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Shadow Jewel: The Heart of Elovia

The Book

 ‘The past unites us, the future divides us’

The Empire of Elovia finds itself on the brink of a deep abyss, in danger of descending into yet another war. The only one who can save Elovia is the Demon girl who possesses the Ignorance stone. But the price will be high, for the Ignorance stone will bring not only peace, but great sorrow. A bitter battle breaks out between the Demons, the Diamondites and the Fairies, all seeking to influence fate in their favour. And thus good friends turn into enemies, heroes turn into murderers, and happy families become adversaries. Yet the strong bonds of the past bind the protagonists together to form an unbreakably bonded entity from which none of them can escape. Driven by the shadows of the past they recognise that they are not as free in their decision-making as they had thought.

 The Author

V.N. Black was born one cold December night in Munich. She earns her living as a psychologist in that city. She passionately enjoys reading fantasy novels and manga. 

Copyright

Shadow Jewel: The Heart of Elovia

Part I

A Novel

***

Copyright 2013 by Vanessa Natalie Black, Munich

Editor: Dr. Andreas Fischer

Translation:Cristel Elizabeth John

Printed 2013

Credits:CaligrafiaDivina font © by Intellecta Design;

Fabulous font © by Manfred Klein

Cover art: Vanessa Natalie Black

***

Song of Prophecy

The Past

Nothingness knows no here and now

No time, no decay, no past

Where Nothingness rules

No future will there be.

No birth, no death.

Elovia’s heart weeps,

Elovia’s heart plunges into darkness.

 

The Present

So tear down the walls

Of your arrogance

And see what remains.

In the end you will cry

For what you think you have lost,

And you will feel as if you had never lived.

Into ash disintegrated, burned in the night,

Only dust remains for you to love.

 

The Future

A girl between the realms

In the metamorphosis of the gemstones

Spawned from wrath and born of fury

Will emerge from the shadow of blood

With immeasurable power

To bring blessing or downfall to the peoples

The dark prince will burn in the black fire.

And all shall die so that all can be made new. 

FATE

 

 

 

 

Fate follows us like a shadow

Wherever we go...



Prologue: Wounds

Some sun years before:

Tracing the ornate script of an ancient tome with his finger the Demon reached the final paragraph and read it aloud.

Many sun years ago, there existed a powerful gemstone known as the Heart of Elovia. It stored the dreams of all living creatures and safeguarded them. One day, the jewel shattered into thousands and thousands of fragments, taking with it the light of hope. The alliance of the empires disintegrated and Elovia fell into an age of darkness, wars and excessive greed. Driven by those who had benefitted from the gemstone’s destruction, a new people and a new world order emerged and henceforth the Diamondites reigned.

Thorn closed the book with a resounding thud. Silence descended on the room, punctuated only by the contented gurgling of his small daughter.

“Is it true, Papa? Did the Diamondites come from the fragments of a gemstone?”

The Demon sovereign smiled wanly and placed his hand on his daughter’s tousled head. “Perhaps. Perhaps not. It’s only a legend, my treasure,” he told her.

“What’s a legend?”

Thorn smiled. “It’s a sort of fairy tale, my little one.”

“But Mama always said Fairy tales are just stories,” the child protested, hesitating before asking the question Thorn feared most of all:

“Papa, when is Mama coming back to us?”

Thorn bent his head, unable to give her the reply she craved.

“You should sleep now, my treasure,” he mumbled, evading her question. Then without another word he stormed out into the dark stone passageway, where he leant against the wall and took in deep breaths of air.

“She asked about Hereket again, didn’t she?” said a voice.

Thorn turned to see his brother, Feldar, standing there. Taken aback, he straightened up and nodded briefly. “Yes, she did.”

Feldar let out a deep sigh. When he replied his voice resonated with bitter accusation. “More and more Demon women are disappearing and not returning. It’s high time something was done. How much longer do you intend to stand by and watch our people suffering these injustices?”

“I’m doing what I can,” Thorn replied quietly.

“Then it’s not enough, dear brother!” snarled Feldar.

“Just speak the word and I will lead my warriors into battle against the denizens of the Diamondite Empire.”

Thorn understood his brother’s anger. He himself would happily march into battle that very day, but an opportunity to attack had not yet arisen.

“Patience, Feldar! We don’t know yet how we can defeat the stones without sacrificing a great many of our men. Let’s give the scouts more time to work something out.”

“Time?” Feldar scowled, raising his eyebrows. “You want to give that stone-wearing bastard more time? One could almost think you’re one of them! No, my brother, my patience is exhausted. If you don’t give me the command to attack, I shall take it upon myself!”

The disrespectful way Feldar spoke to him angered Thorn. Baring his fangs he approached his brother and grasped his throat with a clawed fist.

“Don’t forget who’s in charge here! You may be my brother, but you are the sovereign’s warlord – MY warlord! And it is I who decides when you can take my troops into battle. Disobey me, and you will be guilty of high treason. I won’t allow men to die because of you and your impatience. Do we understand one another?”

Feldar, whose face reflected all sorts of emotions, none of them pleasing to Thorn, bared his own fangs in response and tore Thorn’s claws away from his throat.

“I am ready to bear the consequences; are you too, my brother?” he snarled contemptuously. Then he swept past the Demon sovereign and disappeared without a further word.

Nettled, Thorn watched him go and hoped that his hothead brother would cause him no more worry than was already the case. Downcast, he returned to his chamber. As he closed the door a familiar scent assailed his nostrils.

“Alrruna?” he inquired coldly, though his body felt anything but cold. She sat there smiling at him, her legs crossed lasciviously with her skirt exposing more of her than it concealed. The sight of her never failed to arouse him. No matter how much he swore to himself he would resist her advances, he succumbed to her again and again. She was a seducer and mercilessly exploited his loneliness and his manhood.

“Thorn, my dearest", she whispered, swaying towards him, every step a calculated movement to ensnare him. He could barely conceal his arousal and only with great difficulty did he succeed in suppressing the throbbing sensation growing in his groin.

“It’s still early evening. You could be seen. You must leave now."

Ignoring his words, Alrruna slowly began to undress him, covering him with butterfly kisses as she did so.

“Stop!” he protested half-heartedly, while trying to wriggle out of his trousers. She simply smiled at him.

“May I ask you something, Thorn?”

He wiped the sweat from his brow and gave her a sceptical look. “What is it?”

The Fairy pursed her cherry lips: “Do you desire me?”

Thorn’s face took on a mocking expression. “Is that your question?” He shook his head. "What do you really want to know, Alrruna?” He may be a lovesick fool unable to resist her charms, but he was no pushover. A Fairy Queen knows when someone desires her and needs no affirmation of that. As if to confirm his suspicions she gave him a weak smile.

“I’ll frame my question differently then. Just how strong is your desire for me¸ my Prince? What would you be prepared to do for me?”

Thorn grimaced. “You ask me what I’d be prepared to do for you. Well, what would you like me to do?”

Alrruna toyed with her silky curls, twisting the strands of hair around her delicate fingers. Thorn stared at her, hypnotised by the sight of her slender hands weaving themselves through her tresses.

“I have something to tell you, Thorn. Something extremely important that...“

A loud bang on the door interrupted what she was about to say. Thorn hastily shifted his position. If someone should enter the room unbidden and find a Fairy in his sleeping quarters there would be a huge scandal in his empire. The Sovereign of the Demons in bed with a Fairy while his beloved wife has been missing for many moons - unthinkable! He could well imagine that pretty soon people would be questioning whether it was even true that he’d had nothing to do with Hereket’s disappearance. He propelled Alrruna into hiding behind the door, and opened it to find his brother standing there, reacting with mock horror at the sight of Thorn’s nakedness.

“Am I disturbing you?” he sneered as he tried to elbow his way into the room.

“No.” Thorn rasped, filling the doorframe to keep Feldar from entering.

“Well well,” Feldar murmured sarcastically, sniffing the air dramatically so that Thorn would get the message.

“Are you wearing a new scent? Does the smell of smoke and soot no longer please your nostrils?” He sniffed the air again as if to establish what scent it was. “It seems you prefer a more feminine fragrance. Attar of roses, is it not?”

Thorn let out an exasperated snort and stepped through the door, making sure that Feldar could not see into the room.

“What’s up?” he snarled, his eyes gleaming fiery red. Feldar leaned back, his battle-tested arms folded across his broad chest.

“My men have found Hereket!”

“Hereket?” Thorn spluttered and felt his knees grow weak. “Is she alive?”

“Well, more or less. But she’s in a bad way.” Feldar paused meaningfully.

“And there’s something else.” He bent down and whispered something in Thorn’s ear that turned the Demon a deathly white. He leaned against the chilly wall for support. An indefinable feeling seemed to want to devour him, and he gripped Feldar’s arm as if in a stupor.

“Get the best healers, spare no expense...”

Feldar nodded and asked, “What about ... well, you know? What are we going to do with it?”

Thorn wrinkled his brow as if he didn’t understand what his brother was talking about; then he answered him quietly. “Nothing! You will do nothing at all.”

Feldar started to object, but Thorn curtly brushed his commander aside.

“Go, I tell you! Do as I have commanded.” Just as Feldar turned to go, he added: “Release the Deathflyers. They are going to pay for what they did to Hereket.”

Feldar was unable to suppress a triumphant smile. “As you wish, Sovereign.”

