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Righteous fury, p.25
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       Righteous Fury, p.25

           Markus Heitz
 

  And was amazed.

  He had not reckoned with being in a position to do that ever again.

  And he had certainly not reckoned on ever again seeing his own bedroom ceiling.

  I’m dreaming! He turned his head to the left.

  It really was his own bedchamber—and his life-companion was lying at his side. Her eyes were closed and her breathing irregular.

  Caphalor wanted to call her name but his lips refused to move. He was so very tired, so very weak. His mind was sluggish, as if he had drunk too much wine.

  “Father, don’t try to move,” came his daughter’s voice.

  Is this still a dream? Presumably he was lying in the mire at death’s door and the alchemancers’ poison was playing these tricks on his brain.

  Here was Tarlesa and she was smiling at him. There were bloodstains on her simple brown clothing. Standing behind her, he saw Raleeha in her high-necked gray dress, a band of black lace over her eyes. She looked more älf-woman than barbarian. It was only the collar that told of her lowly status as a slave. She was holding a basin of water; drops of red ran down the outside of the bowl, and there were bloodied towels over Raleeha’s left arm.

  His vision blurred and he tried to lift an arm.

  “No, Father. Don’t move. You are not yet out of danger. You will need to rest for many moments of unendingness before you can get up with your powers restored,” his daughter told him gently.

  Caphalor swallowed. “How did I . . . ?” But his voice failed him.

  “Aïsolon found you and the slave girl when he was out hunting. He killed the outlaws who attacked you and brought you back to the border. The troops brought you home,” Tarlesa explained.

  He groaned. This was what he had most dreaded: shame and dishonor, from hero to laughing stock. This would only serve to reinforce the reputation of the Constellations as cowards. He had not found the mist-demon, he had not killed Munumon, and the obboona was still alive and here he was, helpless as a kitten. The Inextinguishable Ones would revile him for returning with only failure to report.

  A fate worse than death.

  His daughter read his expression. “No one knows you are here in Shiimal, Father. The soldiers are sworn to secrecy. They are all Constellation supporters. And Aïsolon is the last älf who would ever betray you.”

  Caphalor sighed and closed his eyes. I have failed—I, who had been granted the Honor-Blessing.

  The thought troubled him deeply. He was plagued by the thought of still being alive in these circumstances. He would have preferred the Inextinguishables and the älfar people all to presume him dead in a heroic attempt to serve his rulers. A lesser warrior could have been forgiven failure, but not one who had been Honor-Blessed.

  “If I die, burn my body secretly,” he whispered. “Nobody must know that I am here. It would reflect badly on all of you.”

  “Father, I am not going to let you die,” Tarlesa replied, her tone kindly but determined. “As soon as you are restored to health, you can set off again in secret and complete your mission.”

  He forced himself to lift his eyelids to look at his daughter. Then he stretched out his left hand to touch her face—and saw his wrist. An enali-tube had been inserted into a blood vessel in his arm and there was dried blood on the skin nearby.

  Tarlesa pressed his arm down again. “No, Father, please.” There was a click and he felt her fasten his arm to the bed with a metal cuff. “If you move you might pull out the enali and then you would both bleed to death.”

  “What have you done?”

  “Learned from my studies. These enali tendrils are hollow and very flexible. I rinse them in alcohol so that they don’t cause any infection. Most healers would use boiling water, but that would cook the tubes and make them useless.” She gave his shoulder an encouraging rub. “The slave told me the fflecx had administered poison, so we had to remove the diseased blood. I opened an artery in your leg and at the same time Mother and I gave you some of our own blood through the enali tube. Mother is giving you the last quota. Then she must stop or she will become too weak.” Tarlesa kissed him on the forehead. “Sleep, Father. I shall ensure you can return as a hero.”

  Caphalor closed his eyes. He was not yet able to hope, but pride in his clever daughter left him feeling calmer.

  CHAPTER XII

  Because the Inextinguishables did not want to sacrifice their loyal slaves and their servants, they sent their warriors out against the tribes and the creatures of Ishím Voróo.

  The älfar forces swept out, bringing death and destruction in all directions, exterminating civilizations and uncivilizations alike, in order to found a seat of power appropriate for the Inextinguishables.

  No one could stop them in this endeavor.

  Epocrypha of the Creating Spirit,

  1st Book,

  Chapter 2, 18–23

  Ishím Voróo (The Outer Lands),

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

  late summer.

  Sinthoras lay immobile on the warm ground. There was a bright light on his chest and a silver ball was hovering above his damaged armor. What did the brainless idiot do with that ill-advised kick? Sparks shot out, hitting him and the half-troll, but not causing injury. The älf felt nothing—apart from the strong magic force radiating outward.

  The half-troll leaped backward, shield raised in defense and club aimed at the luminous sphere. “That won’t help you, black-eyes!” he growled, baring uneven but very sharp teeth. “Your sorcery’s not going to save you!”

  Sinthoras had no idea what it was that had been released from the vial, but it wasn’t harming him. Perhaps it could even be employed to his own advantage—he could make use of his enemy’s fear.

