The Last Tale of Yajikali

Chapter XVII - Strange Alliances

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

It is rare for the guards of Yesulam to permit foreign knights to bring their arms within the city gates. But the Driheli were an exception. Their heraldry, the green cross upon a blue background, was recognized throughout the lands of the Ecclesia, though not all kingdoms welcomed them with open arms. That evening, with the sun beginning to disappear along the western horizon, the gates were kept open for the two dozen tired knights and soldiers that sought entrance.

Sir Czestadt, Knight Templar of the Driheli, knew that their presence would become known to all in the city within a few days, if not sooner. It mattered not. Even had the Driheli not arrived, Kashin and the Magyars they hunted would have stayed in hiding. But Kashin meant to kill at least one member of the Bishop’s Council, and that meant that he’d have to surface at some point. Or one of his Magyars. Either way, Czestadt meant to be ready to kill him when that happened.

As their party rode towards the St. Kephas’s Cathedral, he reached one hand up to feel the scar across his face. Kashin had struck him with a sword that had not been there, a sword that even now called out to him. The wound had healed like any sword blow against him would, but never before had he still felt the lure of the blade. As they drew nearer to the heart of the city, he felt his flesh begin to tremble and purple. That unseen weapon was nearby. Kashin had already beaten him here.

“Is something wrong, sir?” his squire Hevsky asked. The young man rode at his side, and was the only one of his men who would do so now without being asked. The others were all uneasy around one who they thought had been killed.

Czestadt shook his head. “No. Tell Sir Guthven I wish to speak with him.”

It was only a moment later that the bearded knight who was now Czestadt’s second came to his side. “You have need of me, master Templar?”

Czestadt nodded, his eyes ever on the cathedral that grew in the distance. The day was quickly dwindling into twilight, and the streets were emptying all around them. “I want our men billeted with the Yesulam knights. While I speak with the Bishop, you will speak with the Knight Captain. He is an old friend and will not object to our stay.”

Guthven gripped his reins tightly, a hint of nervous tension in his voice. “I will do as you ask, master Templar.”

Czestadt dismissed him with a wave of his hand. Guthven gladly fell back into the formation. For weeks now, Czestadt had lead his column of men, but he did not mind the solitude. Few men understood what it meant to be a Blademaster. The sword was his life, and though they could strike him to the point of death, they could not send him through the terminal veil.

By the time they reached the Cathedral, the tingling in his face faded. The blade he could not see was there somewhere; it was as if it had greeted him, but had now lost interest. Czestadt tried to reach out with his powers, but there was nothing to grip.

“Hevsky, remain here with my steed,” Czestadt said as he dismounted. The guards who stood before the entrance to the residential wing of the Cathedral saw his tabard and parted. They could not know what had happened on the border of the Desert of Dreaming, but they still gazed at him with trembling eyes.

He knew the other Driheli would follow Sir Guthven to the barracks. After their weeks of weary travel, a little rest would do them good. He would join them later, but first, he had to report to the Bishop.

He had only ever been to Yesulam once before, but he knew his way through the vaulted, hallowed halls. Within a minute, he stood before the wide entrance of the Bishop who had called them from Stuthgansk to track down Kashin the traitor. “Tell his grace that Sir Czestadt of the Driheli needs to speak with him.”

One of the two nervous guards was quick to slip inside the curtained doorway. The other guard appeared disappointed that he was left outside with the knight. Czestadt studied him out of the corner of his eye. He was young with the fair skin that the men of Eavey possessed. The sun of Yesulam had begun to darken his skin, but the freckles that clustered around his ears gave him away.

Before he had an opportunity to scrutinize the colourful frescoes painted on the walls, the first guard stepped back outside and said, “His grace will see you, sir knight.”

Czestadt stepped through the curtain and beheld a large room with a wide balcony open to the air. In the centre was a depression lined with pillows. Across from him was another doorway, though the door was closed. Various meticulously maintained Ecclesia symbols decorated the room, but the knight barely noted them. His eyes were on the fat cleric that was reclining amongst the pillows. He bore an idiotic grin, though there was deliberate calculation writ in his narrowed eyes.