Thorn returned to his chamber in a daze, swept past the waiting Fairy and sank into an armchair. The bloodhounds that had been sleeping near the fire lifted their thorny heads and growled. A strange quiet had settled over the room, even the crackling of the fire seemed more subdued than before.

“Alrruna, please go! What was once between us is no more. The rightful mistress has returned.”

For a brief moment Alrruna froze at the news, but then her face assumed a mask of indifference.

“The thing I wanted to speak to you about Thorn was ... “

“Didn’t you hear me?” he hissed in a rage, flames darting from his fingertips as he pointed at the secret door.

“Be off with you!”

Something changed in Alrruna’s face. Affection was replaced in an instant by cold hatred. But this dangerous change was lost on Thorn and he failed to sense the sudden chill that had fallen over the room. He merely winced as the Fairy swept past him, slamming the secret door behind her with a loud clang.

Not until he was completely alone did Thorn dare to vent his worry and wrath. His cries echoed within the old walls and deep in his heart he remembered the bitter-sweet desire he had felt when he had savoured the delicate body of the Fairy, while his wife might have been suffering all kinds of torments. Now she had been found, injured and confused. Now it was his turn to injure and confuse those responsible. He felt the air grow chill and it was as if a dark veil had fallen over the castle, wrapping everything in impenetrable darkness. He sensed a great danger approaching – but what was it? Where had these sinister misgivings that had befallen him come from, now that it looked as if all was going to be well and Hereket would at last assume her rightful place at his side as Queen?

Shuddering, he rubbed his arms, trying to ward off the dank chills and nebulous whisperings of the castle, warning of impending doom. However, there was no stopping them. On the contrary, they were becoming louder and louder. Doom. Doom is coming. Blackest night. It approaches. It’s coming. It’s in her blood. Disaster, half-blood, child death, sorrow, darkest night. All these she will bring to your family.

“Stop!” Thorn roared into the night; thus affronted, the voices fell silent. “Bloody bats,” he muttered enraged and left the room to go and meet his wife.

Half-blood

Lilit shifted and fidgeted as she tried to find a comfortable position on the filthy floor of her prison. Her gemstone had lost its brilliance in the all-pervasive dust; its fading gleam reminded her of her own mortality. She seemed to have lain there in the dirt awaiting her fate for rather a long time. She had no hope of being rescued; she was a slave. Not only that, she was a half-blood, half Demon, half Diamondite, a creature that had no right to even exist. She spun around at the sound of clanging footsteps that signalled the unmistakable approach of a warrior. She knew only warriors were allowed to wear iron-shod boots and fear arose within her. Searchers were said to be in the area on the lookout for rebels and runaways; it was more than likely one of them would decide to take a look at the inmates of the slave dungeon.

Withdrawing her emaciated body into the cover of darkness, she shielded her gemstone’s gleam with her hand. Keeping her head low she waited for the footsteps to pass her by, as they had so many times before, but this time luck was not on her side. The boots and their wearer stopped directly in front of her; she stared in utter disbelief at their worn leather.

“Let’s see your face, girl!” a rough voice commanded. Lilit’s last hope evaporated in an instant and despite the man’s harsh commanding tone she gave no reaction, but just sat there without moving.

“Trying to ignore me, are you?” he barked. A pair of knees came into her view as he crouched before her and ran his fingers through her hair.

“What an extraordinary shade this is! Black-violet is normally the hair colour of Demons or Fairies; Ah, I see you’re wearing a gemstone! Let me take a look at your eyes.”

She snapped her eyes shut, not wanting him to see the golden irises that would betray her Demon origins.

“Won’t you look at me?” he asked. She heard a scraping sound. From behind half-closed lids she saw that he was pushing a water pitcher in her direction. She had had nothing to drink for quite a while and her throat was parched and sore. Eyelids shut tight she reached for the handle of the earthenware vessel and drew it towards her. Greedily she lapped the cool refreshing water, fearing the man might change his mind and take it from her.

“Won’t you look at me in return for my kindness?” he asked again. She stopped drinking and relaxed her hold on the pitcher, even though her thirst was not fully quenched. The man took a deep breath and moved the pitcher out of her reach.

“Not everyone is as patient as I am. If you want to survive here, you need to show more respect.” Through her narrowed eyes she saw his scarred hand reach for her gemstone, but before he could grasp it she jerked away from him. With the sudden movement she lost her balance on the slippery straw and toppled backwards, eyes wide with fear, revealing her yellow-gold irises to the man’s intense scrutiny.

“Good lord! Your eyes ... you’re a half-blood!” he spluttered, his voice thick with emotion. Lilit bit her lower lip and quickly turned her head to the mouldy dungeon wall. Half-blood, she thought with bitterness, yes, she was a confounded half-blood.

Without saying another word he pushed the water pitcher back to her, got up and left. As she watched him go she could see another figure lurking in the darkness. It had the shape of a woman, a beautiful woman. She was wearing a blood red diamond. Lilit kept her eyes fixed on the man’s back Something is missing she thought, something is not quite right, but no sooner had the thought occurred to her than it disappeared again and all that remained was the disturbing feeling that she had just had a close encounter with death.

The victim

Alrruna snatched up the floor-length gown that floated around her slender frame in the mild southerly breeze and hurried down the weather-worn stone steps. Their covering of soft grass brushed her bare feet as she descended. But what once would have pleased her, today she barely noticed as she hurried several steps at a time towards the dark shape waiting motionless below.

Short of breath at the foot of the steps she reached out her hand to greet Thorn, but withdrew it again when he refused to take it. So much time had elapsed since their last encounter.

“Thorn. It pleases me that you have accepted my invitation. I was afraid you would not come.”

“Your concern was not entirely unfounded, Fairy Alrruna. I have no idea what there is to talk about.” Her pleasant smile faded.

“Thorn, please,” she begged, her voice dangerously emollient.“We must talk about what happened.”

Seeing the grim look on his face she corrected herself. “Not what happened between us. I’m talking about what happened with Hereket...”

Thorn raised his head and peered down at the slender woman standing at his feet. He towered over her by three heads and more. Struggling to see her better, he shielded his eyes with one hand from the glare of the light. She smiled at him apologetically.

“Forgive me, Thorn, I had forgotten how much the light of our world bothers you. Come, let us go to my place where it is comfortably dark.”

He lowered his hand from his watering eyes and gratefully accepting Alrruna’s offer followed her as she nimbly climbed the steps to a small house atop the green cliff.

Thorn’s black suit of armour clanked rhythmically as he made his way up behind her. At the top of the climb stood a modest dwelling, but Thorn was not fooled by the unpretentious façade. Following Alrruna into the house through a simple wooden door, he found himself suddenly surrounded by a miniature biotope. The entire room overflowed with brightly coloured flowers, garlands, twittering birds and delicate silver fountains. Alrruna motioned to a wicker chair standing amidst vibrant shrubs and foliage, and he sat down. The Fairy positioned herself on a divan directly opposite him. As if by accident, the strap of her dress had slipped from her shoulder, exposing the swell of a firm white breast.

Amused by his lustful glances, she allowed the strap to slide even further, all the while eyeing him with sugary innocence. Thorn clenched his fists and tore his eyes away from her seductive pose.

“What is it you wish to talk about, Alrruna?” She fluttered her long eyelashes.

“Even out of bed, you are always in a hurry,” she scolded in an amused voice and placed her hand in his lap. Thorn brushed it away contemptuously.

“Look, just tell me what you want!” More than a little offended, she registered his rebuff with some surprise.

“I said nothing when you released the Deathflyers and I didn’t meddle in your family’s concerns, even though you made the terrible mistake of having ‘it’ locked up. But now I hear that the Demons are planning to wage war against the Diamondites.”

“It?” Thorn reiterated with cold emphasis.

Her!” Alrruna corrected herself and got straight to the point without any further words of apology.

“It is vital that you do not start a war.”

“For whom or what is it vital, my love? For your empire, the Diamondites’ empire, or mine?” he asked.

“Listen to me,” said the Fairy, "if you attack the Diamondites out of Revenge, they will band together against us. At the moment their people are divided and quarrelling among themselves. They are destroying each other, hell bent on increasing the power of their gemstones. A war, however, might unite them and then the Prophecy would be in great danger.”

“You mean to tell me you believe in the Prophecy? I wouldn’t have thought that you believe in folk tales!” But Alrruna paid no attention to his mockery and continued unruffled.

“For the sake of Elovia, you must not make war!” Thorn shook his head reluctantly.

“I don’t believe in the Prophecy. I trust only in my men. Soon they will make the Diamondites’ life hell. My people are no longer prepared to stand by and watch these stones continue to poison our world with their lust for blood and suffering. I would sooner die than let that continue.”

“Thorn, be sensible. I know how we can save Elovia without having to make any sacrifices at all.” Thorn leaned forward in his chair, his armour grating heavily on his pounding chest.

“What sacrifices are you talking about, Fairy?” Alrruna squirmed in her chair. Rose petals fluttered from a nearby bush and spilled across the wooden floor.

“I sacrificed my daughter’s innocence by sending her to the empire of the Diamondites, where she is now the slave of a warrior who plays an important role in the Prophecy.”

