Book 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
High waves lapped against the stone wharves of Breckaris, bringing with them warm winds off the sea. Vinsah tugged at his collar, panting like a dog in the hot Summer air. Beside him Malger and Sheyiin fared no better, but both managed to maintain their dignity better than the raccoon. The swarthy captain who alternated between yelling at his crew and calmly discussing terms of passage with them did not appear to notice their panting.
“You’ve enough coin for me to take you all the way to Yesulam,” the captain agreed, though he frowned unhappily. “You’ll have to stay below decks most of the time. ‘Tis the seasons for storms on the sea, you see. If you’re on deck you’ll just be getting in the way.”
“I understand,” Vinsah replied, though with his tongue desperate to hang past his fangs he feared that his words were slurred. “I will not trouble your crew at all.”
“Good,” the captain grunted before turning and shouting, “‘Ware that line, mates! Don’t drop that cargo or you’ll be sailing to Yesulam on the keel! Now move it! We’ve a tide to catch!”
He turned back to the raccoon Bishop whose appearance gave no hint to his cursed nature. The spells that Murikeer had woven into his yew pendant were still as strong as the day they’d been cast. Only Sheyiin the fox who had insisted on accompanying them after they freed her from Maximillian’s Carnival was revealed in her true form. And being an obsequious servant, she was very talented at not being seen. Apart from the incident in Eldwater, she had gone unnoticed.
“We’ll be ready to depart in half an hour. I need to see to my crew. Board when you are ready. Either myself or the First Mate will show you your quarters.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Vinsah replied, bowing his head gratefully. “I won’t be long.”
He nodded briskly before climbing the gangplank to bark more orders at his men. The sailors were furiously stowing the last of the gears and preparing the rigging for the journey that lay ahead of them.
Malger stretched and let his eyes gaze out across the wide sea. Somewhere to the south lay Kitchlande, but it lay beyond the horizon. Dark clouds brewed in the sky, but they were leagues beyond where Vinsah would sail.
“It has been a pleasure travelling with you,” Malger said at last, a small smile crossing his features.
Vinsah nodded and extended his paw. Malger clasped it, and then drew him into a comradely hug. “As well you, Malger. I wish you godspeed in your journey. You make for Sutthaivasse now?”
“Aye, I have family business there that I have put off for far too long now. Like you, I return to my homeland for the first time since sporting the fur that you would see if not for lad Murikeer’s clever spell. I do not look for a warm homecoming, but I hope that you find one in your Ecclesia.”
“I hope the same for you, Malger, no matter what you say you expect. It has been an honour and privilege to journey with you, although I confess I will not mind taking a break from your fiendish piccolo.”
Malger laughed spritely and grinned so wide that it stretched the credulity of his human guise. “If I had more than the one, I might be tempted to lend you the spare so that you could continue practising. You are not as bad as you think.”
“I’m no bard, Malger. That I leave to you.”
The marten nodded. “True, but there is music in you. Even priests know music, your grace.” At this his eyes seemed to pass through him and into the past. What could he be thinking of, Vinsah wondered.
A shout from the large galleon caught their ears. Vinsah’s upright ears turned first, and then his head to see the Captain berating one of the sailors who had not tied one of the lines as tightly as he should.
Vinsah sighed and gave his friend one last look. “I fear I should be leaving now, Malger. I do not know if my path will bring me to Metamor again, but I suspect it will. There has never been a better time to create a diocese for the Northern Midlands than now.”
“Is that what you hope for, Elvmere?”
“I think so, yes. So long as all is well with the Ecclesia, I could spend the remainder of my days serving as Bishop there. We shall see. Either way, Eli will lead me where He wills. May the Lady of your dreams guide you as well.”
Malger’s smile was bemused, but it was genuine. “Eli go with you, Elvmere. I look forward to the day our paths cross again. Now hurry or your ship will leave without you.”
Vinsah nodded. He smiled to Sheyiin and said his goodbyes one more time to them both. With a deep breath, he set paw to the gangplank and climbed the thirteen steps to the vessel. He looked back once, and waved to Malger and Sheyiin. They returned the wave before heading back up the wharf towards the city.
The raccoon watched them go with a heavy heart. It had been nearly five months ago now that they had started out from Metamor Valley together. At first he had found them strange company – was there any odder pairing than a Lothanasi illusionist, a Moranasi musician, and a Patildor priest? But as the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, he’d grown to trust and rely on them more deeply than any save his spiritual mentor Akabaieth. And if he returned to Metamor, he would seek them both out.
