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Righteous fury, p.15
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       Righteous Fury, p.15

           Markus Heitz
 

  Sinthoras glanced at his companion then quietly slipped the vial into a fold in his clothes. Perhaps it would come in useful, it would be his secret.

  “Let’s go.” Caphalor took the lead and headed for the entrance. “Now all we need is—”

  A creature that looked remarkably like a groundling sauntered in, hands behind his back. He was wearing a splendid suit of palladium armor on his muscular body and under the metal he wore a padded black tunic. Round his head there was a broad, worked band of the same metal as the armor, set with diamonds and rubies, sparkling in the light. His hair was dark black and cut short but his sideburn hair had been allowed to grow long, reaching down to his chest. The expression on his furrowed features was almost friendly, and certainly carried an air of polite inquiry as he entered the room and looked the intruders up and down.

  “Gålran zhadar,” mouthed Karjuna, stepping back to hide behind some shelves.

  Sinthoras raised his spear. “Very decent of him. We don’t even have to go looking for him to collect his head—don’t you dare—”

  In an instant Caphalor had his bow up and two arrows fired at the newcomer. He did not care if Sinthoras was keen to measure himself in combat against the lord of the sky fortress. The openness with which the gålran zhadar was confronting them did not augur well.

  Their new adversary brought his arms forward. In each hand he held a short-handled war hammer, on the heads of which decorative silver, gold, and jewels refracted the light. He held the broad sides of the hammerheads crossed to protect his face. He did take a step backward when the arrows hit and shattered, but he was unhurt.

  “That’s a bit slow,” he remarked mockingly in a deep voice. “For an älf.” The door behind him clanged shut.

  Caphalor nocked the next arrow but Sinthoras stepped into his sightline. “You’ve had your chance, Honor-Blessed laggard. Now it’s mine!” He advanced on the waiting gålran zhadar, who was holding the hammers crossed on his chest.

  Caphalor was surprised. Either the gålran zhadar knew nothing about älfar fighting skills, or he considered his own to be superior. “Obboona! Open the door,” he ordered, sending an arrow skimming past his companion’s hip. This one too was repelled. “Samusin!” he cursed, stowing his useless bow and drawing his short sword and his dagger.

  Karjuna slinked through the shadows and stood up against a shelf by the door, but then stopped, too frightened of the gålran zhadar to pass him directly.

  Sinthoras attacked with rapid stabs and struck the gålran zhadar with the blunt end of his spear. He evaded them nimbly, or parried with a growl. He was obviously concentrating hard and having to make an effort, but Caphalor could see he was enjoying himself.

  “Let’s see how you deal with this!” Sinthoras increased the pressure, adding kicks and elbow jabs to the spear blows. The palladium armor saved the gålran zhadar’s life on three occasions as the blade slipped on the engraved surface, unable to penetrate the metal.

  “Not as easy as you thought, eh, shortlegs?” scoffed the älf. Caphalor moved to help but Sinthoras shoved him aside. “Out of the way! He’s mine!”

  At that moment one of the war hammers hit Sinthoras on the left thigh. The jewels glowed and a pale red sphere flared, enclosing the hammerhead and then flashing round the room like a burst from the daystar.

  Sinthoras was hurled backward and his leg armor bore a long black scorch mark.

  The gålran zhadar roared with deep-voiced laughter. “Where are you off to, black-eyes? I’ve only just begun.” He threw the hammer up to rotate twice, then caught it and circled his arm in the air. “Karjuna! Where have you got to? You’ve brought some friends this time to rob me? I thought you were brighter than that.” He winked at Caphalor. “The same goes for you two.”

  Without warning, he attacked.

  CHAPTER VII

  Dsôn!

  Pulsating with life, this is the heart of the Star Realm, and the chosen stage for statesmen, whose alliances, enmities, and conspiracies are followed by the select few. Academies and universities stand side by side; they, too, are surrounded in webs of intrigue and cutthroat competition. There is always a war being waged in secret in Dsôn.

