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Righteous fury, p.44
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       Righteous Fury, p.44

           Markus Heitz
 

  Sinthoras was astonished. Even their elemental strength is no match for the work of the dwarves.

  “What’s the matter with you?” screamed Caphalor furiously as he jumped down from his night-mare. He shot his arrows into the backs of the house-high monsters to drive them on to greater effort. “Hold the stone back at all costs!”

  Sinthoras heard the demon voice in his ear.

  The älf glanced over to the glittering cloud and again was unable to resist its effect. He bowed respectfully and saw that his friend was beside himself with fury. “Caphalor! Leave them be. We’ll get the portal open again soon. The spy will be restored from the dead. The demon has just told me.” He dismounted and took off, spear in hand to seek out any groundling survivors.

  This is exhausting. Dressed in armor far too big for her, Raleeha was trying to keep up with the barbarian army.

  She had to find Sinthoras and there was no other way to reach him. She had joined her brother’s unit, which was under orders to go to the front. When she had tried to make her way there in her own garments she had been held back by the sentries, so she was trying again in borrowed armor.

  Raleeha could hardly wait to stand in front of Sinthoras and tell him the truth. Caphalor was right: it will, of course, all come out sooner or later. It’s far better I tell him myself and I can profess my love for him at the same time. The unit was forced to a halt. The pass was thirty paces wide, but the army was so huge that it kept stopping. Some soldiers had fallen into the ravine when they tried to push their way to the front, and in other places edges of the road had crumbled away, sending dozens to their deaths. “Let me through!” Raleeha shouted, pushing others aside. She cared nothing for the verbal abuse she received for her pains and shook off any restraining hand. Gasping under the weight of the armor, she found the altitude was causing her problems as well and she was now perspiring heavily, her one good eye was burning in its socket with the sweat that trickled into it.

  Raleeha got past the óarco rearguard, pushing her way through the pack and retching at the smell of the rancid fat on their armor. He can’t be far away now.

  She paid no heed to the óarcos’ grunts of protest. As soon as she called out the words “Sinthoras” and “message,” they let her through. Why else would a skinny lone barbarian want to get to the front line?

  Drenched with sweat, Raleeha reached the platform and followed the pass until she saw the portal before her eyes, closing even as she watched. Gods! The battle had been fought and it looked to her as if it were going down as a defeat. The gateway is closing, something must have gone awry. In the first row between the beast cadavers and the rubble, she saw the älfar nostàroi dismount from their night-mares.

  “Out of my way!” she screamed at the soldiers standing around. “I have to get to the nostàroi! I have a message for him.” Raleeha ran toward Sinthoras, who was walking about between the bodies of the dwarves. Surrounded as she was by a stream of much broader and taller óarcos, it was difficult not to lose sight of him.

  “Sinthoras, my master!” she shouted as loudly as she could, trying to resist the crush of huge bodies pressing her in the opposite direction. It was as if she were a piece of living flotsam carried on the tide of bodies. Had she not been wearing armor, she would have been squashed flat.

  She managed to free herself from the densest part of the throng and saw Sinthoras ahead, bending over a groundling. Caphalor was moving up to him.

  “My master!” she called out breathlessly as she stumbled over to him. She nearly fell as she clambered over the mutilated corpses of óarcos. “Timanris is alive!” It seemed to her as if she were breathing out the words so softly that they disappeared.

  A movement she caught out of the corner of her eye made her swivel round. One of the dwarves had split an óarco in half and had grabbed hold of a throwing ax. He was looking round for new foes to slay. His gaze swept over Raleeha and fixed itself on Sinthoras.

  The arm was raised for the throw.

  “No,” she whispered, realizing the dwarf had just selected her master as his target. With the last of her strength she sprang, just as the groundling hurled his weapon through the air.

  The impact was as powerful as a fall from a great height. The blade pierced her leather armor, severing the chainmail rings and slicing through her left breast.

  As Raleeha fell, her lungs collapsed; she could not speak. She could feel the blood pouring out of her side. Then new óarcos fell upon the groundling and his death cry resounded.

  He has to know the truth. She lay rigid atop the corpse, groaning out the name of her master as clearly as she could. “Timanris awaits you,” she gasped. She knew that death was not going to spare her. This is my reward for my evil deeds, for all my lies.