A part of him wished that they could all pack their things and journey throughout the world again. Perhaps this time seeing the Outer Midlands, which was a land full of wide open fields and forests, replete with ancient ruins and strange standing stones. Naturally, they would travel as a bard with his two apprentices. As his paws ran along the galleon’s railing, he felt a deep regret that he would no longer have drums to play. He churred quietly to himself and wished he could have taken the piccolo with him.
But it was all silly vanity. He knew that his true calling was to the priesthood, and as he pondered anew blessing the sacred host, he felt his heart swell with pride. It would be good to be dressed in priestly vestments again, standing before the altar and proclaiming Yahshua’s sacrifice before the faithful.
“Ah, you’re here,” the Captain snapped, bringing him out of his reverie. “I’ll show you your quarters below. Follow me, Elvmere.”
“Of course,” Vinsah replied and fell into step behind the large man. He wondered what Akabaieth would have made of him.
The captain lead him below the aft castle and through very a cramped hallway. When his tail swayed with his steps, the tip brushed against the wood on either side. He stopped after only a few steps when the captain opened a door on his left. “Here’s your room. There’s a latch on the other side for when you sleep.”
Vinsah blinked. “Do you trust your crew?”
The captain grunted and then laughed. “I trust there’s one or two who might like to see what sort of valuables a land lover like yourself might have. Most won’t bother you if they know what’s good for them.”
“Of course.” Vinsah lifted one paw to his pendant and clutched it firmly. “How long will we be at sea?”
“‘Fore we reach Yesulam? A month at worst. We should reach the Holy City just ‘fore the equinox. If the winds are at our backs we can reach a week before.”
He nodded thoughtfully. “That is good. Just one small request. When we arrive in port, I would like a message delivered to Bishop Jothay before I disembark.” Jothay had been one of Akabaieth’s strongest supporters in the last few years. Though he and Vinsah had never been close, the Eaven Bishop was probably his most likely ally before the Council.
“Certainly, Elvmere. Now if you’ll wait in your room, I have to see us off.”
He smiled and slipped through the doorway, making sure not to brush his fur against the captain’s bulk. In the last few months he had become quite adroit at not being touched. It was the one aspect the skunk’s illusion didn’t hide. Anyone who touched him would feel thick fur instead of flesh.
The captain closed the door behind him and clomped back up the stairs to the main deck. Vinsah stretched and began to pant again. If it was possible, it was even hotter in his small quarters. The trunk with Akabaieth’s journals and the golden copy of the Canticles was secure in one corner, while his saddlebag lay on a small pallet occupied the other corner. He had one small chest of drawers at the foot of the bed, a stool to sit upon, and a porthole from which to watch the sea. There was nothing else.
Vinsah threw the latch on his door and quickly removed all of his clothing. He set the pendant on top of the drawers and immediately could see his snout and grey fur. Soon, he had on nothing at all. He pushed open the porthole and was rewarded with a slightly cooler breath of air. His view faced towards the sea, so he felt no worry in resting his snout on the rim and letting the heat slowly leave his body.
If he could not stand the Summer warmth of Breckaris, he dreaded the desert heat of Yesulam. Yes, he definitely hoped for an appointment to Metamor from the Council. He smiled as he thought on that magnificent city and all the friendly faces he knew there. So many of them were beasts like him.
He was surprised when he felt the galleon stir beneath his paws. He heard the sails snapping in the wind before they finally caught and the breeze turned along his narrow snout. His sensitive ears caught the shouts of the sailors above him, and he knew that he was finally on the last part of his journey to Yesulam.
Satisfied, Vinsah settled down on his pallet and took his wire-hair brush from his saddlebag and began to comb out his fur. There was still a long way to go. With each pleasant stroke, he offered a word of prayer to safety for his friends Malger and Muri, and then one for himself. When he was finished, he prayed it again, this time to his lady. He hoped she would be there when he slept that night.
That pleasant thought in mind, all his worries vanished. She had brought him this far, and he knew she would see her Elvmere the rest of the way. He realized that he was beginning to like that name too. Strange thought it was, it did fit him almost as well as Vinsah.
“Elvmere, Bishop of Metamor,” he said, and smiled. It did not sound bad at all.
He set the brush aside and leaned over the trunk. He unlocked it and drew out the top journal. He placed it between his legs and let the book fall open wherever it wanted to. He flipped his tail over his lap, took the brush in paw, and began to comb the tines through his tail fur. Smiling, he read Akabaieth’s comforting words and thoughts as the galleon lurched into the Sea of Pyralis.
“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me so soon, Captain,” Kehthaek said as he settled into the small alcove in the chapel. Felsah was not with him, but that was deliberate. Bishop Morean’s guards had been found unconscious that morning, and there was no sign of the Sondesharan Bishop. This could mean only one thing to the Questioner.
