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Righteous fury, p.40
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       Righteous Fury, p.40

           Markus Heitz
 

  Again Raleeha was forced to witness their lips meet in a kiss. Stop! Stop that now! It was a scorching pain through her heart and she longed for the death of her rival. There was no guilt left now when she wished for Timanris to die. She had never asked her to be her patron. She certainly would never have asked for her own art to be attributed to someone else.

  May the plague take you! Raleeha’s burning anger increased until she could hardly breathe. Every part of her body was on fire. The conflagration scorched through all the reservations that common sense had imposed, searing through any remaining vestige of gratitude and reducing scruples to a blackened husk.

  She was too taken up with her own distress to hear anything of the rest of their conversation. The tiny voice in her head was proposing sophisticated death plans for her rival and Raleeha paid eager attention. Finally she heard her own name and saw that Timanris had gone past her, so she followed her älf-mistress. But she was compelled to turn toward Sinthoras one last time: he was standing in the arbor doorway, one hand raised in farewell. She was convinced the gesture was intended for herself. We shall meet again soon. She managed to prevent herself from waving in response.

  They went back inside the building and climbed to the first floor.

  Raleeha noted the spears and pennants placed on the stairway. At each step she saw the promised instruments of her revenge, helping her to her heart’s desire.

  Don’t do it, warned the voice of reason. It will be your own downfall.

  Timanris stopped on the landing. “Don’t tell my father about the proposal, should he ask,” she said. “It must not be made known until Sinthoras returns from Tark Draan. My father is not overly fond of the warrior class, but he won’t be able to refuse a hero.” She sighed in the way of those deep in love, shrugging her shoulders playfully like a young girl. “May Samusin keep him safe. Samusin and your portrait, of course.”

  Enough! I can’t bear your sentimental gushing any longer! Raleeha’s hand gripped the nearest spear in fury. She could endure no more of this suffering! With a muffled scream of anger she plunged the four-sided blade into Timanris’ side and pushed her backward to the top of the stairs. “You shall never have him,” she hissed. “I sacrificed my sight, I put up with his contempt purely to be in his presence. I allowed myself to be exchanged and bartered like some animal and I gave up my liberty—only to be thwarted in this way!”

  Timanris gasped at her open-mouthed, astonishment and agony in her eyes.

  Raleeha ripped off the lace blindfold and stared her dying mistress in the face. “What use now your beauty, Timanris? I was sharper-witted than you. I was quicker than you. I was more devious. Are these not the qualities you älfar prize most highly?”

  Timanris choked, raising her arm to touch Raleeha in a beseeching gesture.

  “I had rather he took Yantarai than you,” she hissed under her breath, as she pushed the älf woman out over the top step before releasing her hold on the spear.

  Timanris snatched up one of the other spears and thrust it at Raleeha, catching her in the shoulder with the metal barb. As she fell, she dragged the slave girl down with her into the depths. They rolled down the stairs in a tangled heap, releasing more of the weapons as they passed. Step by step, they clattered down.

  Raleeha screamed with pain. The barb tore at her flesh, making her unable to move her arm to free herself. Her anger turned to terror.

  I warned you it would bring disaster, whispered the sad voice of common sense inside her head.

  When she landed next to Timanris at the bottom of the stairs she went completely to pieces. The eyes of the älf-woman were alert and the spear had come out of her side, gouging a seeping wound the size of a fist.

  Put an end to this! urged the high voice in her head. Go on! Finish her off, or she will reveal your treachery and all will be lost!

  “Why don’t you die?” shrieked the terrified Raleeha, about to grasp her rival’s throat. Then she heard shouts nearby. She let go and racked her brain feverishly. She must not survive or it will mean my death.

  She groaned at a new injury; Timanris had pierced her side under her ribcage with a broken-off spear point.

  “Samusin,” breathed Raleeha, sinking to the marble floor at her rival’s feet.

  Didn’t I tell you what would happen? came the insistent voice of reason.

  CHAPTER XIX

  Once they had secured peace and beauty, the Inextinguishables sent out their scouts to find the deadly enemies of the älfar: the elves.