Thorn sucked in his breath with surprise before raising his head and waiting to hear what else the Fairy had to say. He couldn’t help feeling it would have something to do with his family. He didn’t have to wait long before Alrruna confirmed his bitter suspicion.

“I expect you to make the same sacrifice. To save Elovia you must sacrifice Hereket’s daughter.”

Thorn leapt from his chair, his sharp fangs gleaming menacingly, as his lips drew back in a snarl.

“What business do you have demanding that of me, even to mention such a monstrous thing?” Flames shot from his hands and the pale floor boards began to burn. The flowers nearest to him and the surrounding grass withered under the sudden burst of heat.

The Fairy queen drew herself up to her full height, threw back her head and snapped her fingers. Torrential rain clattered down on Thorn and the smouldering grass until the last spark was extinguished. Alrruna angrily inspected the large burnt spot on the patch of floor and threw him a resentful look.

“What’s the problem, Thorn? Since when do you care about this child? You keep her locked up like an animal and all of a sudden you pretend to be so very concerned. Leave her to me and soon you will be free of all the shadows of the past.”

Only the Demon’s angry breathing broke the silence that followed as he struggled to find the right words. Finally he found them. In a hoarse voice that left no doubt as to his seriousness he snapped, “You shall not have our daughter! In addition, should you dare to draw my family into this madness, I shall pay you a visit that will be hateful in the extreme. I trust you understand me!”

Alrruna bowed coolly and showed him the door.

“I understand. You would rather hang onto a disturbed and sick child than save Elovia.”

Thorn felt little inclination to listen to any more of her nonsense. At her bidding he strode towards the door; before reaching it he swung around and stared into the Fairy’s unreadable blue eyes.

“Believe it or not, I love her!”

The corners of Alrruna’s mouth twitched and in a voice dripping with scorn and derision she replied:

“But of course you do.”

With a snort the Demon Lord turned on his heel and stepped through the door towards his Deathflyer that, homing in on its master, now awaited him on the cliff nearby.

The door flew open behind him and Thorn heard a shrill challenge launched at his retreating back.

“You call yourself the Demon Lord? Wouldn’t the title Lord Protector of the Diamondites suit you better?”

Once again Alrruna had succeeded in provoking him. Impervious to the weight of his armour, with a few raking strides he was back at her doorway, and gripping her soft arms in his mailed fists he forced her slender frame back against its wooden panels. The wind in the bay at the foot of the cliffs began to howl and rain soaked through her blue gown and his clothing.

She smelled of warm spring meadows and Thorn was almost overwhelmed by the sound of her heart beating wildly as he pressed himself against her softness. Her lissom frame nestled against his unyielding armoured body with an exceptional delicacy. Filled with an impetuous passion nourished more by wrath than by love, her blazing eyes and glowing beauty dazzled him momentarily before he was able to regain control of his emotions and tear himself away from her.

“As you wish, Alrruna! I’ll give you more time. But no matter what happens, I shall never sacrifice my loved ones.”

Her eyes flashed with passion as she reached out and clutched him.

“You can never save them. Never!” she hissed. “Your misfortune began when Hereket disappeared and it won’t end until the child dies. That is what I have foreseen, Thorn, and that’s how it will be.”

The Demon ripped her hands from his body and crushed them until she screamed with pain.

“Just a few more days, that’s all I’ll give you!” he growled and tore himself away from her beautiful but dangerous countenance.

Without another word he headed for his Deathflyer and swung himself onto its back.

“Don’t go!” Alrruna rapped out in a tone of command. Thorn gave a thin-lipped smile. The Fairy was no more accustomed to rejection than he was to taking orders. Another rain shower came down as he flew off, leaving Alrruna standing alone outside her home.

“Accursed Fairy”, he spat, squinting to keep the rain out of his eyes. He hated water and she had shamefully exploited this. He shook himself like a wet dog as he urged forward his snarling steed. Back in his own territory, where the sun shone with only a fraction of the brightness of the Fairy’s realm, he relaxed and let his Deathflyer choose its own path. He closed his smarting eyes and brooded over his problem, but was unable to come up with a satisfactory solution.

His Deathflyer was preparing to land, heading towards the looming volcano-studded mountain range of Thorn’s empire. Hereket awaited him, eager for news. Barely had he disembarked from the Deathflyer than she ran to him breathless with curiosity beneath the creature’s huge jaws.

“What did the Fairy have to say for herself?” she wanted to know.

“Thank you Darling, yes, I had a very pleasant flight,” he grumbled with some irritation, before turning his mind to her question.

“Nothing; she said absolutely nothing,” he lied. Hereket’s golden eyes interrogated his.

“But she must have said something...”

“Well, nothing in particular,” he repeated pushing past her impatiently. With gentle insistence she placed a hand on his arm to detain him.

“You mean to tell me the Fairy Queen invited you to visit her just like that, for no special reason? With little apparent concern for her feelings, Thorn freed himself from her grasp and pressed on.

“Yes, something of that sort.”

“Thorn” she implored. Something in her voice caused him to turn in his tracks. “Are you hiding something from me?” He closed his eyes and stepped closer to his wife, inhaling her smoky, sultry aroma.

“No, my dearest, it concerned the war; something that should neither burden your heart nor weigh upon your spirit.” He kissed her soft hair and hurried away, unable to meet her sceptical gaze.

The Fallen Guardian

Meanwhile, in another empire, a quick-silvered beauty shimmered out of the shadows where she had been concealing herself.

“You’ve lost control of him, Queen. Are you growing old or is he becoming immune to your charms?”

The Fairy turned slowly, as if to draw attention to her womanly silhouette. “Don’t you worry about him,” she said, “he will do as I wish, just as he always has.”

Fanjolia made no effort to conceal her mirthless grin, and arched her back. “Why do you want the Demon’s child?” she asked.

For a moment the Fairy was purposely silent and stooped to inspect the dragon baby at Fanjolia’s feet. “Can the mirror see us?” she asked.

Fanjolia shook her head. Her outspread wings glistened wondrously in the strong sunlight.

“No, as long as the dragon is here with us the mirror’s power is limited. No one will be able to hear or see us, so you may speak freely.”

Alrruna eyed the scaly creature critically and decided she would trust the Fangar’s words. "His daughter has something that could help us save Elovia. At the moment she is not yet conscious of her powers, but when she awakes we must be in a position to harness them. It has not yet been determined which of the girls will be the one who will save Elovia."

The Fangar smiled mysteriously. “Very well! I shall send the Dragonfly into the empire of the Demons; as soon as something changes it will let us know, Fairy. However, what about the other girl you mentioned? What do we do with her?”

“My daughter will see to that. She will make sure that nothing happens to the girl until we have a use for her.”

The Fangar laughed and spread her wings. “I must get back to my father before he starts missing me. You know what he thinks about you Fairies,” she cackled, louder and colder than before. “And how right he is to distrust each and every one of you!”

The Stoneless One

Just as Lilit began to feel she could relax again, the man turned on his heel in her direction, accompanied this time by the woman with the red diamond. It wasn’t until the woman knelt in front of her that Lilit noticed her pointed ears. The woman was a Fairy!

“What do you think?” the man asked. The woman took hold of Lilit’s hand and pulled it towards her. Almost immediately Lilit sensed the intense power of the woman’s healing gemstone, and a feeling of shame came over her. All she had was a useless Ignorance stone, a rough diamond that hadn’t found its direction. Although Lilit knew there was something unique about being a Half-blood with a gemstone, the knowledge gave her little joy. Her gemstone held her captive between two worlds - she was neither Demon nor Diamondite.

The healer’s nimble fingers took Lilit’s hands and before she could prevent her, the woman had wiped away the all the concealing dirt with a damp cloth. Lilit hung her head. Now all was lost.

“She bears the sign! She’s a Rev - a Revolutionary!” the woman whispered, carelessly letting go of Lilit’s hand. The air in the dungeon suddenly seemed more stifling than before; every breath burned her lungs; her thoughts raced. Until now, she had merely been unfree, but now that her sign had been discovered she would be handed over to the Searchers. They would first torture her and then have her killed.

“Let me see!” the man commanded the Fairy and bent his head to inspect Lilit’s hands for himself. He studied the characteristic scar intently.

“Who has seen the scar? Not Yan I hope, or one of the other prisoners?” Lilit was silent. “Answer me!” he bellowed.

"No one has seen it. It’s just a scar,” she replied weakly.

“Is that so? Just a scar you say?” He made no effort to conceal the scepticism in his voice. “What’s your name, girl?”

“Lilit," she whispered, exhausted.

Lilit,” he said, rolling the word off his tongue as if trying to assess the sound of it. Then he fell silent and didn’t stir again until the woman next to him began nervously clearing her throat. With a determined looked on his face, he dug into his pocket and drew out a velvet pouch. “Yan, I’ve found something I’d like to buy from you.”

Lilit’s gaze fell on the sheathed sword he wore at his hip; she stared at it transfixed. Her gemstone was making little squeaking noises, but she was unable to take her eyes off the sword.

“What do you want from me?” she asked the man at last. “Are you a Wari, or are you a Searcher who’s going to kill me now?” The man’s reply came quicker than she expected.

“To answer your first question – it’s possible that I’m a Wari. So far, however, I’ve no interest in selling you to the Searchers. To answer your second question - no, I’m not going to kill you, unless you try to escape, or attack me with your gemstone,” He glanced at her diamond as if sizing it up. “I doubt, however, that you would be capable of that. Your diamond looks as pallid as your skin. A picture of health you most certainly are not.”