“Let us be brief,” Captain Delius replied in a harsh whisper. “My charge has disappeared, and my men are furious.” He gripped the edge of the alcove in callused fingers. He bore a dark complexion as Morean had, though his hair was still black. Kehthaek judged him to be no more than thirty-three years of age.
“I understand, and you should know why,” Kehthaek had sent Delius a message as soon as he had heard word of Morean’s disappearance. They were meeting in one of the chapels in the poorer district of the city, though not the one that he had been using to meet with Felsah and Akaleth. And he had chosen to come alone because he did not know who else might be watching.
If the enemy had learned of Morean through Akaleth, then Kehthaek did not wish to put anyone else’s life at risk without very good reason.
“Two other Questioners and I spoke with his grace three days ago. The next day, one of the two went missing. He was to speak with another person who also knew about the corruption in the Ecclesia. However, we feel that the person he was speaking to is responsible for this corruption, or at least, a part of it. We do not know what our enemy knows, but it is clear that they know that Bishop Morean spoke with us. Whether they know about myself or the other Questioner we do not yet know. But if they are willing to strike a highly placed member of the Ecclesia, I do not think they would have any qualms about eliminating two insignificant Questioners.”
Delius snorted. “That does little to tell us what has happened to his grace. What do you want from me?”
“Your help,” Kehthaek replied softly. “Bishop Morean could not have been operating alone. I need to know who his contacts were, and what resources he had at his disposal. If there is to be any hope of stopping this evil, we need to work together.”
“What evil is that?” Delius wasn’t even looking at the elderly Questioner now. His eyes cast off into the rest of the chapel. They were the only ones there, but it was apparent that the Sondecki sailor didn’t want to be there either.
“That of Marzac.”
Delius blinked once, and then turned slowly back to regard the Questioner. “What?”
“Marzac, good Sondecki. The threat we face is from Marzac. Morean knew it, and so do I. Now, will you help me?”
He hesitated only a second before nodding.
“It’s a simple question,” Zagrosek pointed out. He drove his fist into the small of Akaleth’s back. The Questioner gasped from the pain and fell forward. He crumpled on the cold stone floor, his fingers trembling beneath his forehead. His body cried out as every muscle in his back lanced with agony. At least he was not wearing the manacles.
He took a deep breath and quickly regretted it. He was pretty sure none of his ribs had been broken yet, but a few more blows like that and they would be.
“Are you going to answer? If you tell me I’ll stop. You know that, Father. Just tell me who else knows and you won’t be in pain anymore.”
Akaleth gritted his teeth and slowly moved his hands before him on the floor. He did not move to get up, only to look forward. Zagrosek had left all of his belongings in a neat pile just a few feet away. They may as well have been on the other side of the room for all the good they would do. Curled in a small pile was his whip, and nestled within the curled leather were the screws and braces he sometimes favoured. Atop them sat his small mirror. Bundled behind them was his black cassock.
He heard Zagrosek step around behind him. He wore heavy boots, and each time the heel struck the stone, a dull echo resounded from the chamber walls. “I do not know why you persist in this foolish silence. You are alone here. I am the only one who can spare you. Jothay has shown you what he’ll do to you. He has demonstrated he does not care for your life. I’m the only one who can make the pain go away, Father. Please, let me spare you.”
Akaleth felt a bit of a smile twitch at the sides of his lips. Another few days of this, and he might actually believe those lies. A second later he felt a sharp kick to his right leg. He screamed from the pain. Already, he could feel the bone begin to fracture. Akaleth tucked his leg closer, pulling into a ball a few inches closer to his things. He slid his right arm down to his leg. He was a priest. His touch could mend.
Zagrosek’s boot found his fingers and leaned upon them. “No, Father. You haven’t been listening to me. Only I can bring surcease to your suffering. You have to do as I ask. I’ll heal your wound, I promise. You don’t have to be in pain.” He stepped off Akaleth’s fingers and gave him a quick kick to the side.
Akaleth gasped, rolling onto his left arm, eyes wide. He could not even breathe for several long agonizing seconds. When the air finally returned to his lungs, he coughed raggedly, his whole body wracked by spasms. Tears were streaming down his cheeks. He wanted to stare defiantly at this man, but he had no energy for it anymore.
The black clad Sondecki slowly knelt at the priest’s side. His face was grave, dark eyes smouldering beneath heavy brows. He gripped Akaleth’s face in his fingers and squeezed. “You are a waste you know. Just tell us what we want to know. Nobody can save you but me. Nobody is ever going to come looking for you. And nobody could even find this place. Go on. Try and escape. I’ll even close my eyes and give you five seconds to run. Try it.”
