Interlude 1

One night, Raiden had a vivid and powerful dream. He entered the dream as though emerging from under-water, half-drowned. He walked endlessly down a torchlit corridor. At the end, he met a ghostly figure, who seemed oddly familiar. The ghost held out its hands - one palm open, the other clenched into a fist. The spectre reached out his hands to touch Raiden, but his touch was not cold and clammy, but warm and reassuring. Raiden awoke with the name Sijan on his lips, and a vision of a mausoleum in his mind.

His curiosity piqued, he he made his way to the mausoleum city with the aid of Azir's stormwind rider. Landing upriver, he made his way into the city on foot. The city itself was a vast agglomeration made up, for the most part, of graveyards. He would need assistance to locate the mausoleum from his dream. With that in mind, he went to the offices of the Order of Morticians, to meet a minor official there.

A quick search of the Order's records later, he had narrowed the search down to three graves. He made his way north across the city, and found the one; the grave of Elijah Manningstar. A bleak stone edifice, its "entrance" blocked by a solid slab of stone, it gave but one sign of its possible importance; a statuette of a man, adopting a combat stance associated with an art Raiden knew well, that of the Ebon Shadow.

Unsure how to proceed, Raiden left offerings (destroyed in the traditional way so that the ghost of Elijah would receive them in the underworld) and, attached to a bouqet of black roses, a message for anyone who might stop by the grave. He spent some time there, practicing languid kata in a meditative trance. Perhaps he expected someone to emerge from the grave, or a ghostly voice. Whatever he expected, nothing happened.

So he took the more direct route; a short ride (and a short ferry-trip) to the Black Chase. There he would be able to cross over into the Underworld without difficulty. His steed expressed its preference for the lands of the living in forthright fashion, leaving him making the return journey on foot - a minor inconvenience.

Returning to the city, he found it a raucous, lively metropolis - the direct opposite of its living counterpart. Fortunately though, the geography remained the same, and he made his way back to Elijah's grave. It too was much the same - except that its main entrance was an open doorway, flanked by torches eerily reminiscent of his dream. Pausing at the threshold, he called out, hesitantly - and was rewarded with a friendly greeting from Elijah's ghost.

Elijah was pleased to see Raiden - evidently cheered by the gifts that Raiden had left him from the other side of the veil, and impressed by the display of skills that he had made on the steps of the mausoleum the previous evening. Although puzzled by Raiden's dream, he revealed that he was himself the son of a solar exalted, and a master of the Ebon Shadow.

He was, he said, willing to teach Raiden. For a price. An ex-member of the Order of Morticians, he wished reinstatement and the humiliation of the rival who had arranged his dismissal from the Order. Naturally, Raiden agreed. It was a simple matter to arrange a meeting with a high-up contact in the Order, a rather militaristic ghost who was willing to consider Elijah's case. He would be reinstated, he said, if he could duel and defeat one of the Order's own.

Raiden left the Order's office, hurrying back to Elijah's grave. He was confident the ghost could win the duel - but the old ghost had not fought anyone for some time. He would need to practice, or so Raiden suspected. Fortunately, he was at least half wrong in that assumption. Elijah's reflexes and skills proved up-to-date, frighteningly so. But his killer instinct, his aggression - they seemed to have left him altogether.

Pondering what to do about this, Raiden headed for the home (grave) of Elijah's rival. As he had remarked at the time, this was the easy half of his mission for Elijah. Weaving himself a cloak of shadows, he walked right into the place, and stole the ghost's most prized possession, a Chiaroscuran glass sword, complete with scabbard, right from under his nose. Feeling rather smug, he returned to Elijah's grave bearing the sword.

Over the next week, Raiden's fears about Elijah's passive style continued to play on his mind. Finally, he elected to push the issue. At their final practice session, he taunted the old ghost. Mocking his embarrassing defeat and expulsion from the Order, he stoked Elijah's anger. But even that would perhaps not have been sufficient to raise the ghost's ire, if he had not punctuated it with a powerful physical blow - the first to penetrate Elijah's efficient dodging techique.

Raiden left the graveyard with only one limb working, but triumphant. He had succeeded in bringing out Elijah's aggression.

The duel itself was perhaps a reprise of the previous week's practice sessions. Elijah showed incredible skill - at avoiding his opponent. Yet when he presented an opening, Elijah consistently failed to land the killer blow. In a contest to the first blood, that was unforgiveable. After several hours of fighting (exhausting just to watch), Raiden decided to taunt the ghost one more time. His wrath provoked, the ghost quickly completed the duel, victorious.

Raiden left Sijan having acquired a new teacher. More than that, he had found a confidant and friend. And that familiarity from the dream was still lurking at the back of his mind - was there more to Elijah?