Chapter 1: Ghosts of the Mighty Fallen
Two figures appeared on the sandy hill looking over an ancient city of pale red and orange stone. Neither man looked at the other, instead focusing on the waking city, glowing with inner fire, just one mile to the south. Eventually, the two men turned towards each other. Dalasin Mectar, grey-haired, frowning, and stoop-shouldered as he ever was in life, looked up into the sharply angled face of Atalin Danalath, with his pointed ears and fiery, emerald-green eyes, and then both men continued their silent vigil on the hill, looking ever towards the sleepy city. Just before the sun broke the horizon, Dalasin spoke.
“Were you sent with a message, or are you just here?”
Atalin took his time responding, as if trying to remember how to speak. “I only once saw An-Aniath with my waking eyes. I was summoned here to answer for crimes against Guinira. The real crime was bearing Taren’s endorsement for the throne. It did not matter to her that I lost, nor did it matter that Taren did not even cast his vote for me. It mattered only that I existed and could have been King. I was executed on this hill, at this exact spot, just as the sun breached the sky and the first bell rang.” Dalasin accepted Atalin’s answer, but being a practical man, he was still looking for the other ghost’s reason. “So, there is no reason for you being here.”
“This day will be the seventh anniversary of my execution. That length of time may be nothing to any living Morschen, but much has happened in that time that I did not live to see. I want to know what was and what should have been.”
Dalasin turned to face the taller ghost. He had not known Atalin well in life, but he wondered what the other man could have done for Anaria had he been spared. “And what about what will be? Don’t you care about that? We may be dead, but these are still our people.”
“What will be is no great mystery. The future will bring it to us whether we are prepared for it or not. In death, I need not worry about the tomorrows that may never come. Seven years’ worth of them has passed without giving even a first thought to my continuing dis-existence. An eternity and more shall pass in the same way.” Dalasin looked down at his feet, almost seeming ashamed that even in death he was so attached to the Morschen’s living world and their new struggle that, thanks to Guinira, he could have no part of. He wondered if he was not thankful that he had died before the Seven had truly returned.
“If Guinira had never been named, much of this would never have happened.”
“The Seven would still have come back.”
Dalasin shrugged, still looking at his feet. “But we would have been stronger. More ready to face them. United under one banner, the way Anaria was always meant to be.”
Atalin still wouldn’t look at Dalasin. He just kept staring at The Beacon, the Great Tower of Armanda, and the Golden Flame at its summit. “You speak as Taren once did, and it is not a speech that I ever enjoyed hearing; Anaria, under one banner.” He shook his head. “Would that truly have been better? I respected Taren, and truly did understand his desires for Anaria, but his methods left a great deal to be desired. He by himself could have left us more ready for the Seven’s return.” Atalin sighed. “Though such thoughts do occur, I try not to wonder what might have been, Dalasin. The gods of death chose us. It was our time. We still would have died. The Seven would still rule Anaria.” “But not by the hands of one who should have brought us all closer together. I find it hard to forgive her, Atalin.”
“Guinira was once too great to escape the notice of the Seven. The Kindler would have gone to her anyway, knowing that sooner or later, she could be tricked into bowing. Her power did not help us, though.” Atalin now turned and fixed his emerald-green eyes on Dalasin. “I will never forgive Guinira, Dalasin. A quick death on the battlefield is more than she deserves, but it may be that her redemption is still before her.” Dalasin couldn’t hold the disdain from his voice. “That choice will always be before her. I feel in my heart that she’ll never take it. She will continue to choose the path that is easy, not the path that’s right. She doesn’t have the strength of character to set herself against The Kindler now, not without some new force entering her mind.” “Such questions are too heavy for me to consider right now.”
“And yet we have eternity to ponder these things, Atalin. We’re dead.”
Atalin’s pale face, thin and sharp as it was in life, lifted with the suggestion of a smile. “We are ghosts of another time, left here to haunt those who dishonour the fallen by standing with our enemy. As for all of eternity? New worlds and other dimensions are now open to us. Death does not only cast his net towards the Morschen of Anaria. I should like to wander among the stars, and see the circles of other worlds. Demosira would kill themselves if they knew what possibilities Death could grant them.” “The mysteries of this world may be enough for them. They don’t like to leave anything to the imagination. They need to understand everything.” But Dalasin nodded slowly at Atalin’s statement about what doors dying had opened for the two of them, then glanced over his shoulder, towards the north. “But Death’s is just another net that the Garrenins manage to avoid. Why do they stay attached to Morieden Castle? They can’t appear anywhere else, so why even stay in this world at all?” “One hundred thousand Garrenins, and they all stand in the same doorway. They can manifest themselves more strongly than other Anarian shades, but only within the walls of Morieden. They feel the passing of time, they can recognize and speak to the living, and they can even see and speak to the ghosts of those who died after them. There are Demosira who devoted their lives to understanding the Garrenin Spirits. I cannot answer what they cannot answer.” Slowly, the ghosts of Guinira’s rise to power began to fade in the increasing light, turning to a faint silver sheen. Nobody but they saw themselves. Nobody heard the otherworldly discourse as the sun’s leading edge poked over the distant rim of the world. And not one of the seven hundred Deshik warriors noticed the two faint blurs in the air as they thundered past, speeding towards the not so distant city at the summons of their queen.