave immediately.“

There was nothing left to do, nothing left to say. So I strode on, heading for the gate at the end of the hall, and with every thundering step of my armoured boots, the crowd seemed to part further, as though they feared me and the disease of weakness that had infected me.

The slaves, their mouths sewn shut, took hold of the handles and began to open the great gate for me. I turned to face my wife who stood silently in the sallow wall of faces. In her eyes, I searched for the power of the human woman’s final look, but could not find it, neither there nor in my heart.

So I just lowered my head in respect, turned and went through the gate, leaving the hall and my homeland.

From the writings of Craig Un´Shallach

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