The Last Tale of Yajikali

Chapter XIII - Beneath the Streets of Yesulam

by Charles Matthias

Cover | Contents | Prologue | Book I | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Interlude I
Book II | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | Interlude II
Book III | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | Interlude III
Book IV | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65
66 | 67 | 68 | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | Epilogue

“‘Tis the place,” Nemgas announced.

The Magyars found themselves in a large cul-de-sac beneath the city. A wide set of stairs occupied one end that ended in a heavy cedar door. A shallower ramp led off from one side. Arrayed before it were large barrels of mead and casks brimming with foodstuffs. A modest rack of wines occupied another wall, and near the staircases were cedar cabinets filled with spare linens. Freshly lit sconces kept the storehouse dimly illuminated.

The doorway from the store room into the sewers had been locked. But a few minutes under Gamran’s skilled attention remedied that.

“Where art we?” Kaspel asked as he led one of the horses toward the barrels. He tied the reins around a rusty hook imbedded in the wall.

“Beneath the Inn of the Slumbering Lion,” Nemgas pronounced. He bore a wide grin as he surveyed the plentiful wares. For the first time in what seemed many months they would eat well. “I hath no doubt the master of this house, a man hight Ahadi, wilt permit us to stay here in his storehouse. But we must seek his hospitality first ere we sate ourselves upon his wares.”

“Why wouldst this Ahadi give us succour?” Chamag asked as he surveyed the long ramp. From the menagerie of gouges in the clay, it was clear that Ahadi frequently brought horses down into the storeroom.

Nemgas rubbed his hands together. “He wast friends with Kashin.” Now that he was in Yesulam, the memories of the Yeshuel that he shared filled his mind endlessly. When he wished to know something, he only had to ask himself, and the answer would spring into his consciousness. At least it would if Kashin had known the answer. But about this ancient city it seemed Kashin knew almost all that there was to know. Already, he was beginning to recall secret paths through many of the more important buildings – paths that the Yeshuel had once used to protect the Patriarch and to spy on foreigners.

“And he wilt not mind us staying here?” Amile asked. She was surveying the linen cupboards with keen interest, though her voice was sceptical.

“‘Tis my hope,” Nemgas admitted with a long sigh. He leaned against one of the barrels and surveyed his fellow Magyars. Pelgan and Berkon were securing the door to the sewers, while Kaspel and Petriz were tying up the horses. Gelel was greedily eyeing the foodstuffs and attempting to help unload the saddlebags. Chamag continued to keep a careful watch on the ramp and stairwell, while Gamran savoured his victory over the door by contemplating which bottle of wine he would pilfer first. All of them looked weary and in need of true rest.

“But first, he must see who hast come to quarter in his storehouse, and he must believe that we wilt not take more than we dost need. We dost not know who hath been alerted to our coming. The one who sent the Driheli may hath told others of Kashin’s appearance. I dost resemble Kashin, so ‘twould be folly for me to seek out Ahadi. Gamran, thou dost appear a Flatlander the least of all of us, so thou shouldst find Ahadi and bring him here. Tell him that friends of Kashin wait below, but be sure to be discreet.”

The little thief sported an amused grin. “‘Tis all thee wishes? What dost this Master Ahadi look like?”

“A portly man of middle age, though his hair hast some grey in it. His beard dost come down to his chest. Thou shouldst find him easily enough through the door at the top of the stairs.” He would have warned Gamran not to be seen coming out of that door by anyone, but he knew he did not have to tell his fellow Magyar that.

Gamran nodded thoughtfully and then smiled mischievously. “I wilt have this Ahadi here ere thou couldst saith his name ten times backwards!” And with that, the little thief practically danced up the stairs. Nemgas chuckled as he disappeared out of sight.

“I would be surprised if the Driheli have reached Yesulam this quickly,” Petriz said in his native tongue, sombre eyes locked upon Nemgas. “I very much doubt you’ll be able to hide here forever.”

“Speak so that we canst understand thee!” Chamag snarled, one hand gripping the haft of his axe.

Petriz did not turn his gaze. Nemgas narrowed his eyes and nodded. “Thou speakest truly. We wilt not remain here forever regardless. When I hath put an end to the threat against my people, we wilt leave. Thou hast handed thy life into my hands, Sir Petriz. Cooperate, and I wilt let thee go back to thy knights when all hath been done. If thou choses to be a millstone instead, I wilt bring thee back to our wagons and make a Magyar of thee too.”