“My diamond?” Lilit whispered as if a veil had been lifted from her eyes. Suddenly she knew what it was about this man that had disturbed her. He had no diamond! Worse, he didn’t even have an aura. There was nothing, absolutely nothing. He had no diamond, not even an aura. He seemed unnaturally strange, as if he were just half a being, incomplete. It just wasn’t possible. A Diamondite without a gemstone was something no one had ever seen. Lilit swallowed and moved further away from this ‘creature’, or whatever it was. The summoned slave trader planted himself squarely in front of her, a dark look on his face.

“You mean to tell me you want this little rascal?” he asked gruffly. “Well, she’s not for sale.”

The other man threw a confused look at the girl prisoner and raised his shoulders quizzically. “But why not, Yan? Why on earth would you want to keep this girl?”

“Because I’ve a personal score to settle with her," the slave trader replied. Lilit lowered her eyes as Yan dug the end of his whip into her shoulder. “The little tramp stays here with me!”

Lilit was surprised to hear the strange, stoneless man laugh. “Ah, so she did defend herself, did she? Just as I thought, she’s not as insignificant as she seems,” he said.

Yan spat out in disgust. “She’s a whore! She deserves nothing better than to die here. I want to see her suffer.”

The slave trader sighed. "Very well then, it all comes down to money in the end. What’s your asking price?”

Lilit saw the covetous look on Yan’s face and how his eyes lit up in expectation of a tasty profit.

“Ten gold coins,” he said.

“Ten?” The warrior gave a cold laugh. "She’s not worth that much, you thief!”

“Ten,” the slave trader insisted, running his tongue over his thick lips.

“I’ll give you two gold coins – and that’s still far too much!”

“Five! Otherwise I’ll keep her myself, Barrn.”

‘Barrn...’ The name shot through Lilit’s head. It rang a bell, reminded her of something. But, like her past, it had vanished into a thick, impenetrable fog. The few remaining fragments of her memory of those days were tied up with the assassination of her parents by the Searchers. They would probably have succeeded in killing her too had not a warrior grabbed her, thrust a dagger into her hand and helped her make a getaway before he turned back into the tumult. Abandoned and left to her own devices, she had wandered around for days, trying to find shelter in the surrounding villages; but no one was interested in helping a rebel girl. The fear of retribution was too great. In the end she had joined the slaves of Elovia until they were all captured by slave traders and taken away. All she had left now was the warrior’s dagger, a magic dagger invisible to all, as long as it didn’t make contact with blood.

Barrn’s voice tore her out of her ruminations. “Yan, Yan! You know who I work for, don’t you?”

The slave trader was becoming increasingly restless. Finally, taking into account the profit he stood to make, he summoned up the last of his courage and made a fresh offer. "Four gold coins. The girl is healthy; she can bring you a good profit.”

“Healthy! You call that healthy? Just look at her, covered all over with blood, running a fever and by the looks of it she won’t be able to work again. Unless she sees a healer she isn’t going to live much longer. You are and always have been a cheat.”

“What do you want with her then?” Yan growled.

The Wari simply chuckled to himself. “Let me put it this way, she has a certain idealistic worth.”

Yan was about to respond sharply, but decided otherwise and simply shrugged. “Three gold coins then. I won’t take anything less!”

Barrn examined Lilit once more from head to toe. “I’ve made my offer. Two gold coins. Take it or leave it...”

The threat hung in the air. For a moment the slave trader was dumbfounded. Stony-faced he agreed to the deal. “Two gold coins and she’s yours. But I hope she dies sooner than you expect.”

Barrn gave him a cold smile. “Sooner than she would if she stayed with you? I hardly think so! Treat your slaves better and you’ll get a better price for them, you fool!”

Yan made an imperious gesture and unlocked the iron shackle around Lilit’s leg. As the chain fell away she staggered to her feet with some difficulty. Her limbs ached from the strain of the unnatural position she’d had to assume in her prison. Her gemstone, now just a dull gleam, had sucked all the energy from her body, but she took no notice and looked around as if in search of something.

“Dana…" she cried, straining her eyes to see in the darkness, but there was no response. The slave was nowhere to be seen. “Where is she? She can’t stay here. She must come with me!” she wailed.

For a moment Barrn’s countenance grew sombre and he let out a sigh. “I need just you, no one else.”

Lilit clenched her fists. Why was her gemstone so utterly useless, incapable of helping either her or her friends? She hated it and the way it just gleamed stupidly, unable to find its true direction.

As her anger and frustration grew her gemstone began to shine brighter and brighter, until a blazing flare shattered the dirt encrusting its surface and flooded the room with a blinding light. Even Barrn was forced to raise his hands to protect his eyes. They watered as he blinked against the light and reached for Lilit’s arm.

“Stop it right now! You’re wasting all your energy on your stone. It can’t help you anyway. What you are doing is useless.” His words incensed Lilit even more and although she could feel the gemstone using up the last of her reserves, she forced yet more power into it. Now the entire room was brightly lit into the farthest corner.

“Fayn!” she heard the stoneless man call out, “Do something, before her gemstone kills her!”

Suddenly she felt soft arms wrap themselves around her body and red light flowed from the Fairy’s fingertips directly into her gemstone. The rage in her heart subsided, and as her anger died away her gemstone’s rays faded with it.

The Fairy’s head lay heavy upon Lilit’s shoulder as she pressed her cheek into the curve of Lilit’s neck. “Your gemstone is never your friend, you know. It is your greatest enemy. Remember that the next time you carelessly think of giving it your lifeblood.”

Overwhelmed by her emotions and the red gemstone’s healing power, Lilit sank onto her knees and wept. Red dew droplets purled from her jewel. Looking down, she saw that it was radiating a blood-red light. Somewhat irritated she ran her forefinger over the edges of her stone. Suddenly the colour disappeared. She blinked and saw that her diamond had returned to its original colour. Nobody had seemed to notice the transformation, and she tucked it away discreetly under her shirt.

Barrn nodded to his guards. They seized Lilit and dragged her out of the building to an enormous wheeled waggon drawn by four kenyas waiting outside. She savoured the cool breeze in the twilight and drew in deep breaths of air. No matter how dust-filled it was, it was oh so pleasant. She wanted to rid her body of the smell of death and suffering.

The guards allowed her a few moments to catch her breath before proceeding to lead her unceremoniously towards the waggon. Lilit braced herself against its wooden frame, but the guards were unrelenting and bundled her into the vehicle without any further ado. She crashed onto the rough wooden floor, grazing her knees and scraping open her old wounds. Rolling onto her side she was able to catch a glimpse of the sky before the door was bolted shut and she was left in the darkness of her new prison. She pulled herself up and steadied herself against the side of the waggon. There was a jolt and they were off.

As Lilit’s eyes gradually grew accustomed to the darkness she spotted several cracks in the wood where weak moonlight seeped through, providing some illumination. Her first impulse was to kick the door, but considering her weakened state she dropped the idea. Besides, all it would get her would be a sprained ankle and a gloating look from the Wari, and she had no intention of giving him the satisfaction!

Hours passed and the kenyas had fallen into a steady trot. Lilit felt increasingly miserable as a fever ravaged her body and her gemstone drew on her last reserves. She groaned and closed her eyes, trying to disconnect herself from her stone, but she couldn’t shake its hold on her.

When the waggon eventually came to a stop, the door was flung open; but she found herself unable to even lift her head. She was aware of a dark shadow and after a moment realised that it was Barrn. He sat down beside her.

“How are you?” he asked quietly. She knew he expected an answer, but she remained silent for a moment and stared blankly at him while she tried to decide whether his question was a serious one. He held up a water tube to her lips.

“If you’d listened to me you wouldn’t be feeling so awful now. Instead you let your gemstone drain your energy reserves to the dregs. Gemstones are insidious creatures and think only of their own welfare.” He gave a sigh. “But what’s done is done and cannot be changed. Oh yes, and before my anger over your boneheaded behaviour makes me forget, my name is Barrn and I’m the one who bought you."

“Barrn," she croaked, her tongue heavy in her mouth. “What is it you want from me?”

Instead of answering her straight away, he trickled a little water into her mouth. Parched with thirst she would have dearly liked to tear the tube from his hand and gulp down its contents. But she found herself too tired to even lift a hand.

“I can’t answer your question because I haven’t worked it out for myself yet,” he replied. He seemed serious and Lilit found herself actually believing him. Ignoring her thirst, she pushed the tube aside and continued to question him.

“But there must be a reason...” she insisted. The Wari, seemingly lost in his own thoughts, was allowing the precious liquid to trickle from the side of her mouth onto her clothing. Not until half of the water had leaked away into her clothes did he notice and swiftly raise the tube again.

“I don’t owe you an explanation. You are my property. I bought you. That’s all there is to it.”

So there it was, Lilit thought somewhat bitterly, she was nothing more than livestock. Seeing her shiver despite the stifling heat inside the waggon, Barrn threw her a worn blanket.

“There, that’ll have to do,” he said and left without another word. It was obvious she had annoyed him, but she couldn’t think why. She heard the scraping sound as he locked the door from the outside. Tired and completely exhausted she fell into a comatose sleep.