“Sir Czestadt, Knight Templar of the Driheli, what are you doing in Yesulam?” Bishop Jothay asked. His hands were trembling, and it looked as if he had been sweating from exertion only a short time ago. There was the scent of a sword on his flesh. Czestadt felt his flesh tremble at the sensation.

“Bishop Jothay of Eavey,” Czestadt replied in greeting. He stood before the depression with his hands clutched behind his back. “I am here in Yesulam because Kashin is here in Yesulam.”

Jothay’s lips quivered, and a bit of blood began to drip down his chin. “Your assignment was very simple, Templar. Find the traitor and kill him. Are you so incompetent that you could not kill a one-armed man?”

Czestadt ignored the reprimand. He may have to obey the clergy, but he would not be brow-beaten by them. “His alliance with the Magyars proved more fortuitous than we expected. And what is further, he is no longer one-armed. A strange sort of magic restored his left arm. He killed Sir Poznan, and captured Sir Petriz. He escaped into the Desert of Dreaming, and has come here to Yesulam. He means to kill at least one member of the Bishop’s Council.”

Jothay opened his mouth to say something, but Czestadt held up one hand to forestall him. “There is one other thing you must know, your grace. He claims that Kashin is dead. He says his name is Nemgas.”

“Nemgas...” Jothay murmured thoughtfully. His cherubic smile returned to his face. He sucked on his lower lip and the blood that welled there. “How do you know he is here?”

“I know.”

Jothay rose from the pillows, his fingers tightening into fists. “Then you and your knights must find him and kill him.” He took a deep breath and gestured towards the door. “And there is something else I will have for you to do. Come, I must show you something, Sir Czestadt. Something you must never speak of to any other.”

“Of course, your grace.” Czestadt followed the Bishop into the room beyond which proved to be a bedroom. There did not appear to be anything unusual, but the knight could feel the residue of something powerful. A blade had been here. A blade that made the scar in his face burn. He tightened his lips and ignored the pain.

Jothay pressed a small stone in the far wall, and the stone swung outwards into a darkened hallway. For a split second, Czestadt felt surprise. “Were are we going, your grace?”

“You’ll see.” Jothay laughed merrily as he motioned for him to follow. “You’ll see, good knight. Yes, you’ll see.” He continued to giggle even after he disappeared into the passage. Czestadt followed without hesitation.

Even before the birth of Yahshua seven hundreds years ago, Yesulam had possessed an intricate maze of passages that connected a majority of the temple complex. These passages were dark and hidden between the walls. Often times the openings were in such secluded places that one could open the doorway without bothering to check if anyone was outside.

In the seven centuries since the rise of the Ecclesia, those passages had been claimed by the Yeshuel. They jealousy guarded the secrets of those corridors; not even the Patriarch was allowed to know where the entrances in his private chambers were located. The Yeshuel were sworn to protect the Patriarch and so used the passages only when they must. Rarely did they ever use them to spy on others.

Nemgas, possessing the memory of the slain Yeshuel Kashin, was able to use them for just that purpose. Though he knew the chances were slim that he would stumble upon one of the Yeshuel, the Magyar was cautious nevertheless. It was just past dusk when he climbed through a recessed door into a small closet in the Questioner temple. There he slipped a large black robe over his shoulders and pulled the cowl up to hide his face. Unless they studied him closely, they would not recognize him for an imposter. All anyone would see was the black robe and red cross of the Questioner.

Nemgas preferred not being seen at all. At this hour, he knew the priests would be in the large chapel celebrating Vespers. Quietly, he navigated the halls with head bowed low. He did not go directly to the chapel. Instead, he went through the service passages until he was standing in the clerestory balcony. Beneath him was a congregation of nearly two hundred black-robed priests. They were on their knees and chanting the Credo. At the altar stood another priest, this one of advanced years. His hair mostly grey, and his face had many hard lines. Several other elder Questioners were seated around the altar.