The knight’s eyes widened in alarm, but only for a moment. He swallowed and turned back to the horses, speaking soft words to the beasts to sooth them. The equines were restless, unhappy being underground for so long.

Gelel chuckled darkly at Nemgas’s threat, but he was the only one. The rest continued to survey the store room. Berkon even went so far as to open one of the casks of foodstuffs to inspect what was inside. All he found was wheat.

As promised, a few minutes later Gamran bounded back down the stairs with a triumphant grin crossing his lips. Following him down the stairs was a man of wide-girth wearing a dark blue bisht with golden trim. As promised, his black beard reached halfway down his chest. Dark eyes peered out through wrinkles, settling almost immediately on the Magyar who recognized him.

“You look like Kashin,” Ahadi said cautiously. He warily eyed the others in the room, one hand resting upon the curved blade buckled at his side. “But I can see that you are not he. Who are you, and why have you come into my humble abode?”

Nemgas chuckled. “Most that dost enter thy abode come through the front door, Master Ahadi. We hath crept in like thieves in the night, but art not here to steal thy wares. We come seeking thy hospitality and thy protection. Thou wast once friends with Kashin. I seek to do what Kashin couldst not – find justice for Patriarch Akabaieth.”

Ahadi lowered his head in respect for the deceased Patriarch. “Tell me, stranger in my home, what do you know of my friend Kashin? But first, please tell me who you are so that I may properly welcome you.”

“Of course. I hight Nemgas. I art a Magyar of the Steppe. All that thou dost see before thee art Magyars as well, apart from this man, who art a knight of the Driheli.”

Ahadi frowned for a moment as he studied Petriz. The knight had one hand on his mare’s neck and the other at his side. He met Ahadi’s gaze briefly, and then nodded without saying a word.

“Magyars have not been allowed in the city gates in several generations,” Ahadi pointed out suspiciously.

“Thy trade in opiates dost also arouse the ire of the city guard,” Nemgas said with a wry grin. “But I dost not wish to stay under thy roof by a threat. I seek thy hospitality, Master Ahadi. I wilt tell thee what thee wishes to know of thy friend Kashin, and I promise that we wilt faithfully tend to thy stores in recompense for warm meals, good mead, and a place to rest our heads.”

“Faithful servants I have already,” Ahadi pointed out. “Let the pilarians perform for my guests and I will consider it a fair trade.”

“Pilarians?” Gamran asked in surprise. Already he’d pulled his juggling balls from their pouch and was practising with them.

Nemgas chuckled. “In the language of the Ecclesia, a pilarian is one who juggles, Gamran. He returned his attention on the blue robed innkeeper and shook his head. “The other knights of Driheli hunt us. Thou wouldst hope to attract more business by the Magyar arts, but that would bring the Driheli here. We shalt find another way to repay thee for thy hospitality.”

Ahadi frowned but nodded slowly. “Tonight you will have my hospitality. Tell me more of my friend Kashin, and I hope I will be able to quarter you longer. We will find ways for you to pay for your continued lodging if needs be.”

He took his hand away from his curved sword and warmly smiled to them. “I consider myself a good judge of character. Though your people are often called thieves and tricksters, I can see something else in you. You are a decent sort of people in your own way. I assume you wish to stay down here in my store room? Very well. My servants are used to keeping secrets. This will merely be one more. I will have cots prepared for each of you this night, as well as a warm meal. But first, tell me why it is you that seeks to do what Kashin could not?”

Nemgas nodded slowly. Most of the other Magyars had abandoned their inspection to sit against the walls or the barrels. Only Sir Petriz remained standing, but even the knight appeared to listen.

“I fear the tale art a tragic one, Master Ahadi. But thou must believe that everything that I wilt tell thee art the truth. If thou didst truly love Patriarch Akabaieth as Kashin didst believe, then thou wilt be only too glad to help when thou hast heard Kashin’s tale.”

Ahadi’s brow furrowed as he listened to Nemgas describe the Yeshuel’s journey from Metamor to Cenziga. Two hours later, the Innkeeper promised them room and board so long as they were in Yesulam. Even Sir Petriz fought back righteous tears.

For once, the sword was quiet. After feeding upon the boy the night before, the golden blade had remained still, leaving Bishop Jothay to enjoy his priestly activities. One of his most pleasurable was taking the midday meal. He sat in his bedchambers glancing over a letter from his homeland while eating fresh bread dipped in honey. The honey was succulently sweet, and it tickled all the way down his throat.