Faraway voices registered vaguely in her head; she found herself unable to grasp what the words meant. Then she heard a voice she thought she recognised.

“How is she?”

“She’s been asleep like that for nigh on two days already. Can you help her?”

A crackly, exasperated voice she didn’t recognise at all answered.

“She’s a half-blood? What do you expect from a Demon with a gemstone? I say let her die. She’s nothing but a useless slave. What do you want with her?”

A shrivelled hand reached under the slave girl’s chin and tilted her head, inspecting it from every angle.

“She’s good for nothing I tell you.”

“When I ask you something I expect a precise answer. That’s all,” Barrn barked. The hands let go of Lilit’s chin and pulled up the skin above her eyelids, causing her to groan with resentment because of the light.

“Hmm... The wounds can probably be treated, but there is no remedy for her gemstone. Like all diamonds, it strives after power. Her body wasn’t meant to have a gemstone. It will destroy her.”

“You attend to her wounds. I’ll think about the gemstone in due course,” Barrn barked impatiently. Lilit could hear the other man bickering.

“Your father would be appalled if he found out whom you’ve dragged into my tent!” There was an unpleasant silence; after a long pause Barrn demanded in a forbidding tone:

“Are you threatening me, old man?” Fear seemed to grip the entire room and Lilit could literally taste the old man’s terror.

“No, Sir,” he stammered. I’d never dream of threatening you. I’ll tend to the half-blood right away.”

Once again this stoneless warrior Barrn was bringing fear and loathing to those around him. Lilit heard him get up to leave. His steps grated across the sand and he flung back the tent flap, leaving her alone with the strange man. She went on pretending to be fast asleep, all the while squinting under her thick eyelashes to see what was going on. All of a sudden the silence was broken by the sound of voices. Lilit’s ears pricked up, but try as she would she could only make out snatches of the conversation.

“He... must... it... discover... tell... Demon girl… Azra... go... next... “

The whispering suddenly stopped and there was a commotion in the tent. Lilit could bear it no longer and half opened her eyes to take in the scene. Barrn had returned to the tent. He bent over the old man, his sword in his right hand. The ease with which he handled his weapon astonished Lilit. She had completely underestimated his slim stature. He might be stoneless, she thought to herself, but he certainly wasn’t defenceless. The warrior was pointing the tip of his sword at the old man’s chest. He had put up his arms in self-defence. Lilit recognized the croaky voice straight away.

“Sir,” he stammered, “I had to do it. No one can defy your father, me included. Don’t hurt me.”

The Wari shook his head; if he had ever felt any pity at all for the old man, it had now disappeared.

“How could you dare to double cross me?” he hissed. The old man was trembling all over.

“Sir,” he blurted out, “Your father will find you; I’ve made sure of that.” A strange expression came over the Wari’s face, a mixture of horror and genuine pity. “You have betrayed me! No one who double crosses me goes unpunished!”

Barrn had barely uttered the last word when with cold determination he drove his sword into the old man’s chest. The man was dead before he even realised what was happening. As red blood gushed from the wound the Wari jerked his sword from his victim’s body and turned away in disgust.

Lilit stared appalled at the dead man lying motionless in his blood on the ground. She was disconcerted, not only by the cruelty she had just witnessed, but also by the perfection of his sword’s fatal thrust. Barrn must be well-trained in battle, she thought, at any rate he certainly was capable of deadly precision. Both qualities suggested he’d spent considerable time as a soldier or a mercenary. One thing he obviously lacked, however, was compassion.

Before she could dwell on her thoughts any longer, the tent flap was flung back and a second man stepped inside. He was dragging behind him an agitated young boy who was twisting and turning, screaming and shouting. The boy’s little feet kicked at his captor’s shins and the man cursed and tried his best to evade him. Immediately Lilit could feel the aura of two gemstones, one warm and soft with a violet glow, the other raging and uncontrolled, with a greyish glimmer. They could hardly have been more conflicting.

“Skat!” Barrn called out, relieved. “I was beginning to think you were never coming back.”

Skat rolled his eyes. “This little nuisance is faster than you can imagine.”

He let go of the boy, but no sooner had he done so than the little devil seized the opportunity to try and escape. Briskly and nimbly he darted towards the way out, but Barrn was quicker. He leapt forward, grabbed the would-be runaway by the collar and plucked him off his feet. Having lost his footing, the boy put up a fight as he tried to evade his captors. “Stop it, you stupid boy. Do you want to end up like this foolish man here?” Barrn scolded. The boy fell silent and stopped struggling. In his excitement he had failed to spot the dead man on the floor until Barrn pointed him out.

“Is he dead?” he asked with morbid curiosity, but no sign of pity.

“No, he’s just taking a rest in his own blood,” Skat teased the boy. “Of course he’s dead, Stupid!” Barrn threw his companion an understanding and sought to allay the boy’s fears. Lightly he ruffled the boy’s collar and asked him, “Were you his slave?”

The boy nodded and, still dangling in mid-air, he twisted his head to see Barrn’s face. “It was you who killed him, wasn’t it?”

Barrn sighed. “Yes, it was me.”

The men were surprised to hear the boy reply, a measure of satisfaction in his voice. “Good!”

Confused, Barrn stared at him and watched him roll up his shirtsleeves to expose some large reddish scars. The Wari’s expression changed from confusion to compassion. All the same, still holding the boy up in the air, he gave him a final good shaking.

“Now you listen to me, young fellow! If you want to stay alive, you will not do what the old man told you to do. Have you got that into your little head?” Offended by Barrn’s tone, the boy pursed his lips. “Yes, of course. I’m not stupid,” he whispered. Barrn hesitated and then released the boy, to the relief of Lilit who already feared the worst.

“Now get lost!” Barrn ordered, irritated. “And if you don’t keep your word I’ll break your neck with my own hands.” The boy pulled an unhappy face and made no effort to leave. “Well, what are you waiting for?” Barrn barked, evidently annoyed.

“Everyone’s going to think I killed my master. Please take me with you,” the boy begged. Barrn was at a loss for words. The boy pleaded again. “Take me with you. I want to stay with you. Please.” Skat slapped his knees in amusement.

“Who would have thought that anyone apart from my humble self would take a liking to you?” he roared. Barrn deliberately ignored his servant’s pointer.

“No, I can’t take you with me,” he told the boy.

“But why not?” he asked cheekily, his dark eyes mirroring his endearing boyishness. And before Barrn had time to object again the little nipper had turned his back on him and was busy gathering up the dead man’s possessions he thought worth keeping and stuffing them into his own ragged bundle. The slave trader knitted his brows and frowned.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he asked.

“I’m packing the healing remedy in case we need it,” and with a nod towards Lilit added, “From what I can tell, you’re going to need a healer. I’m pretty good at healing and what’s more, I have a healing stone that might be useful to you.” He thrust his chin forward and waited for Barrn’s decision; his gemstone gave off a violet glow, as if to accentuate the words its owner had spoken. Finally, Barrn gave himself defeated. “Alright then, you can come with us.”

Skat drummed his fingers impatiently on the hilt of his sword. “What? You mean to tell me you are going to let this megalomaniacal, renitent boy accompany us? Don’t we have enough problems already?” Barrn gave Skat an irreverent grin. “One megalomaniac more or less isn’t going to make any difference.”

Skat scowled. “And just what do you mean by that?”

Barrn ignored him and made a dismissive gesture. “Never mind, Skat! Why don’t you just take the boy and girl and get them into the waggon?” Still smarting from Barrn’s effrontery, the servant warrior stopped rapping on the hilt of his sword and gave a disgusted snort.

Lilit considered for a split second whether she ought to make a run for it and try to escape now while the two men were distracted. However, the ruthless manner in which Barrn had dealt with the old man made her think twice and she continued to lie there without moving motionless, trying not to be noticed. Suddenly the man with the grey gemstone approached her. She found the stone-wearing warrior uncanny; the dark red colour of his stone signified much spilt blood, and the black nuances meant his jewel was about to transmute to a higher level. Although Skat’s diamond seemed to be very powerful, Lilit was unable to detect any sign of fatigue in him; there was no indication whatsoever that his jewel’s strength was weakening either his body or his spirit. The jaunty way in which he handled his gleaming sword disturbed Lilit and the hairs on the back of her neck bristled as he reached for her. She shrank back wide-eyed and he stared at her in surprise.

“You are awake, aren’t you?” he asked, extending a hand to help her up. But she raised her hands in protest and left no doubt in his mind that she was not going to let him touch her.

“Stay where you are, you monster,” she cried, “I’m quite capable of getting up on my own, thank you very much!”

The warrior stepped back and retaining his stoic composure nodded agreement for her to try and pull herself up. Knowing what would happen, he watched her struggle to get up, falter, and finally lose her balance. She gave a loud cry and made a final clumsy attempt to steady herself against the side of the tent before falling unchecked onto the tent floor. The warrior watched her rub her chin, her face contorted with pain, and he laughed and gloated at her misfortune.

“Have you learned your lesson?” he asked, “And will you let the monster help you up now?”

Before she could refuse again he had lifted her up. She felt the power of his diamond surge through her body like icy water. A greyish shimmer spread over the surface of her gemstone and an indefinable feeling of hate, sorrow and fury befell her. Frightened she turned in his arms. “Leave me alone, I can stand on my own,” she cried, eager to put distance between them. The warrior servant shrugged his shoulders in exasperation and turned to Barrn with an explicit grimace.