Nemgas studied them for several long moments. Kashin had known Father Kehthaek mostly by his reputation. The few times their paths had crossed had been completely incidental. Despite this, it only took Nemgas a few minutes scrutiny to recognize the officiating priest as the man he sought. Satisfied, he withdrew from the clerestory and located the main chapel doors. There he waited in a recessed alcove for Vespers to end.

As he knew would be the case, Kehthaek left with the recessional before the other priests did. Nemgas loitered amidst the throng of black cloaks until the elder priest began to return to his quarters. Slowly he followed, never allowing himself to lose sight of the grey hair. He felt the jostling of the other priests, but they did not look at him or remark on the cowl.

Kehthaek turned down several corridors before entering one of the small cells the priests called their home. Nemgas waited several minutes for the other Questioners to disperse before gripping the handle, quietly opening the door, and stepping through.

He made no noise when he opened the door, or when he shut it behind him. Kehthaek was kneeling at his pallet with his head bent in prayer. His eyes were closed. Yet the elder priest still turned his face towards Nemgas and opened his eyes. “You are not a Questioner. Who are you and why have you come here?”

Nemgas sucked in his breath, and then drew back his cowl. “Thou art correct. How didst thee know?”

Kehthaek stared at Nemgas’s face, but remained on his knees. “You stand like a soldier. And your cowl was up. Only a Questioner on a questioning would have his cowl over his face. I know there are no such Questioners at this time in Yesulam.” Kehthaek’s voice was firm, and there was a power in it that Nemgas found startling. He had been the one to silently creep into this room. It ought to be the priest who was shocked and off-balance, not Nemgas.

“The stories of thy mental acuity art modest. How didst thee know I was here?”

At that, the priest lowered his head as if he were returning to his prayers. “You are here for a reason. You speak like a Steppelander, though by your complexion it is clear you were born here in Yesulam. Who are you?”

“I hight Nemgas,” he replied. “I hath come to collect thee.”

“To what end, Nemgas?”

“Thou dost know a Questioner named Akaleth?”

Kehthaek nodded his head, though if he was surprised to hear the name spoken, he did not show it. His expression was placid, like a portrait of a saint in contemplative prayer. Nemgas had only ever once before seen a being so calm and self-composed. The Åelf Qan-af-årael who Kashin had learned of Marzac and Yajakali from had been this composed, but no other had come close.

“He hath been tortured, and e’en now resides with my compatriots in another part of the city. He didst send me to collect thee. There art things he needest tell thee, Father.”

“I see. And why have you come?”

“To collect thee. I can only suppose that thou art one whom Akaleth will trust.”

“And what purpose do you have in coming to Yesulam?”

Nemgas grunted but as quickly as he could, told the Questioner of what happened to Kashin on Cenziga. And then he spoke of the trials they faced in Carethedor and of the skeletal dragon that had attacked him and his boy Pelurji. Nemgas explained that until he had defeated the evil here in Yesulam, his boy would never wake from his injuries. Kehthaek did not open his eyes, but remained kneeling as if in prayer. At the end of the tale, he said, “I have heard of this Cenziga in rumour, the same of this Carethedor. You are the first to claim to have seen either firsthand. And you have all of Kashin’s memories?”

“Aye,” Nemgas replied softly. “Wouldst thee care to hear of the night Patriarch Akabaieth was slain as well. ‘Tis what convinced Akaleth to trust me with thy name.”

Kehthaek shook his head and rose to his feet. “That will not be necessary. If you can speak of Cenziga and Carethedor so openly, then you can be trusted.”

Once again, Nemgas felt perplexed. “How can it be that thou knowest anything of Cenziga or Carethedor? Not a soul on the Steppe wilt acknowledge Cenziga unless they hath no other choice. And Carethedor art called Hanlo o bavol-engro by my people. We went there only because we had no other choice!”

“I know very little,” Kehthaek said softly as he straightened his robes. “But if you were my enemy, you would have given me some other more plausible story to gain my confidence.”

“Thou couldst be wrong,” Nemgas pointed out.

