Master Ikathan knelt in the small gazebo atop the Four Peaks Temple and watched the sun set over the plains. The distant whine of a turbine made its way to his ears and tried to disturb his meditation. He ignored it, continuing to contemplate the play of light and shadow as the Sun’s final rays caressed the mountain.
Before and behind him lay the western saddle of the four peaks. To his right the many terraces of the temple cascaded down the side of the saddle to end in the entry courtyard below. Beyond that courtyard, the valley lay nestled in a box made by four mountains and four saddles between them. To his right in darkness, rested the lights of the small town in the valley – glittering like stars – though they were few during these summer months. The village served as a winter resort town to the wealthy, and its many lodges stood empty. That world, his world, had accepted the night and settled in to await the dawn, while the world below to his left, the world outside, held on to the fading scraps of daylight. His gaze stretched across the plains with their fields of ripening grain glowing gold in the dusk, green patches of wild grass, and a river winding through it all. He sat at the border between the two worlds, seeking clarity of thought in the space between.
This, the highest point in the temple, had long been a favorite place of meditation for him. Many of the younger humans of the temple, and even some of the elves, would have been driven away by the biting winds, but he had long since gained mastery of his body and chose not to notice the cold.
A new sound reached his ears. A female in one of the upper courtyards, performing vigorous katas. Katja, by the cadence. She had her own adaptation of the hummingbird katas, done to exhaust the body and mind when peace could not be found. He looked down at the Dusk Courtyard, so named because it was the last courtyard to see sunlight each day, and confirmed the guess.
To his practiced eyes, each person’s movements were as a fingerprint, and Katja’s movements he knew well. Seeing her brought his mind back to the reason he had sought the study of light and dark.
Katja and Tanu, his dear half-elven friends and able monks, still found themselves childless. All exploration of their chi failed to find a reason. Even Soren, the Temple’s doctor, was unable to find an explanation. Ikthan knew that they were beginning to feel it might be time to call in a doctor-cleric, have themselves examined by more extensive facilities, but did not wish to shame him, Soren, nor the Monastery by voicing their feelings.
Master Ikathan ‘s emotions were still and thoughts clear as the balance of the world, the balance of light and darkness, played out before him. All things in their place, for everything a purpose. Even medical science. After all, had the monks not learned a great deal about themselves when they began to learn those things discovered from the perspective of modern medicine? He nodded inwardly. The subject would be broached with them tomorrow. Sometimes one had to seek answers in places one wished not to go. A few cleansing breaths cleared the weight of the decision from his mind as he stood slowly, moving only the right leg, and prepared for his evening katas. As he lowered his left leg to the ground, an uneasy feeling settled into his consciousness, a realization that something felt out of place.
Ikthan concentrated. The whine of that turbine still droned on. It should have begun to fade by now, but had grown louder. He closed his eyes and pinpointed the sound as it cut off briefly, surged, then came to an abrupt halt. He opened his eyes and focused on the temple’s front gate.
A hoverbike had come to rest just outside the gate, the bike’s permanent levitation spell keeping it off the ground as its rider dismounted. The rider wore a closed helmet and loose clothing, but Ikthan judged it to be female, and probably elven. She removed a package almost as large as her torso from the back of the bike, taking great care to make sure it did not tilt or tip. Alone on the top of the temple, Ikathan permitted himself a small frown, now certain of the package’s contents. He watched the woman gingerly place her burden on the ground outside the gate, mount the bike, and turn it around to coast quietly into the night.
Ikthan permitted himself a small sigh, then exited the gazebo, walked to the edge of the cliff, and stepped off. One hand and one foot went out to the rock, and he rode it two-hundred sheer feet down to the Dawn Courtyard, landing as light as a feather. From there, he walked to the edge of that courtyard, leapt over its wall, riding down a hundred foot cliff to another courtyard. It took under a minute for him to flow down the outside of the temple, like a drop of water trickling down a fountain. A flicked wrist opened the gate’s night door, and he bent to examine the ‘package’.
In a scene which had been repeated countless times throughout the Boundless Empire, Ikthan gave a start -which, for him, consisted of raised eyebrows and a slight cocking of the head – as he looked into the child carrier to see an infant half-dragon. He reached down to pick up the baby, and noticed the satin sheets and high gloss finish of the carrier. Child of a noble woman, then. No surprise there.
The village in the valley was an exclusive resort, reachable only by aircraft, which catered to the top of society. The temple found packages like this on its doorstep a few times a year from noble women who did not wish to bring shame upon their houses with an illegitimate child. It was unusual, however, for the child to be a half-dragon. The dalliances of dragons were taken for granted throughout the Empire, and many considered it a singular honor to be so chosen. Indeed, the prestige of raising draconic blood usually outweighed the shame of bastardy, but not always. The mother could be… stop.
Ikthan closed his eyes a moment and cleared his mind of speculation. Taking a careful look at the baby, he got his second surprise. The child’s face was flat, and hominid. Nose, a slight ridge for eyebrows, high cheeks, forward lips, and a definitive chin. Most half-dragons had elongated, draconic skulls with nostrils, a snout, and lips running along the snout. His skin seemed to be a deep black, until the light played from behind his fingers. Then he appeared to be a nearly-black purple instead. A near fount of questions erupted in Ikthan’s mind. Not the least of which being, what to do with the baby.