  But however minutely they combed the lands of Ishím Voróo and investigated the remotest corners, they could locate no trace of the traitors.

  There was an indication that they had left Ishím Voróo. Toward the south.

  Toward a land known as Girdlegard.

  Epocrypha of the Creating Spirit

  3rd book,

  chapter 1, 1–10

  Ishím Voróo (The Outer Lands), seventeen miles from the Northern Pass and the Stone Gateway,

  4371st division of unendingness (5199th solar cycle),

  summer.

  The two älfar nostàroi took their escort of forty warriors further up the pass to survey the extensive camp from above. “It was wise to make camp back at the base of the foothills,” Caphalor remarked. “The ogres, trolls, and giants make so much noise and their voices carry quite a distance.”

  Sinthoras listened for a moment, then replied to Caphalor, satisfied that he could hear no sounds from the plain below. “That would have been all we needed: the groundlings warned of the attack by gales of laughter.”

  Their ban on going up to the Stone Gateway had also worked: they had not met a single beast or barbarian on their way up. The nostàroi were the first to set foot in the area for a long, long time.

  The pass was steep, but it remained broad as it wound up through the mountains. This had not always been the case. During the few divisions of unendingness, when no beast had considered attacking the groundlings, there had only been occasional expeditions issuing into Ishím Voróo from Tark Draan. The barbarians were keen to learn more about the unknown. But after a time, invading óarcos and other monsters had flattened out the ground and widened the pass with pick and shovel, wanting to employ siege engines against the mighty stone portal. Sinthoras smiled grimly. I think it is only polite to return the barbarians’ visits.

  It was getting colder: they could see their breath collecting in white clouds in front of their faces and they could see hoar frost on the rim of each other’s helmets. Sinthoras let his thoughts wander back over the miles to where his Timanris lay, badly injured.

  The news of her accident had made him extremely concerned about his future companion’s health and he was frightened for her. Love does not only make us strong. However, it was not possible to absent himself from the campaign for personal reasons, even if his heart was torn in two, and so he had been writing to her: countless letters, all sent to Dsôn by messenger.

  I must find some distraction or my mind will be focused only on her and anxiety will overwhelm me. “Tell me what happened with Munumon,” Sinthoras asked. “I presume you inflicted as much pain as possible?”

  “Yes, more than I have ever tortured any creature before,” Caphalor responded with a certain satisfaction in his voice. “I hope you will find a use for the blood I brought back?”

  “I am preserving it carefully. Now there are no more fflecx, the life juice of their king is more valuable than ever.” Sinthoras was disappointed. He had wanted to know the details. Have we achieved revenge for the humiliation Munumon imposed on us?

  But before he could inquire further, Caphalor said, “I am glad the pass is so wide. It is perfect for the size of our armies. We should get up there at a good speed.”

  “The catapults and storm ladders will be easy to transport, as well.” As they walked, he saw the heaps of weathered bones, rusted and lichen-encrusted armor and abandoned wagons to the right and the left of the pass. Death had garnered many a
prize. Soon death can resume its work here.

  The night-mares had no problem with the altitude and the älfar soon arrived at the last platform before the gateway. The pass then led along the edge of the mountain for a further half a mile before disappearing west between the cliff sides.

  “I have not seen any fresh tracks,” said Caphalor. “It looks as if no one has been up to the Gateway for a long time.”

  “We’ll leave some scouts here,” Sinthoras decided. “There’s always a possibility some of the barbarian kings in Tark Draan might choose to send out their troops just at the wrong moment, it would be too bad if they stumbled on our camp.” He took a deep breath. Clear mountain air and a whiff of the empire he intended to conquer reached him. The groundlings will only be the overture.

  “I can hardly wait,” growled Caphalor, as if he were reading Sinthoras’ thoughts. “I want to see the cursed land of Tark Draan go up in flames. May its ashes calm my hatred.”

  Sinthoras nodded. “Indeed, my friend. Let them feel what you feel, you will see how your pain lessens with every elf trampled under your night-mare’s hooves. In—”

  Their heads shot round to the right: a dislodged stone fell down the slope.