But even these brief mundane moments could not last forever. He felt a shadow grow in the back of his mind and a small smile began to spread over his lips. Perhaps he preferred the intrigue over the mundane anyway. “Good morning, Krenek. Has he spoken?”

There was a heavy sigh behind him. Jothay turned in his chair and regarded the Sondecki. He had removed his black robes and bore only a black tunic and breeches. There were a few blood stains along his cuffs. Zagrosek regarded him with a haggard expression, eyes heavy from lack of sleep.

“No, he hasn’t said anything.”

“Then why are you here?” Jothay let a sliver of irritation enter his voice.

“He’s presently unconscious. My last blow knocked him out.”

“You didn’t kill him, did you?”

Zagrosek shook his head. “No. I healed what wounds I gave him, so he still lives. I will wake him soon to begin again. But so far he has said nothing.” He leaned forward, and steadied himself with one hand on the back of Jothay’s chair. “It will be very difficult to break him.”

Jothay was definitely irritated now. “Why should it? He’s a snivelling priest with petty thoughts of revenge upon pagans. You should have names now, Krenek. Names!”

Zagrosek did not meet his gaze. The dark-haired Sondecki looked across the room uncertainly. “He is no mere priest, your grace. He is a Questioner.”

“And trained to torture, not in resisting it.”

“Yes, but this one has already been tortured before. His back is a horrible mess of scars from where he’d been whipped repeatedly. It will take some time.”

“But can you break him?” Jothay crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes. He was growing terribly impatient with this nonsense.

“Yes,” the Sondecki said with a nod. “I can break him. It will just take a few days at the least. And then who else knows what Bishop Morean knows.”

Jothay began to nod thoughtfully. He licked a bit of honey from his doughy lips. “Morean. He will have to be dealt with also. I want you to kill him tonight.”

Zagrosek stuttered. “Kill him? But he might know things...”

“That he knows things is bad enough. I do not need two prisoners. I did not even want one. Kill him and be done with it.” Jothay began to smile again. “Yes, and if he had any other coconspirators, they will surely make themselves known if his grace dies a most horrible death. Perhaps if you killed him the same way that you killed the men in Akabaieth’s entourage it might give me the chance to further denounce the few supporters Akabaieth has left. The city will be in a panic and demand that we take drastic action. Yes, I like this, do it.”

But Zagrosek shook his head resolutely. “You do not know what you are asking, your grace. He is a Sondecki too!”

“Of very little power. He will be no match for you.”

“That is not the point.”

Jothay slapped him across the cheek. “Stop snivelling like some dog! Do it tonight! And break that damn priest soon. I want to know who else he has been talking to.”

Zagrosek straightened, a look of resignation upon his brow. “Very well. I will bring Morean to his end. In the manner of my choosing.”

“Do not provoke me further, Krenek. Camille sent you here to serve me! Me! Not your own wishes, me! Do not forget that.”

He inclined his head and took a step toward the shadows along one wall. “I shall not forget it, your grace. I will deal with Morean tonight.” So saying, he stepped into the shadow and disappeared.

Jothay turned back to his meal and shoved the bread down his throat. He smiled as he thought of Morean’s corpse being found tomorrow morning mangled in the streets. Ah, now that would be delicious indeed!

Kehthaek was in his quarters reading through the scriptures when Felsah found him. The older man did not look up, his eyes locked upon the parchment. His voice was soft and welcoming. “Good afternoon, Father Felsah. You sound troubled.”

Felsah let the door close behind him. Only Kehthaek’s lantern brought any light into the small cell. His room was empty but for a few books and a small cupboard with his clothes. There was nowhere else to sit, so the younger Questioner sat cross-legged on the floor. “I am troubled, Father. Have you seen Akaleth today? He is not in his rooms, nor anywhere else I have looked.”

Kehthaek paused in his reading. He set one finger upon the page as if he were marking his spot, and slowly let his dark eyes lift to greet the younger man. “Where else would you think to find Father Akaleth?”

“I checked the chapels and the cathedral, as well as the library. I do not know where else to look for him.” Although it was another day before the three of them were to gather together to discuss what they had found, Akaleth’s disappearance was too startling to ignore. He hadn’t even gone to the morning service!

Kehthaek took a long breath and asked, “When did you see him last?”

“Yesterday evening. He’d come to my cell to tell me what he had found in the library. He said he was going to meet another ally to learn what they might know.”

The elder Questioner was completely still apart from his lips. “Who was his ally?”