  “If you don’t move away I’ll have your skull burst open, beast!” he shouted. “Go back to the gålran zhadar and tell him about my magic powers!”

  The silvery ball, still floating in the air, started to spin. More sparks issued, forming jagged flashes of lightning that pierced the clouds of mist and disappeared.

  It seemed to Sinthoras that they were searching for something.

  The half-troll was certainly impressed by the harmless spectacle; it took two giant steps back, becoming almost invisible in the fog.

  “Hey!” it called out. “Help here, ho! Help! The black-eyes is doing magic stuff!”

  Sinthoras racked his brains. Try as he might, he could not move his limbs. The poison had affected them badly. By the time the last of the gålran zhadar’s henchmen turned up he would surely be done for—he would be hurled out of his unendingness and extinguished. Everyone would forget his name and he would not even get a mention on the hallowed Wall of the Departed.

  Never! Tion, I beseech you! He stared at the whirring sphere.

  An elf approached him through the swirls of mist. An elf? Did it have to be an elf? A so-called creature of light—arrogance personified. When those pathetic creatures fell it would be best for everyone.

  The sight of the elf summoned up his last reserves of energy. He thought, full of hatred, of Tark Draan, where the scum had hidden from the älfar, crawling away to find refuge with the groundlings, barbarians and second-rate wizards. To find an elf on the loose in Ishím Voróo was strange indeed.

  I must not die. And certainly not at the hand of an elf! His mood lifted when he beheld the terror on the elf’s face. It was obviously not seen as a good thing that the silver sphere had been released.

  “Rambarz!” The elf’s ridiculously high voice rang out. Sinthoras could have slain him for that sound alone. “Get over here at once!”

  The half-troll appeared out of the gloom, his shield before him and his weapon held at arm’s length. “The Thing is still there,” he said accusingly. “Make it go!”

  The elf held two long swords in his hands and he pointed at the sphere with one of them. “This is not the work of älfar. It was contained in the vial.”

  Sinthoras laughed out loud. “Your clumsy tr
oll destroyed the flask when he kicked me. Your gålran zhadar won’t be pleased; his own people have destroyed what he wanted so badly.” His broken jaw was painful; it was swelling up and making his speech unclear.

  “It was his property, thief! You stole it—and you took it without knowing what it was.” The elf stowed one of his swords and looked around. “Keep watch,” he ordered Rambarz. “If you see the cloud I told you about, break the amulet.”

  “Yes, Dafirmas.”

  Sinthoras felt an icy wave course through him, freezing his heart. Samusin, save me! I cannot end like this. This cannot be my destiny! For two blinks of an eye he believed his life was over; then his heart started to beat once more, struggling to pump the chilled and thickened blood. The pain from his shattered ribs and the ache in his jaw stopped him passing out.

  Dafirmas knelt at his side, placing his second sword down on the ground; he formed his two hands into a semicircle, keeping two hand widths away from the silver sphere. Eyes closed, he murmured a sing-song incantation.

  Sinthoras supposed the mist-demon would be interested in this sphere. Very interested. Let’s see what he says. He started to sing at the top of his voice, as loud as his injuries permitted. He chose a jolly song to lure the demon.

  Dafirmas opened his eyes and glared at the älf. “Silence!”

  Grinning and coughing, Sinthoras continued his song.

  “Rambarz, make him stop! Make him stop forever!”

  The half-troll stepped out of the fog, making a detour round the glowing sphere. He lifted his club, ready to strike.

  Sinthoras bellowed out the rest of his song.

  Behind Rambarz a shimmering light appeared and the älf laughed, relieved, gasping for air and spitting blood: the broken ribs had damaged his lungs.

  Dafirmas looked up, recognizing the demon. “Sitalia, I beseech you!” The elf’s face turned ash-gray. “Help me . . .”

  The silver ball gave a final whirr and sparks shot out into the shimmering cloud, which grew brighter by the moment.

  Dazzled, Sinthoras shut his eyes and felt a wave of heat wash over him, driving out the icy cold and the pain, making his limbs supple once more. Ye gods, what game are you playing with me? He dived for the elf’s sword blindly and dealt a wild blow, opening his eyes again at the last moment.

  Sensing the attack, Dafirmas tried to bring his second sword into play, but Sinthoras was too quick. He struck the elf on the shoulder and followed up with a stab to the throat. “Your death bears the name Sinthoras.” He released the sword. Dafirmas died beside him, eyes filling with hatred before they dimmed.

  Sinthoras grasped his spear with the other hand and managed to deflect the half-troll’s plunging war club, then he stabbed the half-troll through the foot and activated the gas mechanism.

  There was a hiss and the troll’s boot doubled in size; blood sprayed out of the shaft. His adversary stumbled backward with a roar.

  Sinthoras got to his feet, holding the spear in both hands and twirled it in the air. The effects of the fflecx’s poison were hardly noticeable. Don’t be too sure, he warned himself as he looked at the mist-demon.