“True. But I do not think so. I will come with you to meet Akaleth. But first, there is one other who will be joining us. Remain here while I gather him.”

Nemgas shook his head. “Meet me by the east-facing storage closet on the floor beneath us. I wilt wait there for thee.”

Kehthaek looked him in the face. His dark eyes were curious. “You are an unusual man to have accomplished all that you say. I will meet you there.” Without another word, he opened his door and left. Nemgas stood still in stupefied silence for a full minute before leaving the small cell.

“Where are we going?” Czestadt asked gruffly. For the last twenty minutes he and Bishop Jothay had been circling lower and lower in the catacombs beneath Yesulam. Jothay carried a lantern in one hand, and its feeble light cast weird shadows along the narrow corridors and ancient stairs. The light gave the priest an almost demonic cast. His childish grin only made it worse. Only when they passed a lit brazier or sconce – signs that this way had been travelled before – did Jothay bear his usual cherubic countenance.

“A place of great power, Templar,” Jothay replied with a chortle. His eyes danced in the lantern’s wan glow. “What I do there will destroy the Ecclesia’s enemies forever. You are going to help me.”

“But I must never speak of it,” Czestadt said, even as one finger trailed across the jagged gash along his neck. It extended halfway down his chest before finally vanishing into the unblemished skin of his midriff. He already knew that an unusual energy bristled somewhere beneath them. His scar shivered like two bolts of cloth rubbing against one another. There was an unearthly charge to the air.

Jothay turned down another staircase. Czestadt could not see its base. “There will come a time when you will need to return this way. Can you find your way back here?”

“Of course.” The Knight Templar of the Driheli would not easily forget this maze of twisty little passages, all alike. What he was more likely to remember was this sensation of power that seemed to radiate up through the floor. It was not a sword, but it felt akin to one.

Somewhere above him now he could still sense the blade that had cut him. It was faint now, like a buoy lost in the morning fog but for the echo of its bell carrying across unsettled waves. With each step he took it ebbed, growing more and more remote until it was only a subtle buzz at the back of his mind.

And with each step, the source of power that lay before him grew stronger and stronger. The cut in his flesh simmered and he felt a dull agony welling all along his wound. He could have reached out with the powers granted to him as a Kankoran to ascertain what this energy might be, but he preferred to wait until he was closer before risking contact.

It was only a few minutes more before the passage opened out into a wide cavern. The room was domed far above, and fulgurite lines ran from the floor, along the walls, and up to the centre of the dome where they intersected in a starburst. Along each wall, nine pillars stood, and upon those pillars strange chevrons were inscribed, some absurdly simple, while others were such a complex of whorls that Czestadt felt nauseous looking at them. Standing along the walls were several dark robed figures that swayed silently like marionettes with their strings cut. To one side was a man in a black robe with a irritatingly familiar heraldic symbol on the breast.

Czestadt wanted to greet the loathsome Sondecki with some foul epithet, but his eyes were drawn to what lay in the centre of the chamber. There was a stone altar large enough for a grown man to lay prone upon. Resting on the altar was what appeared to be a golden sword. Czestadt sucked in his breath as he saw it, for the very glimmer of light from its surface felt like needles piercing his eyes. Blood began to seep through the crack in his flesh.

“What ails you, Templar? ‘Tis only the weapon that will bring defeat to the Ecclesia’s enemies!” Jothay skipped merrily across the wide clay floor towards the altar. Czestadt could not bring himself to cross the threshold into the room. The robed figures did not move, but the Sondecki began to approach. His face was purpled from bruises.

Jothay grabbed the golden weapon from the altar and held it aloft. Czestadt felt something twist in his mind. His ability to control swords drew tight within his spirit. Trembling hands lifted to the scar on his face, and there blood oozed slowly but steadily. Already his tunic was beginning to darken with the crimson stain.

“Come closer, Templar!” Jothay crooned. “I want you to meet my half-witted assistant.”