Felsah thought for a moment, and then realized that he’d never asked. He immediately felt foolish. “I do not know. He never said, and I forgot to ask.”

“What did he learn at the library?”

Felsah gripped his knees in each hand. He had gone this morning to the library and discovered that everything the younger Questioner had said was true. “A year ago, a letter arrived from Metamor Keep asking if an exorcism had been performed on the Chateau Marzac. No reply could be found. And the letter of intent sent by Patriarch Akabaieth informing Metamor of his impending visit is also missing.”

“And the Book of Exorcism?”

“No record of an exorcism of Marzac, but I think there is a page missing. On one page the last exorcism is dated seven years ago, and then the very next exorcism on the next page is listed as having been performed two years ago. A gap that large cannot be coincidence.”

“It isn’t,” Kehthaek said, his eyes narrowing. There was an edge of iron in his voice. “I was in attendance to an exorcism performed in Marylith four years ago. A minor exorcism of a demoniac, but it would have been recorded in the Book. That it is not there confirms your suspicions. Some one has removed any evidence of Marzac’s existence from the library archives.”

“So what Bishop Morean told us is true. I think Marzac is behind what has happened here. Whoever performed the exorcism in Marzac has been corrupted by the evil of that place. We only have to find who it was.”

Kehthaek took a long breath. “But you came here because Akaleth was missing. You said he was going to meet with someone. An ally. Who was it, and why hasn’t he returned?”

A horrible thought struck Felsah, and he felt himself begin to quiver. “What if Akaleth’s choice of allies was poor? What if the man he spoke to is one of our enemies?”

“What indeed? How might we know this to be the truth?”

Felsah pondered that question for several moments. The very idea that their enemy might know they are searching sent shivers down his spine. If they were willing to have the Patriarch murdered, surely they would have no difficulty in dispatching a trio of troublesome Questioners.

“If Akaleth has told them about us, then they will kill us.”

“And Bishop Morean,” Kehthaek finished for him. “Thus, so long as we are alive, we may freely assume that Akaleth has not told our enemy our identities, if indeed he has fallen into their hands. But is there some way we might know for sure?”

“We could ask others to see if they know where he has gone. He may have told others what he was going to do.”

Kehthaek shook his head. “If Akaleth is in the hands of our enemies, then they will be watching to see if any show an interest in finding him. We should not give ourselves away.”

“But Akaleth’s life may be in danger. What can we do about him?”

“While he is in the hands of our enemies? Nothing. Once we learn who they are, there may be hope to save him.” At seeing the look of dismay on Felsah’s face, Kehthaek allowed a frown to cross his features. “I wish to see him alive and in our company again as well. But we do not know where he is, or what he has said to others. We must continue our investigation.”

Felsah let out a heavy breath, his knuckles white. “What of Bishop Morean?”

“I will send him a note presently expressing my fears for his safety. As for yourself, learn what more you can. Do not be afraid. This is Eli’s work that we do, Father Felsah. Never has it been more important for us to learn and to question.”

He nodded slowly, shifting about uncomfortably on the floor. “I should go. I’ll see what else there is to learn in the library.”

“If even the Book of Exorcism can no longer be vouchsafed, then I fear you will learn more in what you do not find, than in what you find.” Kehthaek lowered his eyes to the Canticles and studied them intently for several seconds. “If we are alive on the morrow, we will talk with Bishop Morean again.”

“And if not?”

“We will watch from Paradise as others take up our yolk.”

Felsah nodded uncertainly as he rose to his feet. Briskly, he strode from the cell and glided down the halls of the Questioners without much solace. He said a quick prayer under his breath that Akaleth would be safe. He added a second for himself.

Night does not fall quietly in Yesulam. Massive bronze bells ring out the setting of the sun, and in St. Kephas’s Cathedral hundreds of priests begin singing the evening vespers. The scorched red sky fades like the consonant harmonies of human voice into a deep somnolent blue. When at last the prayers have come to a humble, serene conclusion, the stars shine brightly above and only then does silence descend upon the hilltop city.

Though the land near the Yurdon river was fertile, deserts flanked either side. To the east was the impenetrable Desert of Dreaming, and to the west lay a barren land of jagged rock and parched earth. There were flowers and trees that grew in that forbidding land, and plants full of thorns and thistles to keep wild animals at bay. Settlements dotted the landscape, with enclaves of hundreds clustered near communal wells dug into the earth thousands of years before.

