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Alkamar, the village in the moonlight

Day dawned over a little valley, but the dog boy was not sleepy. He could not feel his arms or legs, nor the heart beating in his chest. The morning air was water in his mouth, and he knew he was dying, but all his senses were open to the world.

The night had cast glinting frost crystals across the grass and the sun painted gold stripes down the mountainside. Early morning mist rose above a brook and drifted down the valley.

He was eight summers old and he tried to think of the ones he loved. Not many of those were alive now, but still he said goodbye to his mother Omeh and his father Beak, to Sister Moon, the medicine woman, to Sintaje that once had stood up to Scarface and saved him, to Tamara, who had nursed him to life, and to the village dogs, that had warmed him during the winters.

He wandered over to the brook, knowing that if he bent down to drink, he would never get up again. So he just stood there, thinking of the ones he loved for as long as possible.

A strange man sat on a stone by the brook, holding a staff in his right hand. The dog boy wondered why he had not seen him before. A filthy, ragged cape with a hood covered his head and shoulders. The stranger sat quite still.

The stranger lifted the hood from his head, revealing a thin face with a pair of brown, almond-shaped eyes. The smooth, black hair was gathered in a loose knot at the neck. His skin was dry and pale, like an old hide that had been left out in the sun, but still it was impossible to guess at the age of the man.

The dog boy understood that this man was not of the hill people. He had never seen other parts of the world, but he knew that this man had to be from very far away. And there was something else about the man, something strange, but still within grasp. Then the dog boy saw that the cape hung strange around the left side of the man. The stranger had only one arm.

The ground was strange and soft, and every step the dog boy took seemed like falling forward. As the dog boy got closer, he saw the sadness in the almond eyes of the thin, onearmed man.

The man rose from the stone, slight of build, but the way he moved made him seem taller.

"Who are you?" the dog boy thought, too tired to speak.

"I am Shiriken," the onearmed man said. "And you must be a son of Beak. I can see his face in yours. Are you the son of Beak?"

"Yes," the dog boy whispered through cracked lips.

And then he fell.

The strange man draped him in his cape and poured a strong, bitter broth down his throat. The dog boy tried drinking, but gagged on cramps in his chest. Strong fingers did something to the nape of his neck, and then he was too drowsy to worry about anything.

It could have been the same day, or the next day, when the dog boy woke, still draped in the stranger's cape. His whole body ached, and all the joints were stiff. Shiriken, the onearmed stranger, gave him a little more of the broth to drink, and this time he swallowed it hungrily.

"How did you know Beak?" he asked.

"Many years ago I rescued him from one of the emperor's prison transport," Shiriken answered. "I traded his life and freedom for a promise to help me, when the time came. But now it seems he is dead."

"How do you know he is dead?"

"Would you be here, if he was alive?"

The dog boy hung his head.

"What is your name?"

"The dog boy," he said.

"That is no name," Shiriken said, sadness in his almond eyes. "What is your name?"

"Little Eagle," he whispered.

"That is a more fitting name for you. So, do you get cold sleeping out at night, Little Eagle?"

Little Eagle shook his head. "Not any more."

"That is good." Shiriken nodded thoughtfully. "That is good," he repeated, almost to himself.

A thought struck Little Eagle. "You must run," he said, seeing before him the dead medicine woman after she had taken him in. "You must run, before Scarface catches up with us. I know the hills. I can show you the way. But you must run."

"Scarface is the reason you are running alone in the hills?"

"Yes. I outran him, but I don't know if is still tracking me. Now he will hunt you too."

The sadness of the almond eyes gave way to anger, not the wild howling rage of Scarface, but a quiet, ice cold fury that scared the dog boy even more.

"So, this man will hunt me down just for helping you?"

"Yes." The shame filled Little Eagle. "I must run too. He will cut of my big toes if he catches me, and then I will never run again. And he will do to me what he did the other times I ran."

Shiriken looked at him. Somehow the sadness was back in his eyes. "He did it to steal your very wish to live. Like he would be stronger, the more shame you carried in your heart."

"Yes," Little Eagle said, glad that this man had not asked him to tell more about what had happened. "But how do you know so much? Have you met Scarface too?"

"No, I have not met him, but I have met many of his kind, and know them very well." Now the voice was cold and hard, and every word seemed like a promise. "We will go back to him."

Fear struck Little Eagle. "Why? He promised to cut off my toes, if I ever ran away again."

"He will hunt you in your dreams, Little Eagle. When that happens, I want you to tell him, that you are unafraid of him."

"Why will I be unafraid of him?"

Shiriken looked at Little Eagle with dark, almond eyes.

"When he comes hunting you in your dreams, you can tell him that you saw him die."