Akaleth groaned as he saw Zagrosek close his eyes. The evil man’s smile was so confident, that he felt his heart sink anew. Even if he tried to get up and run, he wouldn’t get very far. With a Sondecki of the black chasing him, Akaleth knew he had no chance. He truly had little hope of leaving this place. And with each passing day, it died a little bit more.
After the five seconds were up, Zagrosek opened his eyes. “Not even going to try, are you?” Akaleth gave his head a little trembling shake. The man towering above him smiled. “Of course not. You know that you must stay here until I let you go.” He laughed and then bent down to stare face to face with the priest. Akaleth stared back weakly, feeling utterly drained.
“I can let you go, you know. I want to set you free. Why do you think I remove your bonds when I am here. Please, Father, you can make it all possible if you just tell me what I need to know. Tell me who else knows about Marzac. Will you do that for yourself? You know it’s really not for me, but for yourself I ask this, don’t you?”
Akaleth leaned his head back against the stone. Beyond Zagrosek he could see several of the robed guards standing against a distant wall. One of them was all that remained of Bishop Morean. The misery of watching his destruction throbbed inside his heart. He may have been a bit too in love with his magical clan, but he had served the Ecclesia nevertheless. Could the same even be said of Jothay? How long had he been a servant of darkness?
“I won’t,” he gasped raggedly.
“Won’t what, father?”
Akaleth took several seconds to catch his breath. His things were so close now, just another foot. “I won’t end up like... like...”
“Like?” Zagrosek leaned in closer, eyes intent.
“Morean,” Akaleth said, pointing past his belongings towards a clump of those robed figured that had once been men.
Zagrosek laughed softly and patted him on the cheek a few times. With a sharp crack, he slapped the priest hard. Akaleth’s face smacked into the ground from the blow. He pulled himself into a tight ball, and his eyes began to sting.
“Don’t think I haven’t noticed the way you approach your belongings,” the Sondecki said. His back was to the priest. Akaleth pondered if he had ever met somebody so infuriatingly arrogant. “They will not help you. Only I can help you, Akaleth. You know this. But you still fight me. You still fight me.”
“Please!” Akaleth begged, his whole body trembling. His voice was ragged. “Please! Don’t let me end up like Morean!”
Zagrosek smirked and turned to regard him thoughtfully. “Very well. Tell me who also knows about Marzac.”
Akaleth curled up tighter. “No, please don’t hurt me! Please!”
He was rewarded with another kick to the side. But he knew it was coming and leaned away from it as it struck. It still hurt terribly.
When he opened his eyes again, he saw that Zagrosek was rifling through his things. He was rolling one of the screws about in his palm. “You know, I honestly don’t know what you think you could do with these.” He tossed the screw over his shoulder. Akaleth couldn’t see where it landed.
Zagrosek lifted the whip and ran the leather along the back of his arm. His voice was low when he spoke. “You think you could unfurl this quick enough? You know I would stop you before you could even draw back your arm. Here, I’ll give it to you again. Hold it.”
Akaleth let the Sondecki force the familiar contours of the whip into his hands. He did not smile. He had no smile left in him. He gazed across the floor and let his eyes fall on what the Sondecki held. It was the small mirror that he carried with him. The single silvered pane caught the flickering light of the torches that kept the underground chamber dimly illuminated. As Akaleth stared, he felt something deep inside him stir. It was old. Memory and pain.
Zagrosek saw his gaze and an amused grin crossed his features. “Perhaps you would like this too?” He held out the mirror. “It won’t do you anymore good than that whip does. They cannot protect you, father. I can.” He snatched the whip back and threw it across the floor. Akaleth reached his fingers forward and pulled the mirror under his chin. It was cool to the touch. The frame was made of brass, and it felt very familiar to his fingers.
His leg didn’t hurt much anymore. Nor did his ribs. Zagrosek was examining the braces idly. For just a moment, he wasn’t paying attention to the priest. Akaleth cursed himself, but gripped the mirror tightly. His muscles tensed in his body. He slid his feet beneath him. The guards were nowhere near. It was just Zagrosek, himself, and the mirror.
“So what do you think you can do?” Zagrosek asked as he tossed the brace aside. He smiled and crossed his arms before his chest. There was no fear in his eyes. He smiled contemptuously at Akaleth.
“Please..” the priest murmured, his voice cracking under the strain. He lifted the mirror out, and caught the light. Like a bolt it erupted from the mirror and flashed Zagrosek in the eyes. A brilliant white beam blinded the Sondecki, who snarled and fell backwards furiously rubbing at his face.
Akaleth sprang to his feet and madly looked for a way out. There were many exits from the chamber. He had no idea which of them might help. But he had no time to waste. He ran straight for the nearest. The mirror was clutched tightly in his fingers and he held it out, turning the light on the guards who tried to stop him. Just as the first rays struck beneath the hood of the shambling thing’s cowl, he remembered seeing Bishop Morean’s eyes melt down his cheeks like egg yolk. For a moment he wondered if these things could even see. To his delight, the creature still recoiled from light.