Many of the Bishops who were staying in Yesulam looked upon those dry lands and saw emptiness and death. They preferred the gilded streets of the city, thinking little of what lay beyond her massive walls. Even the city of Abaef that was three day’s journey north along the river was but one more miserable hamlet compared to the splendour of Eli’s holy city.

But Morean, the Bishop of Sondeshara, could stare out across the desolate landscape and see the life for what it was – Eli’s beautiful garden. He admired the blue and purple flowers that fought their way up from hard earth. In them he saw a lesson from the heavens – no matter how difficult life became, they still had their beauty and worth.

Morean found himself staring to the west as the last embers of the sun’s passage finally faded into the dark of night. His chambers overlooked the cliffs to the west, and the land beyond was a long plain that ended in another ridge of hills. Small fires were lit along the ridge. Some of them were signal flames, others the sign of shepherds and their flocks. But he wasn’t really looking at any of them. Instead, he sought to see something beyond the horizon. There was a place of evil somewhere to the west, a land that he had never thought would threaten them in his lifetime.

And now it was waking up.

Morean thought again of the note he’d received only a short time ago. One of the three Questioners had disappeared. Kehthaek feared his life was in danger. Sad as it was, this did not surprise him. Ever since he had begun to suspect that Marzac was the reason behind the Patriarch’s assassination, he’d known it would only be a matter of time before the Sondecki Bishop became a target.

He’d had a message sent to his ship immediately. The crew were also Sondecki, and his elite bodyguards were both of the purple. They would not stop somebody like Zagrosek, but they should give Morean some warning if that man should come a calling.

With a long sigh, Morean turned from his contemplation of the horizon and stepped over to his bed. It was lavish, but he could not help but prefer his simpler cot in Sondeshara. He needed to get some sleep. All things were in Eli’s hands now. Until his hour came, he would do what he could. A small smile stretched his lips, but his heart was heavy with melancholy. Sleep would not heal that wound.

Morean drew back the soft covers and was about to remove the blue Sondecki robe he bore when he heard his door open and shut. Turning his head, he saw a flash of black, and then there was only shadow. “Who is it?” He asked, stepping backwards, old reflexes lifting his hands defensively.

“Good evening, your grace. Forgive my intrusion, but I have no choice in this matter.”

The voice came from his left, and there standing by the window was a man that he had not seen in many long years. Krenek Zagrosek. His black hair was unkempt and his eyes were weary as if he had not slept in days. He bore the black robe of his rank, and beneath it, Morean could feel the power that lay there.

“Krenek. I knew you would come,” Morean said as calmly as he could. So his hour was here at last. “I am surprised you have come so soon. How did you get in here without the others seeing you?”

Zagrosek shrugged. There was a sullen agony in his face. “The shadow is my realm now, your grace. Do not fear for their lives. They will both wake tomorrow with a very unpleasant headache.”

“I could cry out an alarm,” Morean pointed out. He did not even bother trying to retreat. The bed was in his way, and he was not likely to leap over it at his age. “Others would hear.”

“I wish you wouldn’t,” Zagrosek replied softly. “That sort of spectacle is exactly what he wants. But that’s not why I am here.”

Morean was not sure who he was referring to. He felt only the faint tinges of fear, but what he did feel did not come from this man. “You killed Patriarch Akabaieth. Why?”

“You know the answer already, your grace.” Zagrosek let out a heavy sigh, his hands resting at his sides. “And I think you know how I know. Your friend Akaleth admitted it to me. I had hoped you wouldn’t be able to piece together the puzzle. Though I did not know you well, I always knew you to be a good and holy man, your grace.”

“But that is not what stays your hand,” Morean finished for him. He lowered his fists a few inches and frowned. “Everyone I knew spoke very highly of you. They extolled your sense of justice and dedication to the Sondecki. How could you let yourself fall into the trap of Marzac? How can you stand yourself knowing what it has made you do?”

Zagrosek smiled contemptuously, but it did not seem to be the same person who had looked so weary a moment before. “What must be done, must be done. The agonies I suffer are none of your concern. But if you wish to know how I came to serve Marzac, then I will tell you. You will not have the chance to tell any other you realize.”

Morean said nothing, merely gestured for the black-clad man to continue. “You were right that I left Sondeshara to look for Charles. I first went to the only man I knew well in Galendor – Marquis Camille du Tournemire. He had already become a slave to Marzac, though I did not know it at the time. He assured me that he knew where Charles had gone, but that he had promised Charles that he would not reveal it to any other. I cajoled him, and he suggested we play a hand of cards to decide. If I won, he would tell me.”