  And over all the Inextinguishable siblings reign supreme.

  Epocrypha of the Creating Spirit

  1st Book

  Footnote

  Ishím Voróo (The Outer Lands), the Kingdom of the fflecx,

  4370th division of unendingness (5198th solar cycle),

  summer.

  Raleeha lay on the high rock shelf just inside the cave entrance, listening to the sounds from outside and the snorts of the night-mare. The leaves rustled quietly, making her sleepy.

  But she told herself she must not drift off. As long as her present and former masters were on this mission, she must keep watch. She was not sure whether she was protecting the night-mare or whether it was the other way about, or whether or not it would eat her, given half a chance.

  She turned, inadvertently knocking against something that rolled down onto the cave floor. Feeling along the rock shelf, she worked out that it had been her drinking flask.

  How she longed to have her sight back. To see the stallion, to see the sky fortress, even the obboona—and, of course, to see Sinthoras’ enchanting features. She did not take it amiss that he had given her away like some useless possession. She was well acquainted with his moods and she knew he would be regretting this action.

  The tension between Caphalor and himself prevented her former master from simply asking for her return. As long as she was able to be somewhere near Sinthoras, it did not matter to her whose orders she was under.

  Her thoughts wandered. Her family would never be able to understand why, of her own volition, she was still following the älf who had slashed her eyes. She sometimes found it hard to understand herself.

  For as far back as she could remember, she had taken pleasure in serving others, no matter that she was the sister of a prince. And because of her own creative streak she was attracted to the art of the älfar and had loved the stories she heard about them as a child. To her the tales were thrilling rather than morbid or terrifying.

  Her fascination was aesthetic. Where other humans felt only revulsion at their art, Raleeha admired the älfar concept of it: works executed in blood, wonderful sculptures in bone and metal, magnificent towers and opulent dwellings. She had always fantasized about their achievements and had longed for an opportunity to study an älfar city and behold the evidence of their preeminent skills with her own eyes.

  She remembered how she had been a better artist than anyone in her hometown: the works she produced had a vibrant but mysteriously somber quality to them that no one else could replicate. People called her conceited and resented her prowess. Her best piece, exhibited in the town hall, was slashed and defaced by some envious soul who had scribbled a crude caricature of her on the door.

  The more she enthused about the älfar, the more people distrusted her and she had been forced to hide her passionate obsession. She wanted to avoid repercussions that might damage her brother’s reputation. However warm his feelings toward her, even Farron had never understood his sister’s opinions.

  As a member of the Ishmanti tribe she had lived a nomadic life for many years. Then the extended family had settled and founded a small town relatively near the älfar frontier. One day she had seen Sinthoras as he sat painting.

  Despite her brother’s pleas she had gone after him, wanting nothing more than to travel widely throughout the älfar regions, even if she had to do it as a slave. Obsessed by the beauty she saw, she had sketched and painted. The architecture, the philosophy of the älfar and even their military skills far surpassed anything she had experienced before. She admired their whole way of life—in death and in art.

  Raleeha was distraught about never being able to see any of it again. However, her punishment had been merited, so she suppressed the voice inside her that tried to complain about her treatment, whil
e she reveled in her memories of älfar art.

  The rebellious voice told her that a beating would have been sufficient punishment, her mistake had not been so significant as to deserve the loss of her eyesight. Without Caphalor’s help she would have drowned out in the marshes, or might have been ravished by óarcos or even eaten . . .

  She must stop accusing Sinthoras. I brought it upon myself.

  She steeled herself to climb down from the ledge for the drinking flask.

  That same internal voice repeatedly urged her to return to her brother’s people and to abandon her existence as a slave, but she hesitated. She was proud of her brother, the renowned warrior prince, and was loath to be a burden to him if she went back home. The rumors would persist and she would be suspected of being a spy for the älfar. Nobody escaped alive from their captivity, so how could a blind girl do it? Farron’s reputation must remain spotless.

