“Sabharor”, the stranger answered.
“Are you afraid?”
A shiver ran down Ranadin’s spine as he asked the question that she tended to ask the warriors. She gathered herself not to show the stranger any weaknesses.
“I, Ranadin, do not fear death, nor life”, she answered and Sabharor nodded at her words. He then surged forward to test her swiftness. Ranadin followed his movements. As Sabharor surged Ranadin retreated lifting her arm towards the sky and extending her neck like dancing.
They stood frozen like that for a time that seemed to last long. Sabharor began his attack again swinging his staff so quickly that human eyes could not see it as more than blurred lines. Ranadin answered his blows with the same speed. They sometimes stopped to look at each other. Their eyes flashed from bloodthirstiness to keen interest. Sabharor winked at her when she did a move he found impressive, and she would answer his winks with a seductive smile. Neither was fooled by the playfulness. It was a classic trap.
“Look!” Gav whispered to Avagan who had turned his eyes to the forest. There had been an unusual amount of people around the castle for an amount of days and brimmed with curiosity they had come closer to follow the tournament.
They had seen Ranadin on the first day fighting and laughing like comrades with the humans like they were old friends. She did seem to avoid the strangers who were in the several tens if not hundreds. Then she had disappeared for a few days, but now she had spent the whole time from dawn fighting humans. They had heard that a great prize had been offered for beating her. Their surprise was greatest when the castle inhabitants defended her.
“Fascinating”, Avagan had voiced and after a few fights he had lost all interest. He did turn back now when a strange black rider had appeared from over the hills and had challenged Ranadin. He was strong and was an equal to her strength.
“Impossible!” Avagan yelled confusing Gav.
Sabharor’s and Ranadin’s dance quickened. Hairs began falling from the braid Tea had so carefully crafted and the ribbons began impairing her vision. Even Sabharor’s neat hair was messed up by the fighting. The darroi staffs clanked together locking.
“Who are you?” Ranadin wondered.
“If you win, I might tell you”, the stranger dared. Ranadin huffed and feinted. Sabharor was not fooled and he answered the real offense. It was Ranadin’s turn to gain the upper hand and the stranger’s to defend.
“Tanara, look at how they move! Ranadin taught me and the other knights of Loulea to fight like that”, Haumm stated with admiration in his voice. Tanara observed him with jealousy.
“Do you like her more than me?” she asked trying to turn his attention back to her. He turned to look at the little Thormaian.
“She is a snakewoman, dearest”, he said in explanation. Tanara laughed at Haumm’s silliness and admitted to herself that one would be fool not to admire the Dratoan.
“What’s impossible?” Gav asked, but Avagan did not answer disappearing into the forest. Gav followed him and they climbed up into the tree.
“What in the heavens?” Gav exclaimed when he found Avagan digging through the whole cottage from the beds all the way to the grain storage. He dived into the food stuffs and returned with several stacks of rolled up parchment.
“These are my old notes from when I studied in Ferngard. I must check something”, he explained.
“Now?” Gav wondered incredulously. Avagan did not listen as he became engrossed in the parchments opening each one carefully. He read quickly and then threw the one he was reading into a growing pile behind him. His eyes travelled over the pages until at the last parchment he got up and showed it to Gav.
On the parchment was a picture of a tall man and a woman who had slightly pointed ears, straight black hair and angled eyes. The man’s arms were bare and muscled, the woman toned. Under the picture was a text.
Dimdraac. Most commonly known as a myth, but in truth extremely rare. Dimdraacs are the offspring of an altedraac and a Dratoan and are created under the same conditions as altedraacs: if an altedraac and a Dratoan are forced together, no child is born, but out of their love a dimdraac comes forth. The greater the love, the stronger the dimdraac. In some instances, they can be even stronger than Dratoans. There are some legends where a dimdraac won over three Dratoans, but this has been proven to be myth. However, in most confrontations between a dimdraac and a Dratoan, the dimdraac comes out the victor. They are also inherently intelligent and cunning. Conceiving this kin is illegal as a dimdraac is completely uncontrollable and will do nothing that will not serve its own purpose. Dangerous kin, advised to avoid by all possible means. The kin have a liking to savagery, though there are some exceptions.
“How do you know it’s this dimdraac?”
“You would know best. Have you ever seen anyone hold their own against your cousin in the way this man is?” Avagan asked. Gav shook his head.
“But it can be another of our kin”, he suggested. Avagan looked hurt.
“That is even more impossible. There is no known case of the kin fighting amongst ourselves. It is against our very beings”, he asserted. Gav lifted his hands in a sign of surrender placating the older snakeman.
“I hope this man wins Ranadin”, Frenna said to her sister-in-law.
“And why is that, dear Frenna?” Joarik’s sister wondered.
“Have you not heard? Haumm lost the crown to Ell”, Frenna snapped irritated. She hated that nobody showed sympathy towards her predicament.
“Really?” her sister-in-law stated.
“I always thought he did not want to become king.”