Czestadt found his feet carrying him into the cavern. He didn’t want to come any closer, but the Bishops must be obeyed. It was one of the principal edicts amongst the Driheli – total obedience to the Ecclesia. Within moments, he was standing only a few feet from Jothay, that unearthly golden weapon, and the black Sondecki.

“This is Zagrosek.” Jothay gestured to the Sondecki. There was a noticeable edge of irritation in his voice. “He is an incompetent buffoon who lets enemies of the Ecclesia escape. But he may yet prove useful. And this is Sir Czestadt, Knight Templar of the Driheli. He is going to hunt down the man you lost.”

The Sondecki smiled affably, ignoring the Bishop. “It’s a pleasure.”

Though he was officially no longer a member of the Kankoran, some hatreds did not die when he joined the Driheli. Czestadt spat at his feet. “You are both mad. I will never work with a Sondecki.”

Zagrosek narrowed his eyes and drew back sharply. A sarcastic moue crossed his swollen lips. “A Kankoran. What brings you to wear the colours of a knight?”

Jothay laughed merrily and rubbed his fingers across the blade. “See, my children quarrel already. Come now, Templar. Touch the sword and you will understand my madness. The prophets of the Canticles were all called mad too. It’s quite something to see.”

Czestadt let his eyes fall on the golden weapon held outstretched in Jothay’s hands. In his mind he felt a sullen pounding, like a drumbeat that grew louder and louder. But it wasn’t hollow like a drum, rather deep and endless with malice. The weapon seemed to throb with each blow, like some metallic heartbeat.

He tore his gaze from the golden object in Jothay’s hands. Blood was trickling down his face, and a bit spilled on his lip. The taste of iron was bitter, but he did not spit this time. “That is no sword, your grace. I will not have anything to do with it.”

“Oh, you will someday,” Jothay crooned, laughing to himself. “Let it have a taste of your blood.”

Fear began to blossom in his chest. The last thing he wanted was for that thing to partake of his life. Czestadt sucked in his breath, and willed himself to turn around. “Where are you going?” Jothay cried out.

“Back to my men. I have to start the search for Kashin.” Neither the Bishop nor Zagrosek moved to prevent him from leaving. Jothay continued to giggle to himself and began to sing a children’s rhyme to that which he called a sword. The Sondecki did nothing.

Heedless, Czestadt walked as stiffly as he could from the cavern. Once he was out of sight, he bolted up the stairs and through the endless dark corridors. He guided his way with his hands, following the paths he remembered. Several times he stubbed his boots in the darkness or smacked his hands against sharp stone, but he did not care. The Knight Templar of the Driheli did not stop running until he could no longer feel the sultry and agonizing touch of that weapon. When he finally reached the open air of the city above, his shirt was soaked with blood.

The other man that Kehthaek had spoken of proved to be another Questioner, though one much younger than the elder priest. Father Felsah appeared to be in his early thirties. There were faint lines under his eyes, but his hair was still the deep black so common amongst natives of Yesulam. He regarded Nemgas in faint surprise, but held his tongue until they were inside the passages of the Yeshuel.

“You have found Akaleth?” Felsah asked once they had descended the second flight of stairs. The Questioner Temple was overhead still, but none could hear them down here. They would reach the sewers shortly.

“He hath found me,” Nemgas countered. “Or rather, he didst stumble upon where I and my fellow Magyars dost reside.”

“Magyars?” Felsah asked, his voice soft. They could hear the faint trickling of water beyond the cold clay walls. But Nemgas’s lantern illuminated no water. “You are entertainers who travel the Steppe?”

Nemgas chuckled drily under his breath. “‘Tis far kinder than what most call us, Father. Most call us thieves and tricksters.”

“Are you?”

Nemgas flashed him a smile. “Depends on thy courtesy, Father. We do what we must for our kind. ‘Tis why we art here, and ‘tis why I have come for thee and Father Kehthaek.”

Felsah grew silent again, slowly nodding his head. The grey-haired Kehthaek said nothing, gliding along beside Felsah with a face as silent and unmoving as a statue. Nemgas ignored them for a moment as he came to the end of the passage. The clay wall appeared featureless, but his fingers could feel the tiny grooves in the grain of the rock. There was one small raised nodule, and with a single press, the side of the passage opened outwards.