Barrn meanwhile had taken the boy’s bundle from him, slung it over his shoulder and prepared to leave. In passing, he called out to Skat, “When you’ve finished flirting, see that you take her back to the waggon!”

The warrior feigned offence and pouted. “If you don’t mind, I’ve got better taste! She’s not my type!”

Barrn grinned. “I know! That’s why I’m not in the least bit worried.”

Catching sight of the dead body, the servant screwed up his nose. “Barrn! I think we had better get out of here as soon as possible. It won’t be long before they find out that the old man is dead. We need to make as much headway as possible. It’s possible he’ll send his troops after us, or worse – the Searchers.”

Disgruntled, Barrn threw back the tent flap. “It’s not just possible, it’s certain!” he declared in a cold contemptuous voice and strode off.

Lilit had been following the two men’s conversation attentively, but she could not make head or tail of any of it. Skat had taken hold of her and was dragging her along behind him.

“Let go of me now!” she cried, unable to tolerate him holding her for a single minute longer. A feeling inside told her that her stone which had lain dormant for ages was finally stirring. And it was hungry; so hungry that the pull of the warrior’s dark-grey jewel was just too tempting. But Skat was unwilling to release her and held on so tightly that when at last she was able to jerk herself free his fingers left red welts on her skin. He arched his eyebrows.

“Hey, you little pest! Just what do you think you’re doing?”

She spat out the first words that came to her mind. “It’s all because of you and your jewel. I want nothing to do with people who’ve gained power through blood,” she cried, voicing her true feelings. Barrn, who had been watching her intently, pushed Skat aside and stepped up to Lilit with a smile.

“Then I’m sure you won’t mind putting up with me, will you? As you know, I have no battle diamond. What’s more,” he added, grinning diabolically, “I have no stone at all. I hope this fact will cause you less worry than Skat’s jewel.” No, actually it doesn’t, she thought to herself. Barrn’s stonelessness unsettled her more than Skat’s grey diamond did; but she loathed providing Barrn with another reason to mock her, so she just snorted and neither agreed nor disagreed.

Amused by Lilit’s behaviour, Barrn smiled. He took her by the arm and led her out to the waggon where the little boy was already waiting and he helped first the boy and then Lilit into the waggon. Then he locked the door and left them alone. The little small Diamondite boy looked Lilit up and down with an inquisitive expression and, she thought, rather rudely. “Are you a Rev?” he asked after a while.

She told him the same lie she had told Barrn and all the other Diamondites. “No. The mark you see on my hand is just an ordinary scar.” The boy reached for her hand and inspected her palm.

“It doesn’t look like a scar. It looks more like the branding of the Revs,” he insisted. Lilit asked herself how she was ever going to recover if she could not get any sleep. Without mincing his words or catching his breath the boy continued to probe. “Your eyes are golden. That is the colour of Demons ‘eyes, isn’t it? And you’re wearing a gemstone...” His voice trailed off.

She was about to respond angrily when the waggon door was flung open and Barrn stuck his head in.

“Hey boy, I didn’t hire you to entertain my slave. You should be preparing the healing potion.”

A very slight, pale figure was standing at Barrn’s side. It was a young woman with large, melancholy, sky-blue eyes; her jet-black hair fell in heavy ringlets over her shoulders. Lilit recognised the woman immediately. It was the Fairy she had seen with Barrn in the dungeon. The warrior pointed to Lilit’s wounds.

“I know it always exhausts you and I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t necessary, but can you tend to her wounds? But beware of her diamond. I don’t trust it, even though it’s just an ignorance stone.”

Lilit stared and registered for the first time that the red healing stone belonged to a Fairy. There had always been cases in the past where Fairies were born with a gemstone, but they were extremely rare. What had Barrn meant when he told the Fairy to beware of her stone? She had a feeling he knew more about her than she did herself.

The Sovereign’s Grief

Hereket gave a deep sigh. The nightmares of the past sun years couldn’t simply be brushed aside; they stuck to her like tar. Her hands trembled as she grasped the door latch with her slim fingers. She was about to lift it when she heard a cool voice behind her.

“What are you doing here, my Lady?” “Feldar?” she called out in surprise and stepped back in fright. The eyes of the Demon narrowed. “Get out of here; you’ve no business being here!”

“So you’re the new watchman assigned to guard the child! Surely it wasn’t my husband who appointed you to the position?” A triumphant smirk distorted the warrior’s face.

“Do you think Thorn would entrust me with such a thankless task? He knows how much I - like you - detest this child.”

Hereket’s lips quivered and her chin trembled as she tried to retain her composure. "Then get out of my way and allow me to pass. I want to go to my...” she broke off, unable to utter the word ‘daughter’.

“Yes?” Feldar exhorted amiably. “Who is it you wish to see, my darling?”

Hereket bowed her head and looked down at her pale hands. She remained silent.

Feldar, seeking to put pressure on her, placed his hand on the doorknob and looked the Demon in the face for a very long time before whispering, “I shall continue to tolerate the child being here, but I want a reward for ensuring that no misfortune befalls her.”

Hereket stared straight ahead. “What sort of reward were you thinking of, warrior?”

He moved closer to her with his lips, but just before their lips were able to meet he allowed his to miss and move towards her ear instead. With a rasping voice he whispered into her ear, “When you were younger you could have paid me with your body, but fate has mellowed you, made you vulnerable and yielding. There is little left of your once desirable wildness, so I shall select another currency.” He put his fingertips together; his fingernails glimmered faintly in the light of the torch. So what can you offer me apart from your body?”

The Demon knew she had to make Feldar an offer he couldn’t refuse if she wanted to protect her child. So she threw all sense of honour overboard and spoke the words that would break her heart but save her child: “In the event that Thorn falls in battle, I shall choose a new husband, and he shall become the new Sovereign.” She paused briefly. “A strong warrior perhaps?”

Feldar stepped back. In the diffuse gleam of the torch he appeared markedly pale. “But he’s my brother,” he whispered.

“And he’s my husband!” Hereket replied coldly.

The bats on the wall made squeaking noises and an excited murmuring filled the room. ‘The Sovereign falls, the Sovereign falls, Feldar is called, Feldar the traitor.’

“Those bloody bats!” the Demon growled and hurled a fireball at the creatures, enraging them and making them hurtle around the room in a black cloud. “Somebody needs to make mincemeat out of them!”

Hereket gave the animals only a tired shrug. “No one listens to them anymore. The Demons have turned a deaf ear to the whisperings of the bats.”

“Bloody pack!” Feldar said, disgusted. Hereket simply shook her soft tresses. “They are the offspring of the mirror,” she said.

The Fairy

A closer look at Fayn astounded Lilit. With a now fiery, crimson aura, the Fairy appeared even more enigmatic than when she had seen her in the dungeon. Around her neck a blood-red diamond dangled radiating vibrantly in the sunlight. This unbridled power was in strong contrast to her fragile and delicate shape. Lilit asked itself how her delicate body was able to harbour a stone so powerful without it killing her. She had seen far stronger men with much weaker diamonds killed by their stone’s power.

Lilit was so mesmerised by the Fairy that it took her a long time to notice the slender hand outstretched in greeting. Quick as a flash the slave boy seized the proffered hand and helped the delicate woman climb into the waggon. Barrn threw the boy a grateful look. Turning to Fayn he said, “Let me know if there are problems.” With one last look at Lilit he added, “But you aren’t going to give her any trouble, are you?”

Lilit shook her head. “Not for the time being. I’m still too weak.”

Barrn’s face clouded over and Lilit knew this wasn’t what he’d wanted to hear. Instead of reprimanding her with words he felt under his coat and flashed his sword. Lilit understood the warning only too well. Then he turned on his heel and left her alone with the Fairy and the boy.

Lilit looked at the two of them. For a moment she was tempted to flee, but she soon dropped the idea as far too foolish. In her current state, she wouldn’t even have been able to drag herself out of the waggon, let alone flee. It would have been pointless, she had to admit. And so she watched with mixed emotions as the boy and the Fairy mixed together a healing drink while she undressed. “I hope you know what you’re doing!” she told him.

He gave her a wide grin. “I’ve watched it done often enough.”

“Watched? Well, heaven knows what I can expect then!” Lilit groaned. “You’re more likely to kill me with your concoction than heal me.” Meanwhile, with the patience of a caring mother, Fayn sat silently watching the boy’s efforts to produce a remedy. At last, with an expectant look on his face, he handed Lilit the bowl. She took it sipping carefully at the brew. It tasted bitter, but not as bad as she had anticipated. She noticed that with every mouthful she took the young healer’s chest swelled more and more with pride, and she smiled to herself at his earnestness. Once she had downed the entire potion, Fayn lifted the bowl from her hand and instructed her to sit quietly.

“Shield your diamond,” she ordered and proceeded with deft hands to inspect Lilit’s wounds. Lilit nodded though she had no idea what the Fairy was doing. Fayn bent over her and examined her body thoroughly, each scratch and minor cut. A luminous redness glimmered and floated from her diamond to the parts of Lilit’s body that were injured. Barely had the first cerise sparks of light touched her when she felt a growing vibration emanating from deep within her body. Something was tearing at her soul, raging within her spirit, something very dark and powerful, like a beast that having succumbed to the healing stone’s power was now out to kill and destroy. Frightened and with no ill intent, she pushed the Fairy away. Startled by Lilit’s sudden fierce resistance, she fell unchecked against the side of the waggon and lay still. After a tense momentary hush she pulled herself up without a word and sat down next to Lilit as if nothing had happened. Lilit mumbled a short apology. She hadn’t wanted to hurt the Fairy, but the feeling that had come over her had been nothing short of terrifying.