“Get him!” Zagrosek shouted in fury. Akaleth had thought he’d heard horrible things from the Sondecki’s voice. But that fierce bestial growl chilled him far worse.
Dashing through the nearest opening in the wall, Akaleth saw a long stair curving away upwards. His body ached as he vaulted the steps two at a time. Behind him he heard creatures ascending behind him. He knew it couldn’t be Zagrosek. It would be many seconds before he could see enough to follow. He clutched the mirror so tightly that his knuckles had gone white.
The stairs opened out into a small antechamber. It was dark apart from a couple of lit torches. The walls were blackened with soot. Two doors led from the room. Akaleth dived into the left passage and saw that it too wound upwards. He could barely see each step, but there was no darkness too deep for his eyes — not anymore.
“I’m coming for you!” the monster’s voice cried out menacingly. Akaleth killed the scream that wished to escape his throat. Zagrosek was climbing the stairs somewhere behind him. Though the voice was distant, it seemed to follow him through the maze of passages in the catacombs.
Akaleth ran faster. His whole body protested, and he felt his muscles yearning to lock up. But he kept moving. Up a flight of stairs, through a series of twisting turning passages, and through dark places where anything could be hiding, he ran through them all. The voices and sounds of pursuit fell behind him, but still, he felt the menace of Zagrosek’s rage. It was an iron hand that tightened about his heart and lungs, making every single breath a trial of fire.
There was more light up one staircase, and so he went that way. Torches were lit all around, and there was the sound of flowing water. He rushed up the stairs, having to let go of the mirror once to balance himself. When he reached the top, he saw a wide river illuminated by well lit braziers that lined the walls at regular intervals. He’d found the sewers of Yesulam. He wanted to shout for joy, but kept silent. He could not hear Zagrosek or the shambling things behind him anymore, but he didn’t know if that meant he’d escaped them or not.
He did not know all that Zagrosek was capable of. Was he an expert tracker? If so, he would probably have little trouble following the Questioner’s trail, meagre though it was. He would just have to make it even more fruitless.
Glancing around, he noted that this section of the sewers had no dust clinging to the floor. The rest of the catacombs had been musty, and while a foul scent lingered in the air, the city engineers kept this place clean. He would leave no footprints behind here.
The channel was a good six feet across. Akaleth took a quick breath, and then ran straight towards it, leaping at the last possible moment. The air swam around him in a daze, and then his feet found purchase on the other side. He’d cleared it by a good two feet.
He paused only long enough to take another breath before continuing to run along the corridor. He didn’t really know what he should do now. He could hardly go above the surface. If Jothay found him again, he would be killed. And nobody would believe him if they saw him naked screaming about corruption in the city streets. But he had to get word to Kehthaek and Felsah somehow!
Akaleth was running out of strength. He slowed and began to shiver. The sewers were warm from the day’s heat, but still the Questioner felt cold. His whole body trembled in agony. The pains of Zagrosek’s violence burned him. His leg was beginning to swell and the skin was purpling. He’d need to heal himself soon, or he could poison his own blood.
A sudden shadow down one of the side passages caught his eye. He crept closer to the edge and watched as a person dressed in strangely colourful garb walked passed a small opening. He could be one of Jothay’s servants, or he could be a stranger. Akaleth had never seen any dress in such garments, so he had to be a foreigner.
“Please let them be your servants, Eli,” Akaleth whispered in prayer before stumbling down the passage. The figure heard his approach and turned to meet him. He was a young man, perhaps not even twenty. His long dark hair was bound in a braid, and he clutched a wicked looking dagger.
Akaleth gasped as he neared the young man, one hand outstretched, the mirror clutched tight in the other. “Help me!”
The young man blinked, lowering his dagger warily. Akaleth smiled and nodded. “Please, help me!” The young man took a step forward to grab him. The world began to turn and turn and Akaleth felt everything close around him. With a thunderclap, his consciousness fled and he was granted the surcease of dream.
Nemgas wanted them to become familiar with the passages near the Inn of the Slumbering Lion. In the few days they had been in Yesulam, they had already made the storehouse a livable area, though it was a far cry from their wagons. But they had no intention of staying there long. The sooner they could learn who had sent the Driheli after them, the better.
But to be effective spies, they needed to learn their way around the city. Pelgan was exploring one of the side branches of the sewers when he heard footsteps. He turned and drew one of his daggers. But as the figure came into view in the dim underground passage he felt all alarm drain from him. The man was naked, and his flesh was purpling with bruises along his ribs, legs, and face. He clutched a small mirror tightly in his hands.