Frenna felt like hitting her, but abstained to not bring shame to herself or her husband. She wallowed in her anger and prayed for the black rider to kill Ranadin. That wretched assassin had failed, as had her eunuch Carisis. Even the king could not be trusted. Maybe the dove had never arrived.
Ranadin squeezed her staff harder than she ever had before. She was breathing and sweating heavily. Sabharor was not normal, and gave no mercy. The man was winning after Ranadin had fallen. Blood flowed from her nose to the white snow. He moved closer, but was surprised as Ranadin turned rapidly felling him to the ground. Sabharor spit out rocks and got up.
She noticed that there were beads of sweat on his brow. This gave Ranadin new strength. She had been close to giving up. Why was she fighting? Why did she wish to live? The morose thoughts dampened her spirits. There was nobody else in the world, but her and Sabharor. All of a sudden her hands were empty and she felt a hard kick in her stomach.
“No!” Gav yelled. They rushed to the edge of the forest only to see Ranadin to lose her staff and fall to the ground. He knew his cousin was an excellent warrior who did not give up. Gav could not understand how the dimdraac had been able to make the staff that had been Ranadin’s most beloved possession since she had been a young ceris fly from her hands. Not listening to Avagan’s protesting Gav shot out running towards the arena where the stranger was preparing to give the killing blow.
Ranadin observed Sabharor lift his arms over his head. She watched the scene from outside of herself. She could hear the audience calling him to stop. He had won. She felt like she was dreaming when she saw a man with flaming red hair appear into the arena. She woke up. It was Gav. Gav was alive.
The audience looked in wonder when a new stranger came to the arena grabbing Ranadin’s staff and approaching Sabharor with menace in his steps. The black clad man had become aware of the new threat.
“No, Gav!” Ranadin yelled and leapt to grab at Sabharor’s feet. Gav did not listen to her continuing his approach while Sabharor was distracted by trying to kick Ranadin away from him
“To me!” Ranadin ordered and shot out her hand when she retreated from Sabharor. Gav threw the staff to her seeing that she no longer needed his help. Sabharor turned his attention to her. She surprised him with a blow that knocked away his weapon. She then divested herself of her weapon attacking the man.
She punched him in the face and they grabbed each other. He tackled them to ground where they rolled like a perverted image of lovers. They separated leaping to their feet. Ranadin aimed a kick to his groin, but Sabharor grabbed her leg attempting to twist it. Before the man could go through with his plan Ranadin jumped grabbing him from behind hanging on his back like taking a piggyback ride.
She wrapped her hands around his neck to strangle him. He countered by throwing himself on his back to the ground knocking the air out of her lungs. Her hold on him released. They had drifted near to one of the staffs which Sabharor grabbed and swung towards Ranadin’s head with full strength.
Fortunately she was able to roll away before the staff beheaded her. She continued to escape in the same fashion until she came to the other staff. As Sabharor was preparing to lunge, Ranadin leapt to her feet with lightning speed. He redirected his attack, but Ranadin dodged it. Their staffs clanged together once more with neither getting much headway.
“Madman”, Avagan cursed, but did not follow Gav continuing to observe the fight from the cover of the forest. He saw how Ranadin regained her will to live and got a hold of herself after seeing her beloved cousin. She did not allow Gav to fight for her, but threw herself at the dimdraac’s feet demanding her staff back. Now they were at a draw.
The sun was setting and the situation was the same. Ranadin and Sabharor stopped and from a mutual agreement ran to the opposite ends of the arena to breathe for a moment.
“Are you afraid, mistress?” Sabharor’s mocking voice carried over the arena.
“I am not afraid, stranger, not of life, not of death.”
Ranadin’s voice was surer now than at the beginning of the battle.
“Are you afraid, stranger?” she yelled in return.
“Of nothing!” he answered defiantly.
“Truly?” Ranadin asked and lifted one eyebrow questioning him.
“NO!” the man growled and surged forwards. Ranadin mirrored him and their staffs met locking together. They did not move only staring at each other. Hate burned in their hearts and neither was ready to give up.
“How do you want to die, mistress?” the man asked. Ranadin started. Silence fell over the arena.
“Old, after I have brought freedom and honour to my kin”, she answered.
“And who are your kin?” Sabharor inquired.
“I am snakekin. The mountains, stars and the sky are my kin”, came her answer.
“And who are your parents?”
The question confounded Ranadin. She was sure that the man was trying to undermine her.
“Daralan and Dirro”, she stated.
“Daralan Yoningceris?” he clarified, and Ranadin did not like the smirk that had appeared on his face after she had nodded.
“Do you know what I am?”
“An idiot”, Ranadin hissed, but Sabharor ignored her.
“I am a halfdraac”, he answered his own question.
“Really? I didn’t your kin existed any more”, she spoke with mock disbelief.
“O little one, it is true.”
Sabharor’s words and sweet tone sounded ominously. The suspicious light in Ranadin’s eyes encouraged the man to continue.
“The former king greatly enjoyed cross-breeding.”
Sabharor broke their lock and they began their battle anew.
“My training has now come to an end”, he told her. She could guess the rest.
“I have come to kill you.”