  A war was being waged within the writhing fog. The sphere hovered in midair, flashing out in all directions, tearing holes in the creature of mist, which darkened and intensified like a thundercloud. An aura of horror, malignancy, and fear seethed out from the mist. Wonderful! Sinthoras savored it.

  Rambarz was not to be seen. The half-troll must have taken to his heels. Too much magic here for the simpleminded.

  Sinthoras stopped, eyeing the mist-demon, which was now preparing to fight back. All at once it turned white as snow and a loud cry resounded in the älf’s head. The sphere went dark and the humming ceased as the ball became transparent, until sparkling points of light were released from the interior, lodging in the cloud to merge with the tiny stars.

  The creature’s cry faded slowly into a laugh.

  The älf nodded, his excitement at a peak. The mist-demon had changed: it was speaking in a teasing whisper, but there was malicious trickery there, too—a trace of threat in each syllable. The sleepiness and boredom in his voice had vanished. “Yes, that is my name. I am delighted you liked the present.”

 

  “I wanted to understand you better, to get a clear impression. Pardon me for keeping you waiting.” Sinthoras did not have the faintest idea what was happening, or how the pain caused by the poison had been lifted away, but it was good.

 

  Sinthoras smiled. “In that case I am a happy älf.”

  The mist-demon wafted over to Sinthoras and played round his legs, snaking upward and around them.

  The voice was cautious, challenging, and deadly dangerous. Sinthoras had the feeling death was closer now than before his sudden miraculous recovery.

  He had imagined how he would accompany the mist-demon to his homeland, presenting him as a new ally, an ally he had won over with no help from that failure, Caphalor. He imagined being rewarded by the Inextinguishables with the longed-for Honor-Blessing.

  That dream now departed, but he might at least convince the demon to join the campaign and give him directions to Dsôn Faïmon. “My rulers will give you Tark Draan as soon as it has been conquered, I swear.”

  The mist embraced him, enclosing him completely.

  “No, by Samusin! The alchemancers poisoned me to force me to do their bidding. They are supposed to give me the antidote, if—”

 

  “Can you?” Sinthoras could not decide whether or not to take up the offer. This urgency, this greediness, made him uneasy. The silver sphere had completely transformed his new ally. Unfortunately he could not ask the elf what had been in the shattered flask.

  The mist-demon gave off a luminous glow and tiny stars radiated around Sinthoras, heating him mercilessly, as if he were being baked in an oven. Sweat broke out of every pore, drenching his apparel and soaking his face. He was as wet as if he had just stepped out of a lake. Then the heat receded.

 

  Sinthoras looked down at himself, his sweat was colored dark brown and gave off a horrible smell. “Was that the poison?”

  The mist withdrew from around the älf, twisting and swirling in front of him.

  “Off?”

 

  “We wanted to be sure you would be on our side.” Sinthoras still could not grasp the fact that he had so simply and quickly been saved from certain death. He laughed out loud. “You have saved me!”

  The mist darkened.

  There was no mistaking the threat from this combination of whining child and petulant monarch. Sinthoras was aware of the burning landscape all around and he thought about the destruction and extermination that had taken place here. Suddenly he was dismayed by the thought of taking this demon back to Dsôn Faïmon. Will the same thing happen to my homeland? And what if the demon prefers the Star Realm to the prospect of Tark Draan?

  Sinthoras decided: the demon must not be allowed access to the realm of the älfar. “I shall leave immediately and will bring the Inextinguishables the good news. Then we shall assemble the armies. When that is done I shall send a messenger for you.”

  The mist
creature was silent.

  Dafirmas shot up with a screech. His throat was still transfixed by the sword and his eyes were dull, yet he moved like one alive. He hissed and growled and hurled himself at Sinthoras, attacking with bare hands, his fingers curled to claws.

  Sinthoras swung his spear and drove it into the elf’s body, keeping him at arm’s length. “Will you just lie down and be dead?” The elf writhed as if it had contracted a maddening disease. If the spear had not had arresting lugs, Dafirmas would have driven it through his own body in his efforts to reach Sinthoras.

  In a flash the älf recalled the beheaded skeletons. Drawing the sword out of the elf’s throat with one hand, he chopped through the neck while retaining his grip on the spear with the other. Vertebrae severed, Dafirmas collapsed to the ground.

  said the mist-demon.

  “Excellent,” said Sinthoras, jerking his spear back out of the elf cadaver. He would be very careful on the way home—all of his victims that he had not lured into fire pits would be waiting for him. He bowed to the demon. “I’ll be on my way. Wait here until the message comes.”

 

  “What did you say?”

 

  “But I’d be hundreds of miles away,” objected Sinthoras.

  The mist-demon withdrew.

  “What do you see as being too long?”

  The cloud vanished.

  Sinthoras gulped, raised his hand and watched the stinking poison drip from his fingertips. Saved. I shall see Dsôn Faïmon once more and can report my success. Then he realized he had no proof of the alliance he had negotiated. The Inextinguishable Ones would have to take his word for it. Would they do that? Would they put the whole machinery of war in motion, mobilize the vassal armies, call his entire people to arms—purely on his say so?

 
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