Whoever it was needed help. He seemed like he was asking for something, but his tongue was so thick, it came out complete nonsense. Pelgan lowered his dagger, and reached out with his other hand to help the poor fellow. He was clearly in trouble of some kind. He didn’t know what he really should do, but perhaps Nemgas might.
Before he could steady the men, his eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed to the ground in a heap. Pelgan grimaced and sheathed his dagger. He knelt to grip the man under his shoulders and found him to be surprisingly light. The stranger’s back had been scored by a whip some time ago, but none of those wounds appeared fresh.
Pelgan dragged the man back along the passages that were slowly becoming familiar. He kept a wary eye out for any pursuit. He did not know what sort of trouble this stranger was in, and Pelgan didn’t want that trouble to fall on his head too!
The sewers were quiet. For the most part there was only the sound of trickling water, the scampering of rodents and lizards, and the breathy flickering of torches that kept the place in dim illumination. The passages they were staying in did not smell, but there was always an undercurrent of decay in the air. It smelled even worse near this poor fellow, whoever he was.
Pelgan was met first by Chamag who was standing watch over the entrance to the storehouse. Chamag drew his axe and narrowed his eyes. “Who dost that be?”
“I dost not know,” Pelgan replied, grunting as he heaved the man up to shoulder height. “He didst accost me and then collapse ‘fore my eyes.”
“Well why bring him here?” Chamag grunted while sliding his axe across his back.
“He hast been wounded grievously,” Pelgan pointed out. “I wanted Nemgas to see him. Perhaps he couldst help us somehow.”
Chamag shrugged but pushed the door open. Pelgan dragged the man through and laid him down next to the barrels of mead. “Nemgas! I need thee!”
Nemgas had been talking with the Innkeeper Ahadi at the base of the stairs. When he heard Pelgan’s voice he turned, saw the naked form, and then rushed over to his side. “Who might this be?” Nemgas asked as he quickly surveyed the battered form. He pried his fingers at the mirror, but even in sleep, the naked man had a tight grip upon it.
Pelgan shook his head. “He didst accost me and then collapse ‘fore me a few minutes ago. I thought it best to bring him here.”
Nemgas nodded slowly and gestured for Ahadi to draw near. “Dost the recognize this man?”
Ahadi came forward slowly, frowning deeply the whole while. His frown grew more severe as he surveyed the naked man. “Nay, I dost not know him.”
“Bring me things to bind his wounds. Pelgan, a blanket.”
Pelgan did as instructed. By the time he was draping one of Ahadi’s linens across the man’s body, the other Magyars and even the knight had come over to see what was amiss. “Stay back. He wilt need space when he wakes.” Nemgas motioned for each of them to give him room. He narrowed his eyes at Ahadi, “I wilt speak with thee again later, friend.”
Ahadi straightened and brushed a bit of dirt from the front of his bisht. “I will send down some broth for him for when he wakes.”
After the Innkeeper had left, the Magyars began to slowly creep closer to the body. They gave Nemgas and the man space, but they all wanted to see what was happening. Inquisitiveness was in their natures, and this was definitely something they wished to learn more about.
Nemgas saw their stealthy approach for what it was and huffed in irritation. “Kaspel, Berkon, go into the passages and keep watch with Chamag. I fear this man might hath been pursued.”
They grabbed their bows and knives first, then stepped carefully around the man’s leg on their way out the door. Nemgas pulled the linen aside and began to gently press against the man’s flesh, feeling at his ribs. “He hast suffered several broken bones. But they hath been mended recently.”
“What dost thee say?” Amile asked. She leaned over the barrels to get a better look at him. “Wast he hurt and then healed?”
“Aye, ‘tis what I say. See where he hath been bruised? Look here at his side. Thou dost know that a good punch there canst bring a man to his knees.”
Amile nodded as she followed Nemgas’s finger. “But who wouldst hurt him only to heal him again? ‘Tis folly!”
Nemgas frowned for several long moments as he pondered that question. He drew the linen sheet over the man’s body, and turned away for only a split second before Amile screamed. Nemgas spun around and saw that the man’s eyes had opened.
There was a wild look in them, and his mouth moved but no sound came forth. Those dark eyes flashed around the room, settling on Nemgas but not really seeing him. Agony limned his face, distorting smooth features into vicious lines. He tried to move his arms, but he didn’t even have the strength to lift the sheet from his body.
“Calm thyself. Thou art safe now,” Nemgas assured him. When the man did not appear to react, the Magyar looked to his left and said, “Bring me water.”