  She had heard that the Ishmantis were planning a campaign against the Star Realm and that would be a further reason for seeking her brother out: to try to dissuade him. He would be going to certain death and taking tens of thousands with him.

  No one back home had any idea how strong the älfar military were. She knew, though. Sinthoras had once taken her with him on maneuvers—there had only been a thousand soldiers on the exercise, but they were more lethal than ten thousand of her kind. The defenses they constructed would have claimed thousands of lives before a human ever set foot in Dsôn Faïmon.

  She was torn between concern for her own people and the arguments that held her back. She was amazed at the ideas that had come when she lost her sight; the beauty of the älfar cities had shut down any critical faculties for thought, they were too confusing.

  Raleeha had reached the ground now and crouched down to feel around for her flask. She found the strap and tugged.

  At that point she registered that the night-mare was no longer snorting.

  To her right she heard a hoof meet stone. She could imagine the sparks playing round the creature’s fetlocks and she could feel the static on her face. She jerked upright with a cry and tried to move away, but the stallion had stepped on the hem of her dress. The night-mare was set on having her as his next meal and had just been waiting for her to come down from her sanctuary.

  “No!” she cried, trying to pull herself free. She lifted an arm in defense and encountered the creature’s soft nostrils.

  Raleeha plucked up the courage to stroke his muzzle.

  The stallion moved its hoof aside and she was free. She could hardly believe her luck.

  “Good boy, Sardaî.”

  Without moving her hand away she got slowly to her feet, talking calmly all the time. The animal allowed her to stroke the blaze with her other hand. Until, that is, she touched the place its horn had been.

  The night-mare screamed and it pawed the ground.

  Jumping back, Raleeha narrowly avoided the snapping jaws.

  “Off with you!” she shouted, yanking an arrow out of her belt and turning at the same time to the wall. Climbing swiftly, she tried to reach safety. A blow on her back thrust her upward. If the creature had still had its horn she would have been pierced through.

  Dropping the arrow, Raleeha climbed further and pulled herself up.

  The night-mare sank its teeth in the heel of her right boot, tearing it off. Before it could attack her again she reached the ledge. She was sobbing and coughing at the same time; she ran her fingers over her back to check whether she was bleeding. The stallion stormed around the cave, its noise echoing from the walls. She implored it to stop, tears streaming down her cheeks. “You’ll have our enemies on us like that. Be quiet, can’t you?”

  Her voice made the animal wilder still.

  Raleeha covered her ears and wept. At that moment she would have given anything to be back with her brother and her family.

  Ishím Voróo (The Outer Lands), Kingdom of the fflecx,

  4370th division of unendingness (5198th solar cycle),

  summer.

  Sinthoras had not realized that the gålran zhadar had such strong magic. The power had cut right through his body and everything around turned red and hot as a furnace. His leg was throbbing and felt numb and swollen under the metal greaves. Maybe he would lose it completely. The botoicans’ strongest sorcery was child’s play compared to this.

  Biting his lips against the pain, he cut the leather greave straps on his armor and sprang vertically upward to avoid his adversary who was storming toward him. His plan was to thrust his spear down into the back of his neck as he passed underneath.

  But the gålran zhadar had anticipated the move. One of his hammers crashed against the spear with such violence that the shaft bent in the middle; the second hammer—aimed at Sinthoras’ lower leg—only narrowly missed.

  Robbed of his support, Sinthoras lost his balance and collapsed in front of his waiting opponent who raised his hammers expectantly and stood grinning. The hammerheads were beginning to glow again.

  Sinthoras released a web of darkness to extinguish the lamps. The power of fear flew toward the gålran zhadar, confusing him enough to make his next blows go astray.

  The light dimmed in response, but the effect was nowhere as strong as it usually was. The gålran zhadar remained unimpressed, though he was unsettled enough to withdraw three paces.

  “Stupid little games!” he shouted furiously. “Instead of an honest fight you hide behind such tricks!” He lifted his hammers and leaned forward. Crackling flashes of lightning shot out of the handles. “I’ll show you what I can do! You stand no chance!”