Beyond lay a small alcove in the main sewers. The sound of flowing water was much stronger. Nemgas helped the Questioners down the large step and guided them out into the main hall. A short ways ahead they could see the channel with the city’s fresh water rushing past.

“We wilt needs be quiet here,” Nemgas warned in a whisper. “Civil servants dost venture here frequently.”

The priests nodded and followed after him. Nemgas led them along the main sewage line for only a minute before diverting down a secondary passage. The air was foul through there, but it quickly emptied into another blind alcove. Another button was found, and a door opened in the wall that had previously been invisible. Nemgas ushered both priests in before sealing the entrance shut behind them.

“I did not realize there were so many secret passages beneath Yesulam,” Felsah opined in a low voice.

“The Yeshuel art the only ones who dost know them so well. They art kept a secret from all others. At least, ‘twas the way of things.”

Nemgas did not give them an opportunity to ask him what he meant. He marched down the Yeshuel passage as quickly as he could. This one would lead them back to the merchant’s district, though it would take some time. The air was stifling, and there was a faint odour of refuse, but it was fresher than most places in the sewers.

It was at least ten minutes before Felsah spoke again. “How is Akaleth?”

Nemgas glanced over his shoulder. The Questioner’s face was blank – he could not discern even a modicum of concern in the priest’s eyes. But the tone had been gentle. He’d been with these Questioners for all of a couple hours now, and he now understood why Kashin’s memories of them were so unsettled. They truly were inhuman somehow.

“He wast tortured by someone. He didst receive many blows, and then a healing balm to restore him to health. It wilt take weeks ere all his wounds heal.” Nemgas pushed open the next doorway. It was only another minute more to the cellar of Ahadi’s Inn. “He hast a strong spirit. I wouldst not fear for his health now.”

When they stepped into the sewers again, the waterways were much narrower. Braziers were lit at regular intervals, though the murk of refuse still lingered in the air. Nemgas did not see any of the other Magyars, but he could hear the soft breathing of one of them from around a corner.

Nemgas motioned them forward, and quietly ambled his way around the turn. Berkon stood there with his bow at the ready, an arrow knocked. He let out a heavy sigh of relief and relaxed the string. “‘Tis thee, Nemgas. Art these the ones?”

Nemgas nodded. “Aye. Remain here. I wilt bring them to see the priest.”

Berkon nodded his head and drew back from the black-robed priests. Kehthaek paid him no attention, though Felsah glanced over him momentarily, noting the many-hued tunic and patched breeches he wore. The Magyar was quick to turn his mind back on watching the hallway for interlopers.

Chamag was at the doorway to the cellars, and when he saw Nemgas, he opened it without so much as a word. Negmas smiled to his friend and then led the two Questioners through. Both had to shield their eyes for a moment as the cellar was brightly lit. Akaleth lay on the floor next to the wine barrels while Amile helped him eat the broth that Ahadi had cooked for him. He spluttered when he saw the other priests.

“Father Kehthaek! Father Felsah! Praise Eli that you are here.” Akaleth almost smiled when he saw them, but his exuberance put him in a minor coughing fit. Both Kehthaek and Felsah knelt at his side, with the former putting a calming hand on his shoulder.

“Do not strain yourself,” Kehthaek said softly. “You have been through a great deal, but you are now safe. We need to know all that you learned if we are to have any hope of stopping them. But you must speak slowly and do not excite yourself.”

Akaleth nodded with great reserve. He was clearly the youngest of the three, though the way his body lay there limply, it was almost impossible to tell. Nemgas glanced at his fellow Magyars. Each of them was watching this new spectacle with unmasked curiosity. He returned his attention to the three Questioners. Felsah was sitting where Amile had been moments before, and held the bowl of broth in one hand.

“There is much that I have learned, Father Kehthaek. You were right about our enemy being Marzac. I saw them do something to Bishop Morean that... that...” Akaleth shut his eyes and his flesh began to shudder.