Gelel was quick to grab one of their waterskins. Nemgas had not let him leave the storehouse for more than a few minutes at a time the last few days, and he’d begun to feel both restless and useless. Nemgas constantly promised him he would have his chance soon, though the boy looked about ready to take his own chance. But now with this strange man’s appearance, any thought of exploring was gone from his mind.
“Wilt he live?” Gelel asked as he handed Nemgas the waterskin.
“Aye, I believe he shalt,” Nemgas opened the waterskin with his teeth and stuck the end in the man’s open mouth. Water rushed into his throat. The man gagged and would have coughed but Nemgas forced his mouth shut. Painfully, he swallowed, and a bit of the madness seemed to leave his eyes. Nemgas handed the waterskin back to Gelel and leaned back to give their guest some room.
For several long moments the man continued to cough and hack. He rolled onto his side and the mirror slipped form his grasp. It clattered on the stone work for a moment before Gelel swept it up in his hands. The man glared at him and tried to reach out, but fell back to the ground in another spasm of pain.
“Put that down, Gelel,” Nemgas advised coldly, even as he tried to help the man to lay down again. “Thy mirror is safe, stranger. Thou art safe here.”
“Who... who are you?” the man finally said. His voice was weak, but slowly reason began to return to his eyes.
“I art a friend,” Nemgas replied softly. “Who art thou?”
The man narrowed his eyes for a moment and studied Nemgas intently. He then looked over the others that were assembled. When his eyes found Sir Petriz, he paused and trembled beneath the blanket. “You are stranger to this city than I am. Magyars, and if I am not mistaken, a Driheli knight. If you are friends, then what brings you here and why are we still underground?”
Pelgan was quick to reach for his dagger when the man recognized them for who they were. But Nemgas waved him back with a warning glance. Everyone held their breath. “Thou hast named us true. Now ‘tis thy turn to tell us who thee art. Who hast beaten thee?”
The man narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “‘Twas a traitor to the Ecclesia and to his own clan that did this to me. He wanted to loosen my tongue. How do I know that you are not aligned with him?”
“Thy Eccelsia betrayed us,” Pelgan spat. “Thy Ecclesia sent Driheli knights to kill us. We mean to put an end to it.”
Nemgas flashed Pelgan a dark look, but returned his attention on the beaten man. “We hath no reason to hurt thee. I doubt thee art responsible for our plight. But thou hast been tortured methinks, and I want to know why.”
The man sneered weakly. “Why else would a man be tortured? I know something that somebody wants to learn. Do you think I would just tell you?”
Nemgas continued to frown deeply. “Thou dost speak truly. We shouldst expect nothing from thee. Gelel, give him the waterskin. Thee mayest drink as much as thee likes. Broth wilt be down soon for thee.”
Gelel handed the waterskin over, and the man took it warily. He sipped slowly and coughed wearily from time to time. He was clearly very weak and still in pain. Amile brought one of the sleeping mats and placed it behind his back. The man looked at her and nodded in thanks, but did not smile.
Nemgas sat cross-legged before him and studied him. The man return the scrutiny, their eyes meeting for several long seconds. Neither wanted to look away first. Though the man had been beaten severely, there was a steely determination in his eyes never to give ground to another. Nemgas pondered what might make this obstinate man bend.
The staring match ended when Nemgas spoke, his voice deep and calm. “I hight Nemgas. I hath been tasked to avenge the death of Patriarch Akabaieth. I watched Kashin of the Yeshuel die upon a strange mount. In his stead I travail. I know that there be one amongst the Bishop’s Council who didst orchestrate the Patriarch’s murder. He hast aligned himself with the evil of Marzac.
“Now thee knows why I am here. Wilt thee tell me who thee art?”
The man was staring at him with wide-eyes. There was hope in those eyes, but suspicion too. Nemgas was surprised that he wasn’t already being denounced for his words. Perhaps there was more to him than he’d at first suspected.
“You say Kashin of the Yeshuel is dead?”
“Tell me, was he a whole man when he died?”
Nemgas shook his head. “Nay. He wast missing his left arm.”
The man swallowed thoughtfully. “Then you have seen him truly. Or you could have been told by my enemies. You say you saw him die. Tell me, what else did you know of Kashin?”
Nemgas crossed his arms. “He wast slain upon a strange mountain, and it wast in that moment that I was split free from him. We art twain, Kashin and I. I hath his memories, just as I hath memories of my own life. The mountain made us both one and two. Art thee confused yet?”
“One and two? What nonsense are you talking about?” He nearly spat water in his incredulity. “What mountain was this, and why do you have Kashin’s memories?”
The other Magyars began to grow nervous and looked between Nemgas and the strange man warily. “Art thee sure thee shouldst be saying these things?” Gamran asked as he rolled one of his juggling balls between his fingers.