  “Hey!” Caphalor was standing by some shelves holding a burning lamp over one of the open chests; there was a smell of petroleum. “There’s a lot of paper in there. I bet it’ll burn really well if I drop the lamp in.”

  The gålran zhadar lowered his arms.

  Sinthoras growled; he was certainly not going to be thanking his companion for barging in like that.

  “You want my treasure,” said the gålran zhadar, assessing the älfar. “And I won’t let you take it.” He raised his right hammer and spoke to Caphalor. “What have you stolen? Put it back and you can go if you leave the traitor here.”

  Sinthoras laughed maliciously. “Of course. Your word is good enough for us,” he said sarcastically.

  “I’m not giving you more than my word.”

  “Then we’ll kill you and leave the same way we came in,” Caphalor answered.

  “Do you think you would have got in if I hadn’t wanted you to?” The castle overlord regarded them disdainfully. “I left the way open for Karjuna to return so that I could punish her. I did not expect her to be bringing reinforcements.” Still holding fast to the hammers, his body tense, he went on, “I’ve given you my offer. Take it or you will lose your immortality sooner than you want to, and all because of a worthless obboona.” He narrowed his eyes. “How did she manage to persuade two älfar like you to go out on the rob?” His gaze wandered along the shelves. “You’ve chosen something very valuable.”

  “Only valuable for a gnome,” Sinthoras replied. He had checked out his spear and thought it could still be used, though the mechanism had been damaged, so he would not be able to separate it into two pieces.

  The gålran zhadar laughed with disbelief. “They sent you to retrieve their crown and the parchment? Munumon is more of a coward than I thought—wouldn’t try it himself, or bring his own army.” He raised his arms, relaxing the muscles. “You’d never have got this far without the obboona.”

  “Believe me: we would have killed Munumon if we’d had the chance. We had no choice. We’ve got to take the things back that he needs.” Caphalor held the lamp dangerously close to the papers. “Let us go free.”

  “What else did you need?”

  Sinthoras hurled his spear at the gålran zhadar and rushed forward, drawing his sword. “Your head,” he called, laughing, getting ready to strike.

  His opponent only escaped the full force of t
he blow because the spear was bent out of true and wavered in flight. Otherwise, the point would have got him in the middle of his forehead. As it was, it landed on one of the hammers and the blade tip shattered on impact.

  Sinthoras had calculated for this: using the distraction, he struck again as he ran, aiming for the throat this time.

  The gålran zhadar raised his second weapon, deflecting the älf’s blade and pushing it aside; then he attacked with the first.

  Sinthoras cursed and delivered a high kick to the other’s wrist. The gålran zhadar’s grip on his weapon faltered and Sinthoras caught the hammer elegantly as it fell. He used the momentum, twisting on his own axis and swinging the heavy implement.

  Hammer clanged against hammer. The gålran zhadar had parried the blow.

  Now great swathes of magic were released, hurling Sinthoras off his feet—it felt like being swept away by a mountain torrent—and the breath was driven out of his body. Forced to drop the weapon, he crashed into the shelving and slid to the floor. Through a red veil he saw the gålran zhadar lying on the other side of the room, a pool of blood round his head.

  Caphalor leaped in and grabbed Sinthoras by the arms, pulling him upward and shouting, “Up!”

  To Sinthoras the voice was slow and faint, as if Caphalor were yawning while he spoke.

  “The obboona has opened the door. His men are on their way.”

  “Kill them,” said Sinthoras, wondering why his own voice sounded so strange. The words were clear enough in his head, but they came out wrong. When Caphalor let go of him he had to grab hold of the shelves for support. Arms, legs—everything was feeble, as if his bones were melting. He had spots before his eyes, but now they were turning to fog. He had to admit he was in no state to do any more fighting.

  He staggered unwillingly after Caphalor, bumping into obstacles, grabbing something off a shelf that looked like a spear. He had lost his own, useless now anyway.

 
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