Fayn made a mollifying gesture. “Never mind, I wasn’t hurt, but you must shield your diamond now, for I can feel its demand for power,” she corrected herself, “its lust for power.”

Lilit nodded anxiously and looked at the Fairy with slight embarrassment. “But how am I supposed to shield it”

Fayn and the boy looked at her in utter disbelief. As if with one voice they grilled her, “What? You don’t know how to shield your gemstone?”

Lilit chewed on her lower lip, before she admitted, “No, I don’t.”

“By the seven swords...” Fayn exclaimed. "Your stone is a weapon. You must be able to control it.”

“But it’s just an ignorance stone. There’s not much an ignorance stone can do.”

A male voice sounded in the background. “Even an Ignorance stone is able to choose its destiny!”

They all turned in fright, including Fayn. The Wari was leaning on the side of their waggon. Lilit wondered how long he had been standing there, watching them. Suddenly it dawned on her that she wasn’t wearing any clothes. She bent her head in shame as she tried to cover herself with her hands. With a single elegant jump the Wari leapt onto the waggon and grabbed Lilit by her upper arm.

“And what do you do?” he demanded to know. “Do you mean to tell me you allow your jewel to control you like all the other Diamondites? Don’t you want to be able to control it?”

Lilit stared at him confused. When he still didn’t let go of her arm she gave him the answer she thought he wanted to hear. “Yes, I would like to,” she said.

The Wari released his hold on her. His voice stern, he said. “Well then, see that you learn how to! My servant will help you, but you must never endanger Fayn again!”

Lilit failed to understand the warrior’s conflictive behaviour towards her; always at the ready to kill yet now making sure that her wounds were treated. Clenching her teeth so firmly together that her jaws ached, she realised there could be only one reason for it. He was a Wari, an accomplice Searcher who tracked down rebels, if necessary buying their freedom and then delivering them to the Searchers who would pay substantial sums for them. If the Searchers got them alive, they would be able to squeeze more information out of them.

Lilit’s cheeks flushed as she stared back at the Wari defiantly. "But why should I bother to learn to control my jewel? You’re going to kill me anyway. You’re a Wari, are you not?”

Barrn threw back his cape and his face mirrored conflicting feelings. “Everyone must do his duty.”

“And yours is to kill me, is it?” she asked.

“So far you’re still alive, aren’t you?” he retorted. “I certainly don’t recall having killed you!”

Lilit opened her mouth to answer him, but found it was filling up with a bitter-tasting liquid. Disgusted and scared she spat it out.

“Now you’ve spilt the healing potion all over the floor!” the small, self-styled healer wailed. His nimble fingers fished for the bowl Lilit had pushed away in fright. He picked it up. “There’s still some left,” he said. “You should drink it up now.”

Lilit was beginning to believe they had all banded together against her. Did she have no friends at all, not even amongst the slaves?

With an authoritative gesture the boy held up the bowl for her to drink. Before she could take her eyes off the Revolting content, Barrn had disappeared. She was annoyed; she had wanted to tell him off, but the stupid boy had gotten in the way. Lilit saw Fayn flash him a furtive smile. Though it pained her to see their obvious affection for each other she had to admit that the small boy’s tactics had been effective. “You little skunk you!” she said annoyed. She hesitated for a moment then asked, “What’s your name anyway?”

The boy reached for her wrist and seemed to be taking her pulse before he answered her. “I was beginning to feel insulted. I thought you were never going to ask. My name is Harukan Azmir Padpar. And I think you’re a fool!”

“A fool?” she exclaimed. He nodded emphatically as if she had just confirmed his assumption. She felt like laying into the little fellow, but Fayn held her back, giggling.

“Come on, warrior, save your energy and use it to control your gemstone.”

“But I still don’t know how I’m supposed to do that!” Lilit cried out tetchily, offended by Harukan’s words.

“A jewel needs blood and sorrow to become strong; if you want to control it you must fill your thoughts with beautiful memories and emotions. That way you’ll reduce its power.”

Beautiful memories, Lilit thought bitterly, had been rare in her life. Still, she decided to try to think of some and was surprised when the tugging and pulling inside her subsided.

The Fairy flashed a smile of encouragement and began another healing procedure. This time it worked. Lilit watched in astonishment as the crusty edges of her wounds changed from an unsightly bluish purple to a delicate pink. She felt very tired. The healing was draining her last energy reserves. Drowsily, she stretched her limbs and watched fascinated as a large open wound on her hand slowly closed up. Her eyes began to fall shut; the last thing she saw was Fayn spreading a blanket over her.

When she opened her eyes again, the first thing Lilit saw was the boy’s back; he was curled up beside her, fast asleep, his chest ­­rising and falling in measure with his regular breathing. As if he had sensed her gaze, the boy suddenly turned and blinked at her out of sleepy brown eyes. She smiled at him, and he smiled back. Then all of a sudden, the happy smile vanished and he turned into a boy who resembled Harukan, lying on the ground half-dead. His skin was puffy and deathly pale; red blood trickled from his mouth and he started making gurgling noises. Lilit recoiled with a scream and the vision disappeared. Gasping for breath, she threw a sidelong glance at Harukan to reassure herself that she was in the waggon and that he was still alive.

“What’s the matter?” he said, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.

“You’re not thinking of using your jewel to burn down the waggon, are you?” he asked, grinning impudently.

“No of course not,” she answered weakly, and decided not to tell the boy about the horrifying dream she had had.

“Are you certain? I’d rather know beforehand so that I can get myself out of here before you burn everything down.”

Lilit asked herself how it was possible that just minutes ago she had felt something resembling empathy for this impertinent little fellow. She swung up her arm and struck him on the chest. “Hey!” the boy shouted outraged, rubbing the spot where she’d hit him. "It’s not my fault that you don’t know how to control your stone!”

Lilit felt like giving him a good thrashing to cure him of his impudence. Instead she feigned a smile and asked amicably, “How much longer do you want to stay alive, my little friend? If you want it to be a few more years, you’d better start showing more respect towards this ‘fool’ as you call her.”

Although Lilit’s words had sounded harmless enough, the small slave had picked up on the veiled threat and although he felt slightly peeved, he held his tongue. “Thanks,” Lilit said, acknowledging his sudden change in behaviour.

The waggon door opened and Barrn looked in at the two of them. “I hate to disturb your little conversation, but if you are hungry you had better come out and sit by the campfire.” Stepping out into the cool night air, Lilit realised how senseless any attempt at escape would have been at this point. She was barely able to walk, even though the Fairy had healed all of her wounds. The slave trader led them to a fire at the centre of the camp and gestured to them to sit down. Here she got her first chance to take a closer look at the men accompanying Barrn. Their clothing was simple and unadorned, their faces furrowed from the exertions of battle. Yet one of the warriors appeared to be different from the other men around the campfire. His face was concealed behind a large hood. He appeared less shabby than the others, though no less dangerous. He sat very still at some distance from the group, chewing on a chunk of bread. Lilit tried to gauge the man’s aura when suddenly he raised his head. The hood slipped away, revealing two icy-blue eyes staring directly at her. Unnerved and caught off guard, she quickly averted her gaze.

Fayn seated herself next to Lilit and passed her a chunk of bread along with a plateful of other scraps. Lilit decided to take a chance and ask the Fairy about the man in the hood.

“Who’s that fellow over there?”

Fayn had followed Lilit’s inconspicuous nod in his direction and she whispered quietly.

“His name is Azra.”

“He actually scares me more than Barrn,” Lilit mumbled, reflecting.

“Everyone is afraid of him,” the Fairy replied gravely, setting her plate down next to Lilit. “He doesn’t speak much and prefers to be alone, but he fulfils his duties and tasks conscientiously, so no one minds him travelling with us.”

“Does he have a warrior or a healing stone?” Lilit asked with narrowed eyes, observing the dark figure at the campfire’s edge.

“He’s wearing a grey jewel,” the Fairy said.

“So he’s a warrior," Lilit concluded, twisting her mouth in disdain; she had half-expected to hear that. “His aura..." she began hesitating, reluctant to voice her suspicions, “...is darker than all of ours here.”

The Fairy shrugged her shoulders. “As I said, he’s a warrior. So why are you so interested in him?”

“I’m not quite sure, Lilit replied.

Fayn sighed and held up Lilit’s plate. “Then stop wasting your time with pointless ruminations and eat your food. You must be starving!”

Lilit wrinkled her brow and cast another furtive glance in the direction of the uncanny figure before turning her attention back to her plate. She had heard that name before. The old man, Harukan’s former master, had mentioned it. Was Azra possibly a traitor? She shrugged. Even if he was; it was none of her business. Why should she care if they wanted to make life difficult for each other?