“Do not think on that just now,” Kehthaek cautioned. “First, tell me who it was that has betrayed the Ecclesia.”

Akaleth nodded. “He approached me as an ally when we first returned from Metamor. He knew things, and told me that there was a threat against the Ecclesia. I saw no reason not to believe him. There are far too many who are willing to compromise the faith for worldly approval. I wanted to help. But it was he who was the enemy. When I told him what we had learned from Bishop Morean, he revealed himself and claimed that it was the power of Marzac that would smite the Ecclesia’s enemies.”

“Who was he?” Felsah asked.

Akaleth licked his lips and took a deep breath. “Bishop Jothay of Eavey.”

“Jothay?” Sir Petriz asked in surprise. The knight was sitting cross-legged against the wall with the foodstuffs. He had been cleaning a spot out of his tunic until just then. Now, his eyes were fixed upon the priests. “What has he done?”

“Allied himself with evil. I saw him there with Zagrosek. It was Zagrosek who tortured me. He wanted me to tell him who else knew about Marzac.”

“What did you tell him?” Kehthaek asked.

“Nothing!” Akaleth blinked frantically. “Nothing! I told him nothing.”

“But how did they learn of Bishop Morean?” Felsah inquired as he cradled the soup bowl in his hands.

Nemgas felt lost in the sea of names. The other Magyars also looked confused, but there was no doubt that something vital was passing between them.

Akaleth lowered his eyes. “I told that to Bishop Jothay before I realized he was evil. Jothay sent Zagrosek to kill Morean, but Zagrosek brought him back to the altar. There, Jothay used the sword to drain Morean’s soul. It was... awful.”

“What sword?” Felsah asked, his brow narrowing.

Akaleth snorted. “The sword of Yajakali.”

“The sword of Yajakali!” Nemgas gasped. His flesh trembled. “‘Tis one of the most terrifying weapons ere to be forged! ‘Tis not of this world!”

“Yes, and Jothay wields it. I watched it suck the blood from a child. I..” Akaleth began to shudder and convulse. Kehthaek and Felsah pressed down on him to keep him still, but it took Nemgas and Pelgan assisting to stop the priest from hurting himself.

When they had finally stilled Akaleth’s seizure, his eyes were rolled up in the back of his head. Kehthaek gently straightened the younger priest’s black robes while Felsah felt his head and cheeks. Nemgas grunted and asked, “I know who Bishop Jothay is, and who Bishop Morean is, but who is this Zagrosek?”

Kehthaek’s voice was soft and restrained. “Krenek Zagrosek is a black of the Sondeckis. He was corrupted by the power of Marzac several years ago, and is the one responsible for assassinating Patriarch Akabaieth. Now it seems he is here to assist Jothay in whatever new errands the Bishop has for him. It is now apparent that Jothay was the one who told Zagrosek of Patriarch Akabaieth’s itinerary, and thus, allowed him to murder his eminence.”

Nemgas felt his hands tightening into fists. From the memories of Kashin welled a fiery rage that he could not contain. “The man who killed the Patriarch be here at Yesulam? Where be he? I must know!”

“He is where Akaleth was. When he awakes, we will ask him,” Kehthaek replied softly.

Nemgas grunted and crossed his arms. “Very well. What interest dost thee possess in finding him? How dost thee e’en know about him?”

“We three were the Questioners sent to Metamor to learn how and why the Patriarch and his caravan were slain. We learned about the man named Zagrosek and what he did to kill so many. When we returned here to Yesulam, we discovered that much had changed in our absence. I learned that no attempt was going to be made to track down Zagrosek. In fact, moves were underway to bury our report and conclude that Akabaieth had been assassinated by the Lothanasi. Already, whispers of religious strife have been coming in from the Midlands and Pyralis. If the leadership in the Ecclesia wishes, it can push all nations into a war that will last for decades, and may never end.”

The Magyars were both impressed and confused by this. Sir Petriz’s face was withdrawn.