  The gods have had enough of you, her reason spoke softly inside her head. I warned you so often . . .

  At least she would die with the knowledge that she was giving her life to save her master: a good exchange. May you become a hero such as Dsôn Faïmon has never known, she thought, as her strength faded away.

  Heavy steps approached. Three or four óarcos trampled over her unawares, and a foot trod the ax blade deeper into her body. Right through her heart.

  Sinthoras spotted a wounded dwarf whose legs had been smashed, presumably by an ogre’s club. Here’s one that won’t be running away. He twirled his spear and came up from behind. Let death come as a surprise to the stunted creature.

  The groundling raised one hand to screen his eyes from the rays of the rising sun.

  You’ll not live to celebrate the closing gate. Sinthoras thrust the narrow spear tip through the rings of the dwarf’s chainmail shirt and saw him go rigid. He stared in disbelief at the weapon sticking out of his chest as his breath began to fail.

  Sinthoras left the blade in for a moment, then withdrew it and walked round his victim, crouching down by his side. He studied the coarse, weather-beaten features edged with a thick black beard. It must have taken a long time to braid the beard hair. It hung down onto his chest in braided ropes. The brown eyes shone with pain, bloody-mindedness and pride.

  “Look at me,” Sinthoras said in älfish. “The name of your death is Sinthoras. I shall take your life, the land shall take your soul.” He could see he was not being understood. Caphalor, standing behind the dying dwarf, translated his colleague’s words into the universal language of Tark Draan.

  The dwarf coughed up dark blood and it ran from the corner of his mouth to trickle into his beard.

  “Get out of my way! I want to watch the gateway close,” he demanded roughly.

  Sinthoras was fascinated to see this diminutive warrior refusing to die. The injury I inflicted on him would have made any normal creature lose consciousness. Instead, the groundling was attempting to drive him off with weakening blows of a bloody ax, which nearly slipped out of his grasp. His strength was ebbing away.

  “Out of the way or I’ll split you like straw, treacherous elf,” he growled.

  Sinthoras gave a cold-blooded smile. Small in stature, but with an iron will. He lifted the spear and poked the tip in through a gap in the chainmail. He was curious to observe the death process in this alien being. To put one of the hated mine maggots to death! The first of innumerable such killings!

  “How wrong you are. We are the älfar. We have come to destroy the elves,” Caphalor continued softly, torturing the dwarf with his words. “The gate may be closing now, but when the demon brings you back to life you will be one of us and you will open it again. You know the formula.”

  “Never!” contradicted the groundling, filled with renewed vigor. “You—”

  “Your soul now belongs to the land,” Caphalor interrupted. “Now die, then return and hand us the keys to Tark Draan.”

  Sinthoras wanted to give the death-thrust at that very moment, while the dwarf’s life-force was surging back one last tim
e. The sharpened end of the spear drove through the dwarf’s flesh and the pain silenced him at last.

  Applying pressure, the älf pushed the spear through the badly injured body for a second time. Sinthoras carried out the movement almost lovingly, full of joy. Then he awaited death’s arrival and studied the dwarf’s features in the final struggle, absorbing these unique impressions. I am making you immortal, little man. When the battle is over I shall put you in a painting. Blood is here aplenty.

  Only when he was quite sure that the last spark of life had left the dwarf did Sinthoras stand up again.

  “They die in a different way from the barbarians and the óarcos,” he said to Caphalor. “More dignity and more defiance when their eyes glaze over. There is no fear. If they were not so small and ugly you might think they had something of ourselves in them.” Then he gave a burst of dark laughter and his friend joined in.

  The gate was closing more slowly now and the ogres and óarcos struggling to hold it open gave roars of relief. Countless hands pushed and shoved and the gates swung back.

  said the demon to Sinthoras, speaking inside his head once more.

  Sinthoras turned to Caphalor. “We should get to the head of the army, my friend. As commanders that is our place, not following behind.” Sinthoras went over to his night-mare.

