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Shadows of the Past
by Graham Pilling

The robed figure raised his voice almost imperceptibly, but enough to emphasise his words, "You cannot deny your heritage, it is why you left the Dreaming all that time ago. It is why you are here!"

"To serve?" replied the other with a smile, "I think not my friend, I think not. Oh, I am quite sure that there are those among us who would do so willingly, simply for the love of the Dance, however we are no longer interested in your war and we are certainly not mercenaries for sale." His deep, red eyes burned with sudden passion;
"Do you not see what we have? We have developed from what we once were into a society! We have culture! We have art! We are our own people. We are the Vraa'al."

The Sorcerer listened to the tall Vraa'al with a respectful silence. It was funny how he was still unnerved by the way the light played on that dark blue skin. He still wasn't quite used to the hypnotic gaze of the Vraa'al, despite the countless similar meetings he'd had in the past - always in secrecy. He avoided looking into those deep red eyes, like tiny windows to a blacksmith's furnace. They always seemed to bore into him, peer deep into his soul and emanate an unmistakable feeling of dread. The same dread one feels when looking into the dark eyes of death.

The tower room was not large by any means, but rather seemed to be just the right size. The Sorcerer would have hesitated to use the word 'cosy', however (given the nature of the Vraa'al), but it was as good a description as any. The room was simply furnished: two chairs, a table and a large sturdy bookshelf seemed to fill the room, but yet to leave adequate space. As well as various large volumes, the bookshelf contained many small trinkets. Sculptures and intricate metal-works, some resembling recognisable forms, such as taigan and people, others simply fascinating objects of wonder drawn from the imagination. The Sorcerer's eye caught on one piece in particular: the smooth, domed shape of a human skull.

"But you cannot escape who you are," replied the Sorcerer, breaking the silence, "...or what it is you do." He examined the skull closer, noticing for the first time that the white bone was finely engraved all over with an intricate pattern of flowing knotwork. Beautiful yet chilling.
"Call it the Dance if you must, and wrap it up in this charade of civility you seem to have taken on," he gestured at the bookshelf, "but it all boils down to one thing: death. You cannot evade the longing - the need - to take another life, just as much as you cannot break the Pact that our peoples made centuries ago. You and your people are killers." He turned to face the Vraa'al, and with the hint of a smile added, "You were very good at it once."

The Vraa'al moved forward without a sound, as silent and graceful as a ghost, and locked his fiery gaze on the Sorcerer.
"We still are," he said, the words like a whisper, "why do you think you only have contact with me? I cannot risk my people to know of what we once were because it would mean losing all that we have gained, all that we have become. My brethren would kill you without a second thought if you were to speak such things as you have spoken to me."

The Sorcerer turned away from those blood red eyes and suppressed the urge to shiver.
"Things are changing, Qaiyore itself is changing. The time will surely come when you will have to break out of this isolation you have built around yourselves ...when you will have to choose a side. Even now, the Eerith may well be breaking free from their Prison, and indeed some already have, if this should happen-"

"The Eerith," the Vraa'al interrupted, "are of no concern to me or my people." For a moment the light from the window did little to illuminate the shadows of the chamber, and the fiery eyed Vraa'al seemed to loom over the Sorcerer.
"You tire me with your idle threats, wizard. Go back to Mir. The Vraa'al are not for sale."

The Sorcerer inclined his head in a barely perceptible bow. "As you wish," he replied, and with a cold smile he took a small step backwards and vanished.