Nemgas rubbed his hands together. “‘Tis possible that Jothay sent the Driheli to kill Kashin as well. He wouldst hath been the one man capable of shining truth on their lies.” He turned to the knight. “Well, Sir Petriz, be it true? Was Bishop Jothay the one who sent thee to kill Kashin?”

Petriz met Nemgas’s gaze, but there was no fire in it anymore. “I know not.”

“Liar!” Pelgan snapped.

“No, true it is! I know not who the Bishop who gave the order was. Only Sir Czestadt the Knight Templar knew.”

Nemgas snapped. “One of thy priests, Father Athfisk, wert about to tell me who wast responsible before he wast slain. Dost not lie to me, Petriz.”

“I am not lying!” Sir Petriz was perspiring, and his voice was frantic. “The priests their orders separately received! Us to accompany they were.”

“But thee knows who Bishop Jothay be.” Nemgas pointed out.

“Yes. Bishop of Eavey. The Driheli his authority recognize.”

“So he couldst be the one?”

Sir Petriz nodded. “Yes. But I know not if he is.”

Nemgas grunted and looked back at Akaleth. He was blinking his eyes and slowly moving his lips. “Is he coming around?”

“Aye,” Felsah said. “Father Akaleth, can you hear me?”

Akaleth slowly nodded. Felsah spooned a bit of the broth into his mouth, and the priest swallowed gladly. After a moment, he managed to work his tongue again. “Forgive me. The memory was... horrible.”

“You are still with us,” Kehthaek replied. “Tell me where it was that Jothay and Zagrosek took you.”

Akaleth sighed and lowered his eyes. “I do not know. It was deep underground, some sort of ancient pagan temple.”

“But thee escaped,” Nemgas pointed out. “Couldst thee find thy way back again?”

“No,” Akaleth replied. “I was running blindly. I don’t remember almost any of my run. I just needed to get away. I’m sorry. I don’t remember where it was.”

“Great,” Nemgas snorted. He crossed his arms and gave Kehthaek a meaningful look. “Well, thanks to thee, we canst still kill Jothay and be rid of one evil.”

Kehthaek met his gaze, eyes unflinching and hard. “That is the one thing we cannot do, good Magyar.”

“What?” Pelgan snapped. “Why not?”

Kehthaek kept his gaze focussed upon Nemgas. “Whatever evil Jothay intends with the sword of Yajakali must not be allowed to come to pass. If Jothay falls, Zagrosek will likely continue his profane work. We need to find this altar and destroy it before they succeed. Jothay is the key. He is a Bishop, and must remain publically visible. Zagrosek will never be seen in public, thanks to our efforts. He will remain in hiding. We do not know what other allies Jothay has, so that leaves us with only the man himself.”

Nemgas took a deep breath. There was truth in what this Questioner was saying. “What dost thee suggest?”

“Magyars are more than just wandering entertainers. You each know a good bit about moving quietly, and not being seen. You will spy on Jothay, as much as you can do safely. Do not take any risks at all. Eventually, we will find this altar.”

“‘Tis a dangerous plan,” Nemgas muttered. “Thou wouldst put our lives at risk.”

“Aye, but you have put them at risk already,” Kehthaek replied. “They will be looking for Akaleth. You must protect him here.”

“But Kehthaek,” Akaleth protested.

“Nay, father, you know it to be true. If they see any sign of you, they will kill you.”

Akaleth took a deep breath and then nodded. “You are right. I will remain here.”

Kehthaek returned his gaze to Nemgas. “Father Felsah and I will ask Questions of those around the city and learn what we are able. But only together will we be able to defeat this evil. Don’t you agree?”

Nemgas knew that this priest was playing with loaded dice. There was simply no way that the Magyar could refuse. He knew they would have needed to spy on some in the city anyway. Now they knew who to watch. And they also understood more of what was happening. Kehthaek was right. They had no choice.

“Aye, thou dost speak the truth. Tell me where Jothay dost reside, and I wilt show my friends how to spy upon him.”

Kehthaek smiled slowly. “Thank you, Nemgas.”

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

« Previous Part
Next Part »