The sight of food made Lilit’s stomach growl and she was suddenly aware of how long it had been since she’d last eaten anything. Before she could even start to eat, a small hand reached over and snatched the biggest chunk of meat from her plate right before her eyes. Though she was annoyed, she couldn’t help but smile as she watched Harukan gobble it up. Fayn wagged a reproaching finger at the boy and passed him a plateful of food. Lilit marvelled how quickly he had gobbled it all up; she wondered where his tiny frame put it all. When he even held up his plate for more, she shook her head emphatically and went on enjoying her food, ignoring his beseeching eyes. When she had finished she put her plate down on the sandy desert floor. The boy inspected it – not a scrap was left!

Barrn beckoned to Lilit to come over to him. She didn’t seem to have noticed, so he got up, went over to her, and sat down beside her with a bad-tempered groan.

“You’re obviously not grateful fir being freed from the claws of the slave traders, are you? A little more responsiveness would be nice. You must know, Yan isn’t the sort of man who forgives. He could just as soon have let you die.”

Lilit made a helpless gesture. “I just don’t like being taken captive, not by you, nor by anyone else, no matter what you’ve done for me.”

Barrn suppressed a smile. “You certainly have a lot of pluck, Demon child!” he said and nudged her arm. “Tell me, what was it you did that made him dislike you so much? Was it something to do with your stone?”

“No.” she replied. “It was because I bit him!”

Barrn let out a loud guffaw. Seeing him in high spirits, Lilit thought she would seize the opportunity to try to glean more information from him and steer the conversation towards things that had been playing on her mind for some time now.

“Who are you and where are we going?” she asked bluntly.

Barrn’s smile froze instantly and his good mood evaporated. “That’s none of your business!” he snapped. “I don’t owe you an explanation for anything!”

But Lilit wasn’t going to be brushed off this time with an empty reposts. “Why did you buy me? What is it you want from me?” she asked.

The Wari jumped up in a rage, his hand on the hilt of his sword. It was more an imprudent gesture than a threat, but Lilit braced herself, ready to fight if necessary. She didn’t think she stood a chance against him, but she wasn’t going to submit to his scathing attacks without a fight.

Fayn jumped to the ready. Gently she pushed Barrn’s hand down, away from his sword. Moonlight shimmered on her golden hair and her jewel glowed in a warm pink.

“Barrn, we still speak with our tongues you know and not with our swords.”

Entranced, he looked down at his hand and withdrew it from his sword. The Fairy sat down again and gave Lilit an encouraging smile.

The Wari’s fury seemed to have disappeared with the Fairy’s intervention and he pulled his coat down over his sword. “I bought you because you’re a Rev. That is the straightforward answer to your question!”

“But I’m not a Rev at all,” Lilit protested, in a voice so unconvincing even she wouldn’t have believed a single word. Barrn rolled his eyes.

“Why are you denying what everyone here already knows?” he asked. “Your scar betrays you as a Revolutionary."

“Does that mean you’re going to sell me to the Searchers?” she asked.

“Maybe,” Barrn replied.

“That’s not a straightforward answer,” she threw back at him, but the look on his face cut her dead.

Suddenly Lilit could hear shuffling footsteps approaching. Barrn and his men heard them too and strained their eyes in the dark. Appearing very tense, she saw them reach for their weapons. Barrn too gripped the handle of his sword and nodded at Skat. The servant rose without a word and melted into the dark. A short while later he returned, shaking his head. “I didn’t see anything suspicious,” he said to Barrn, who relaxed but kept his hand on his sword. Suddenly a sharp cry pierced the silence. Barrn shot up.

“Fayn!” he cried out alarmed and ran to the figure lying on the floor. Lilit followed at a distance. What she saw filled her with fear. Fayn lay there moaning and holding her head. Barrn bent over the Fairy and turned her onto her back. Lilit took a step back. On Fayn’s forehead a gleaming eye had appeared; it was staring directly at her.

Calmly, the Wari turned to Lilit. “Go back to the waggon and stay there with Harukan until I call for you. If you try to escape, I will catch you and then you will really get to know me! Have you understood?”

Lilit nodded anxiously; but she was unable to take her eye off the Fairy and the strange eye that was still ogling her. She stood transfixed, as if hypnotised.

Barrn grew impatient. “Go now!” he yelled.

With great difficulty she tore herself away from the unnerving sight. Harukan was at her side, clinging to her hand and sobbing.

“Is she going to die?” he wailed. “She mustn’t die.”

Lilit had forgotten how young Harukan was. She bent down to him and wrapped her arms around his trembling little body. He hugged her close and Lilit could feel the power of his healing stone. Being so close to the boy’s gemstone, her diamond began to glimmer and purr. The violet healing stone was lying there in front of her, unprotected, helpless, and easy to overwhelm.

Hastily she freed herself from the boy’s embrace and tried to banish the evil thoughts from her mind. Harukan was her friend! She took him by the hand and together they walked back to the waggon. It seemed an eternity before Barrn rejoined them.

“Everything’s alright now. Come along; let us go back to the campfire. It’s warmer there,” he said in a brittle but friendly voice.”

“Is Fayn alright?” Harukan demanded to know, in a high-pitched excited voice. The slave trader eyed the boy with certain tenderness.

“Yes, she’s doing well, but her stone is very powerful and sometimes Fayn doesn’t have the energy to fight it. Healing Lilit’s wounds must have exhausted her. You must know, little Diamondite, only very few Fairies have a stone at all, and if they do, they have great difficulty controlling it.”

Lilit sensed that what Barrn had said was not the entire truth as far as the Fairy’s condition was concerned; after all, it did not explain the strange appearance of the eye. Nevertheless, if Barrn refused to tell anyone anything, then he certainly wasn’t going to tell her, even she asked him to.

They trudged through the sand back to the campfire. Fayn sat wrapped in a blanket; she looked pale and exhausted and her hair hung in wild strands about her head. Harukan rushed to her and if Barrn hadn’t stopped him he would probably have knocked her over.

“Fayn!” he called out excitedly, raced to her, and hugged her tightly. “I was so worried about you!”

Lilit frowned, unable to understand the bond between the two of them. She felt slightly jealous that Harukan had seemingly found someone he could trust. She sat down in the sand next to Barrn in front of the fire and tilted her face to catch its warm glow.

“Can stones destroy other stones?” she asked him suddenly on impulse.

Baffled by the question, Barrn raised his eyebrows. “Why do you ask that?” Lilit shrugged her shoulders. The warrior ran his hand through his hair. “A warrior stone needs blood and a healing stone needs wounds in order to grow. But no stone needs another stone in order to flourish.”

Lilit was drawing small circles in the sand with her forefinger. “Hmm... Does that mean that stones never covet other stones?”

With a sweep of his hand he wiped away her sand circles. “It does mean that; at least as far as I know. Why do you ask?” he inquired, slightly disturbed. “Is it something to do with your jewel?”

Lilit shook her head and Barrn gave a loud sigh. “I think we should all turn in for the night now. It has been a strenuous day. Take the little pest with you and go to the waggon.”

She got up with some difficulty; her stiffness continued despite the warmth of the fire. She shook her limbs, stretched herself and went to fetch Harukan who was snuggled up against the Fairy. Seeing them so close she felt a painful stab in her heart and suddenly felt very lonely. For a moment she stood there watching them before she stepped forward and tapped Harukan on the shoulder.

“Come on, we’d better return to the waggon.”

The boy shrugged and got up. He waved a cheeky kiss at Fayn which she reciprocated with a giggle and then followed Lilit to the waggon. No sooner was she inside than she lay down on the floor, rolled herself up in the tattered blanket and turned her back to Harukan. Yet he was not tired yet and decided to pluck at her hair. Suddenly his bright little voice asked, “Hey, are you sleeping already?”

“How could I be asleep? You won’t give me any peace. Were you like that with your former master too?” she said. An uncomfortable silence ensued. Lilit turned around to look at Harukan. The mischievous look he usually gave her had disappeared and he was solemn and taciturn.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “Your master probably wasn’t very nice to you, was he?”

The boy gave her an awkward smile.

“Oh, well, it wasn’t quite so bad.” Lilit offered him her outstretched hand. “Do you want to talk about it?” The boy ran his fingers through his hair and turned his back to her.

“Let’s go to sleep,” he mumbled. “I’m tired now.”

Lilit noticed the boy’s emotional pain, but she was wise enough not to press him any further. When she felt a hand shaking her to wake up, she felt as if she had only just fallen asleep. She reached out to flick the hand away like a troublesome insect. For a moment the shaking stopped and then she heard a muffled laugh.

“Hey, girl, get up!” Confused by the masculine voice, she woke up with a jolt and found herself looking into two brown eyes that were studying her with an expression of amusement.

It took her a moment to recall where she was and who the man was who had been shaking her. Her memory returned quicker than she would have liked and she immediately regretted having opened her eyes. “Barrn?”

He offered her his hand and said, “Come with me.” She threw off the blanket and followed him out of the waggon.

It seemed they had not yet travelled very far. The rising sun had immersed everything in a gleaming light. Lilit was certain she had been asleep for quite some time, yet she still felt incredibly tired. To her surprise, Barrn held a small sword under her nose.

“What is...?” she stammered, fearing at first that Barrn was going to kill her after all.

The warrior raised his hands to placate her. "It’s always useful to have a weapon when one is in the desert,” he said. “Would you like to have it?”

“Of course she’d like to have it, so she can cut your throat!” a disapproving voice behind her replied for her.

S

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