  “A barbarian,” whispered Caphalor. “About eighty paces above us. He’s looking out of a cave.”

  “How quickly can we get up?”

  Caphalor pulled down his bow and was already loosing an arrow at the scout. The man fell out of his shelter and tumbled lifeless to the ground. “Not necessary,” he remarked. “I’ve brought him down to us.” He signaled to the troops to dismount and secure the area.

  Sinthoras had been noticing the difference in the other nostàroi’s behavior for some time now. He conducted himself as befitted a warrior, a hero, not like some noble älf with a country estate who occasionally deigned to join the army. His new attitude won him the respect of his troops and the allies spoke of him with admiration. No trace now of his softer personality. If he joined the Comets, that would be perfect.

  Not so long ago Sinthoras would have been green with envy, but today he remained relaxed: Caphalor was no longer an opponent or a rival and their political differences had been overcome. With the war going ahead and the whole Star State enthusiastic in its support, the leadership of two such experienced heroes would ensure victory.

  From their mounts he and Caphalor looked down impassively at the dead barbarian. He was in a wretched condition, wearing animal skins over the remnants of uniform and rusty chainmail.

  Sinthoras poked around near the corpse with the end of his lance, slitting open the man’s bag of provisions. “He’s got more than enough food with him. He must have belonged to some barbarian expeditionary force.”

  Caphalor gazed up toward the cave opening. “There will be others. We should deal with them before they see us and warn the groundlings.” He gave commands to the troops; half the unit started to climb the slope. He followed them at a distance.

  Sinthoras hung his spear over his shoulder by its strap and clambered up a steep path toward the cave. The remainder of the troop stayed with the night-mares, keeping watch.

  Silently they entered the cave. There was a decided stink of barbarian and a simple encampment for two people: a bucket for slops, some old blankets, and animal skins on sacks of straw.

  “A look-out post,” Caphalor guessed, drawing out a knife. “The soldiers must have turned brigand. I expect there were waiting for some merchant to pass—anyone bold enough to still use this road.”

  Sinthoras nodded agreement. “Over there,” he said, pointing to a tunnel behind them. The troop moved forward; they had no need of light.

  The air was stale and they found a number of neglected lamps; the wicks had burned down and the canisters had not been refilled. The sides of the corridor were of natural provenance; the rounded edges of the rock indicating an earlier watercourse.

  “We are going past the Stone Gateway,” said Sinthoras.

  “I wonder if the groundlings know it.” Caphalor smiled. “I pray to Samusin that we have found something that will let us stab the bearded ones in the back.”

  A door loomed up in front of them showing a bar of light at its foot.

  “We will leave one of them alive. The others must die.” Sinthoras called up his power and he felt his spine tingle and grow warm in response. The black webs of terror hovered toward the door, slipped through the gap under the wood, locating and dousing the lamps. His victims were sitting in the dark, at a loss to understand what was happening. Your death approaches. When he heard the barbarians’ startled shouts, he slowly opened the door.

  They were mostly barbarian males: two ugly barbarian women were sitting at the back trying to calm the infants at their breasts. The babies had realized something was wrong.

  They were so silent that nobody heard him or his troops as they spread about amongst the barbarians with their weapons at the ready.

  Caphalor indicated the tallest man and made the sign for “leader.”

  Sinthoras studied the coarse face of the strong-smelling barbarian who was continuing to finish his food in the dark, with no idea of the mortal danger he was in. You simple souls, it’s a miracle you have survived so long. The man was taking a hearty bite out of a sausage; the filling spurted out, smearing the sides of his mouth and covering his unkempt facial hair. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve and called out a command to relight the lamps; then he belched and felt for his mug of brandy. Sinthoras was disgusted. I don’t want to sully my blade with your blood. He took the mug before the barbarian could grab it and he rammed it brutally into the man’s throat.

  This assault was a prompt for the others to attack.