He checked the carrier in search of supplies to help him take care of the baby for the evening. In the morning he would have someone call the orphanage in nearby Lasur, and then send someone in the temple’s aircraft to deliver the child. One corner of his mouth lifted imperceptibly in a slight grin-grimace as he continued to search the carrier for a bottle or instructions. Matters involving children were always so delicate; he would have to tread as on rice paper. The baby seemed amused by his rummaging.
Quiet. Too quiet. Katja no longer occupied the courtyard. A review of the last moments told him she had stopped just before he reached the gate. If she had taken the stairs he probably had time to get the child out of sight. He stood, carrier in hand, turned… and allowed a moment of teacher’s pride at the silence of Katja’s approach to mingle with his misgivings.
Katja took one look at the child in the carrier and moved, clearing the twenty feet between them almost instantly, yet without seeming to hurry.
The master allowed himself another moment to relish her flawless and unthought execution of a rabbit-step as she picked up the baby to cradle him in her arms. The child had a definite tail. It also sported a set of wings, which splayed out as it relaxed against Katja’s shoulder and cooed.
Katja held her eyes closed, her cheek pressed against the baby’s head. “Did the woman give my son a name?”
In that moment all of the decisions Ikthan had been meditating on dispersed like vapor in the morning sun. This brought an odd mix of relief and feelings of futility, but he pushed both away to consider later. He worried for a moment that Tanu would not respond as well to the child as his wife, but Tanu loved his wife fully, and would accept anything she loved. So he hoped, at least.
Well, what would be would be. Ikthan kept this lingering doubt from his voice as he replied. “I do not know, Katja Surefoot. She sped off before I made the gate, and I have found no note as yet.”
A fierce look came upon Katja’s face, but she banished it quickly, “She left without even making sure we had seen him? She did not even sound her horn! She has lost even the right of his Naming! He is my Sunar. My beautiful, dark, lovely Sunar.” Her eyes clouded with worry for a moment, then, as one of her own words registered in her ears. “My.” She had made the decision to accept the child without consulting her husband. Ikthan could read her thoughts through the small motions of her body as she realized that there was no going back from where she stood, that she had irrevocably accepted the child as hers, and worry over her husband brought her lip between her teeth.
Another voice spoke from the gate, “Sunar is a good name. He shall be our Sunar Duskhope, for he came to us at the dusk of the day, and at the dusk of our hope. He has also given us a new hope, and a family of our own.”
Katja turned to meet her husband’s embrace and, together, they stared down at their new baby, the same light of parental love shining from both pairs of eyes. “I am glad that you accept him, my dear love. I had a moment of worry in that I made the decision to bring this child to us without considering you.”
Tanu let out a single gentle chuckle, “Light of my heart, you were no more consulted in that decision than was I. I saw you set eyes on our son, and watched your heart decide for us both. As your heart brought us together, so has it brought us our son.”
“Yes, OUR son. Here we have found him, here we will raise him. He is ours.” With that Katja’s eyes raised to Ikthan’s, the shining softness in them replaced with something harder than steel, her eyes daring him to challenge her. Tanu turned a similar hard look on the master.
Ikthan inclined his head almost imperceptibly, not even enough to disturb his beard.
The couple’s eyes softened and both opened an arm to him, to include him in their embrace.
Tanu’s voice carried love, joy and pride. “Come, Master Ikthan. Behold our son Sunar, and rejoice with us. Today our family has been made whole and our temple greater. The Powers truly work in mysterious ways. Just as we despaired of having children, they have given us a son!”
Ikthan returned their embrace then led them back inside the gates. He clapped twice sharply, and soon a youth came running, her eyes wide at the sight of the child. “Close the night gate, Erika, then sound the courtyard bell. We have a Right of Naming to perform, and a new child to introduce to our family.”
Erika’s childish face split with a smile as she bowed to Ikthan, then she quickly closed the gate, jumped onto the inner wall, spider-climbed thirty feet to the bell, and rang it thrice in careful rhythm – the signal for a happy gathering in the forecourt. She prepared to jump down from the wall, then caught sight of Ikthan staring at her. Her shoulders collapsed and she moved for the stairs.
As Ikthan and the happy couple made their way to the raised dais at one end of the court, Erika caught up to them. “Master Ikthan, I mean no disrespect, sir, but I could have ridden the wall safely down. You know that I could”
Ikthan replied softly but emphatically, “I know no such thing! You likely could have made that jump, but it is also possible you could have injured yourself.” Erika walked mutely, her head down. “Other times I would have let you chance it, but not now. Tonight is a night of rejoicing, and yet you are disappointed that I would not allow you to risk placing a pall on this joy by injury to yourself?”
“I am sorry, Ikthan-San. It was selfish of me; I will tell my father and submit myself for discipline.”
Ikthan dismissed the comment with a wave of his hand, “You were excited by what you saw and let that overcome you. Take the lesson of that with you tonight, and that will be sufficient discipline. Now, go and join your family, child.” As Erika bowed and hurried away, Ikthan allowed himself to feel the joy of a lesson well taught. He walked serenely to the raised dais, found a box, took his place above and behind the young family, and waited for everyone to arrive.
The boy would likely be a source of trouble in the years to come. The possibility of noble women wishing to court a half-dragon was not to be ignored. Young hot-headed nobles who thought they had a grievance against dragons could become an issue, and if the child’s dragon parent ever decided to lay claim to him it could bring a great deal of unwanted attention to the temple. Still, with all children came unexpected hurdles; and the presentation of a child to the temple should be an occasion of joy, not worry. As everyone began to gather, the Master even allowed himself a small smile.