“Forgive my companions,” Nemgas added. He cast a quick glance at Sir Petriz, but the knight was studying the wounded man and paying the Magyar little notice. “They fear this mountain. But ‘tis a place of old and powerful magic. Any who travels there will be killed, or split into two.”
The man’s eyes narrowed. “Pagan magic? There is far too much pagan magic infesting Yesulam. And you hope to bring more? What has any of this to do with Kashin?”
“I told thee. Kashin climbed this mountain. I wast split free from Kashin in that moment, and he wast killed. Thou dost not need to understand to accept. I doth not understand it myself. But I know all that Kashin knows, and I know who killed Patriarch Akabaieth.”
The man set the waterskin down and crossed his arms. “Tell me who it was then.”
“I didst ne’er learn his name. But he wast a Sondecki of the black.”
Nemgas frowned and let his mind swim in Kashin’s memories of that night. They were vivid, and almost immediately he found himself standing in the rain-soaked field, discovering a strange man dressed in the black robes of the Sondeckis. “He wast dark of hair, and had a broad but temperate build. He wast roughly my height, with a nearly skeletal face. His hands art large, and his voice hast a slight roll to it, as if he were growling beneath his breath.”
“I see. That is the man.” He was still and pondered quietly for a few moments before adding, “Very well, I will trust you in this. My name is Father Akaleth. I am a Questioner of the Ecclesia. I know who it is that you seek, and I will tell you soon. But first, I need you to do something for me.”
Nemgas blinked in surprise. “Thou knowest our enemy? Who might he be?”
Akaleth shook his head. “I need to speak with Father Kehthaek. He is a Questioner as well. Have him brought here secretly if you can. There is great evil being done beneath this city, and he can help you and I destroy it.”
“I wilt go,” Nemgas rose and gestured to Amile. “See to his wounds and that he hath enough to eat.” He turned to Pelgan and Gamran. “Do not let him leave.”
“I won’t go anywhere,” Akaleth said, as he laid his head on Amile’s bedroll. Another moment later his eyes were closed and he settled into a soft slumber. The Magyars could only stare in befuddlement. Sir Petriz knelt in fevered prayer.
Jothay was in his suites working on a homily for the upcoming Sunday service that he was to preside over when he heard the familiar popping of air. His minion had just stepped out of the shadows. The Bishop set his quill aside and folded his hands before him before turning to face the haggard man.
Zagrosek was covered in sweat, and his robes clung to him along his chest and sides. His eyes were sunken and dark, and his lips were set in a thin, morose line.
“I take it by your appearance that you have not yet learned anything? I am trying to write a homily on Eli’s commandments, and I don’t need you to break my concentration for nothing. Now what do you have to say for yourself?”
Zagrosek straightened and crossed his arms. “I fear that I have news you will not like, your grace. A short time ago, Akaleth managed to escape.”
Jothay felt his blood begin to boil. The barely healed scar on his lip pulsed. “What?”
“He used his mirror to flash light in my eyes. I don’t quite know how he did it, but while I was blinded, he ran from the altar. I tried to track him, but I lost his trial when he entered the sewers proper.”
Jothay took a deep breath, slowly rose from his chair, and walked the seven paces to the Sondecki. He stared up into Zagrosek’s sombre face and began to smile. “For the next few minutes, I order you not to defend yourself.”
Zagrosek swallowed and nodded.
“You idiot!” Jothay screamed, before smacking him across the face. “You arrogant fool! How could you let him get away!” He grabbed Zagrosek around the throat and squeezed tightly, kicking him in the legs with one foot at a time. He pushed backwards, his fingers digging into tight skin. Zagrosek’s cheek and eyes bulged, flesh turning red as he gasped. His knees buckled and Jothay bent him over the floor until he was kneeling over top of the man. Jothay lifted Zagrosek’s head and smacked it against the floor repeatedly, screaming, “You fool! You idiot! I hate you! I hate you!”
Jothay did not even stop when the blood began to flow. He kept beating Zagrosek’s head into the ground while sitting on his belly. The man’s eyes were clenched shut as he tried and failed to get in a single breath.
Finally, his rage spent, Jothay climbed off the Sondecki’s body and wiped his hands on his alb. “That was extremely foolish. We’ll have to keep watch to see where Akaleth turns up. I will do what I can to ruin his credibility in case he should try to denounce us. I want you to seal off a few of the passages he used so that Akaleth cannot retrace his steps to the altar. Now clean up the blood and get out.”
It took Zagrosek several minutes before he was able to comply with that order. The wound on the back of his head was only a small cut, one that he could mend in minutes, but he’d come very close to blacking out. He coughed repeatedly as he regained his breath.
Jothay ignored him and tried to focus on his homily.
Book 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