  The älfar killed the barbarians—man, woman, and child—within a couple of heartbeats. The leader was given a powerful blow to the temple to stun him. As the sound of the last dying gurgle faded away, Sinthoras permitted the lamps to shine once more.

  The älfar were standing around the cave next to the barbarians they had each dispatched. There was a soft splashing sound as blood dripped out from gaping wounds onto the rocky floor.

  Caphalor tossed the contents of a wine jug into the leader’s face and smacked him round the head with the back of his armored hand to bring him round.

  “Demons!” shouted the man, pulling back. He must have been twice the weight of the älf; muscular and powerful—but his will was shattered. “Ye mountain demons, I—”

  “What are you up to here in the Gray Range, human?” Caphalor asked in a deep voice. “Who sent you here?”

  Sinthoras knew that his nostàroi colleague was using the weapon of terror against the barbarian, torturing his soul. His talent for fear is stronger than my own; is that because of his grief, I wonder?

  “We are soldiers from Gauragar. Our king sent us out to explore the pass, but we . . .” The human stopped speaking, unsure of himself.

  Caphalor increased the terror in his aura. “The truth, barbarian!” Caphalor shouted.

  “We are bandits now,” the man replied, his hand pressed against his heart as if to still its pounding. He stared into the älfar face. “You did not even spare my infant sons,” he sobbed.

  “Why would we?” said Caphalor, amicably enough. “They are nothing but the worthless brood of criminals. Why not condemn a born outlaw to death before he can do any harm?” He placed the blade of his dagger on the barbarian’s cheek. “Where do you get your food supplies?”

  “We steal from the groundlings,” he admitted quickly. “We made a tunnel through the rock they call false granite.”

  “And they have no idea?” growled Caphalor, pressing the edge of the blade harder into the man’s face; bits of cutaway beard fell onto the barbarian’s shirt. “No,” came the whispered response. At Caphalor’s insistence, the man indicated the tunnel’s location, then he turned to Sinthoras. “Any further questions for him?” Sinthoras shook his head and Caphalor turned back to the quivering barbarian. “Then let us say that Caphalor is th
e name of your death.”

  His dagger severed the man’s neck: only the vertebrae prevented the head from falling off completely. He took care not to get splashed by any of the spraying blood. “I take your life; your soul shall stand before Tion and be swallowed.”

  “Let’s go—” Noises behind a second door cut him off before a groundling in full armor burst through it, a war hammer in his raised fist.

  “Now I’ve got you, you thieving—” Noticing the corpses and then the älfar, he fell silent.

  Sinthoras saw there were more small-statured sentries coming along the tunnel behind. So they have picked up the robbers’ tracks after all.

  Caphalor gave the order before Sinthoras could open his mouth to do the same: “Kill them. And be quick about it.”

  Ishím Voróo (The Outer Lands), älfar realm Dsôn Faïmon, Dsôn,

  4371st division of unendingness (5199th solar cycle),

  summer.

  Nagsor Inàste climbed out of the sunken tub where he had bathed in spiced milk and scented oils. A blind älf-woman proffered a soft toweling mantle, which he took and dried himself with.

  What a wonderful feeling. He took a seat to allow the female and a second servant to brush and dress his hair with perfumed lotions and then to help him into a long black robe. Two more assistants approached to tie the belt of his attire and bring him shoes, jewelry and velvet gloves. They set the six-pointed coronet on his head before withdrawing. As always, they had worked together perfectly as a team.

  Now I am ready to greet her. The Inextinguishable One left the bathing hall and went to find his sister, who was working on a sculpture to celebrate the new military campaign. He did not know any details: this was to be the first time he would be shown the completed work of art.

  On the way to her studio, he was approached by a servant. “O, inextinguishable One, the gålran zhadar has arrived. He is impudent enough to insist on being received immediately.”

  Nagsor Inàste could sense the fear the servant was experiencing. “His impudence is no fault of yours,” he said to calm the servant. “If my anger is to be felt, it is he who will feel it. Go quickly to Nagsar and ask her to come to the Hall of Honor. She should be present when I speak with him.” The servant hurried off.

 
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