A bitter laugh escaped his lips. “I was a fool, your grace. Tournemire can work magic of a most insidious kind through his cards. I was enslaved to him first, and then he brought me into Marzac. I couldn’t do anything except what he instructed. I still cannot. And that is why I am here tonight, your grace. I have instructions, and I will carry them out to the best of my ability, no matter how much it galls me to do so.”

“And what are your instructions?” Morean asked. He hoped to stall this man long enough that someone might notice his guards unconscious. The explanation of his conversion had not taken nearly as long as he had thought it would. He needed only to delay him a bit longer. Though Krenek had been lauded for his sense of justice, he was also well known as being incapable of keeping his tongue still.

“I have been sent to kill you, your grace. He who commands me wants you dead before you tell what you know of Marzac to any other ears.”

Morean nodded, suspecting this to be the case. “Very well, why don’t you kill me?”

Zagrosek snorted and crossed his arms. “You may only be a blue, and you may have become a priest, but you are still Sondecki. I’m no fool. I know perfectly well what happens when a Sondecki takes the life of another Sondecki, even if my master does not. But do not think this means I will not strike you either if you do not do as I ask. I just won’t kill you.”

The Bishop set his hands at his belly and tensed. “Do you honestly think I will tell a servant of Marzac anything? I will never speak a word of it to you.”

“Perhaps not. But I will ask you one time anyway. As you are Sondecki, it is only fair.” He leaned forward a bit, dark eyes narrowing. “Who else knows the legend of Marzac here in Yesulam? Who are Akaleth’s allies?”

Morean ignored him. “What have you done with Akaleth? If you release him, I will tell you what I know.”

“I told you, do not take me for a fool.” There was real venom in Krenek’s voice now. A sullen fire began to smoulder in his eyes. “You know perfectly well that once we have what we want from Akaleth, he will be killed. I will happily end his life. I am giving you this one chance, your grace. I know your ship is ready to sail at a moment’s notice. Tell me what I want to know now, and I will let you board that ship and sail away tonight. If you come back to Yesulam, another will be sent, one who will have no compunctions about killing you.”

“And if I refuse to speak now?”

Zagrosek flexed one hand. “Then you will never see the sun again. What will it be your grace?”

Morean waited as many seconds as he felt prudent. There was nothing but silence beyond his doorway. There seemed little hope now that another would notice his guards and raise the alarm. Perhaps if he was lucky, he could kill Zagrosek himself. It would cost his own life in the process, but it was the only hope that any of them had. He leaned back against his nightstand. The oil lantern was inches from his fingers.

“You leave me with little choice. Save my life at the expense of letting Marzac continue to corrupt the Ecclesia. And it would cost Akaleth his life. How many more innocents like Patriarch Akabaieth will die because I betrayed them to you? And I would be condemning my soul in the process.” He shook his head and gripped the lantern in his fingers. “No, Krenek, I can never do that. I will never tell you anything.”

“Though I have no wish to do what I must,” Zagrosek replied, a strange sort of smile crossing his lips, “It does bring me some delight to know that you are not so easily corruptible your grace. It is a pity that you leave me with no choice now.”

He was faster than Morean expected. One moment he was standing with arms crossed, and the next he was slamming his fist into the priest’s belly. Morean gasped in agony even as he brought the lantern around and smacked it against Krenek’s chest. He poured what Sondeck he had into the blow, splashing Zagrosek’s robes with the oil and fire. Zagrosek gave out a sharp cry of surprise as the wool burst into flame.

Morean took advantage of the moment to strike him in the face with all his strength. The blow would have killed any other man. He had heard that when a Sondecki takes the life of another Sondecki, their power rebounds upon them in retribution. All that energy unleashed into their body would shatter their bones and leave them an agonized pulp of torn flesh. Morean had wondered how much it would hurt.

But he never found out. Despite the flame rising up all over his robe, Zagrosek blocked the blow and brought his fists into either side of Morean’s chest. He gasped for air, falling backwards as the black Sondecki shoved him into the wall with one hand. He felt a sharp pain in the back of his head, and then the world began to spin out of control.

The last thing he remembered seeing was Zagrosek burying his robe in Morean’s quilts to staunch the flame.

Cover | Contents | Prologue | Book I | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Interlude I
Book II | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | Interlude II
Book III | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | Interlude III
Book IV | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65
66 | 67 | 68 | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | Epilogue

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