  “I could have sworn I heard someone call your name just now,” said Caphalor. “A woman’s voice, whispering.” He looked around, but as there was no woman to be seen, he thought his ears must have deceived him. “Battle noise like this is bad for sensitive hearing.” He raised his hand and Sardaî trotted over to him. The älf swung himself up, sat tall in the saddle and looked to the Northern Pass. A never-ending stream of barbarians, óarcos and monsters was driving through the gateway. “They are the tools of my revenge; I will engrave Enoïla’s memory into every inch of Tark Draan,” he murmured. He uttered the vow: “Your death bears the name Caphalor.” This solemn promise he made to all the inhabitants and creatures of Tark Draan. Then he urged his night-mare into a gallop.

  EPILOGUE

  Ishím Voróo (The Outer Lands), former kingdom of the fflecx,

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

  summer.

  Linschibog lifted his long nose and sniffed the soft evening air: it did not smell of óarcos or barbarians or of any other soldier in the nostàrois’ army.

  Good, good, good! He relaxed a little. As one of the very last fflecx, he had to be doubly careful if he wanted his race to remain alive—for that, of course, he would have to locate a female. So far, Linschibog had not come across another of his kind and he had gradually stopped bothering to pray. At least that made his existence a bit different from the norm.

  The gnome-like creature got up from the long grass where he had been lying, adjusted his bright red tunic, shouldered his rucksack and continued to trek across the plain that was now covered in gray grass.

  The power of the mist-demon had changed all living things. Whatever died returned as an undead horror.

  And that was why Linschibog hated the älfar. It was they who summoned the being from the northwest, woke it from its harmless slumbers, and aroused its insatiable hunger for more and yet more.

  Then there was Munumon, his king, killed by an älf: he had seen the body and the mutilations pointed to the älfar.

  Somebody has got to destroy them! But they had been clever enough to drive all the strongest races out of Ishím Voróo and off to Tark Draan. Who is left to threaten the black-eyes?

  Lost in thought, he trudged through the desolate stone-colored grass, but then the pointed toe of his right shoe got stuck on something that looked a bit odd. Linschibog bent down to pick up the leather roll that had been hidden under the long grass stalks.

  He opened the folder and was amazed to see the drawings it contained: a city, fortifications, towers on islands, streets—pictures of the legendary center of the Star Realm, the city of Dsôn. At any rate, that’s what people said it looked like, with that tower made of bones right at the heart. Someone had gone to enormous trouble to detail every bit of the so-called beauty of the älfar realm.

  Linschibog could not find anything to like about the complicated buildings with their monotonous colors and all the fancy, cruel art on the fronts of the houses. “Garbage, load of poo, smelly donkey shit,” he cursed, tossing the roll of drawings over his shoulder without attempting to refasten the ribbon. He stomped off. There must be a mate for me somewhere.

  The breeze picked up the drawings one at a time and carried them off.

  The gusts of wind made a game of whirling the pictures into the air: one would sail down again to land in the gray grass, or it might get stuck in the branches of a black tree, or float down onto the surface of a dirty-looking pond.

  It was the drawing of Dsôn that stayed in the air longest, while behind it one sketch after another fell to the ground, like a strange paper-chase thought up by an eccentric artist.

  But the picture of the Tower of Bones kept going—until an iron-clad hand grabbed it out of the air. Caught in that fist it looked small and forlorn.

  The sketch was lifted level with the violet-blue gaze that stared out from a martial black helmet. An indefinable sound emerged, unlike speech, and the mighty fingers crushed the paper as if crushing the city itself. As if the fingers had no more fervent wish than the destruction of Dsôn.

  The hand holding the picture lifted it high in the air and a mighty roar broke out from all sides . . .

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  Following on from the dwarves, the älfar now want to tell their version of the story. After the good ones, the evil take their turn—or is it only a question of perspective? This legend covers events preceding the storming of Girdlegard, as described in The Dwarves.

  Sinthoras and Caphalor open the tale, and they will be given a further volume. Readers of The Dwarves know how that will end. But what they experience in the intervening cycles—at least the most dramatic events—will be coming to light on pages yet to be written.

  The challenge I faced here was in changing sides and revealing the älfar way of thinking—to show them as they see themselves, how they conduct themselves with friends and the like. And how they initiated an entirely new form of art.

  I do not dare to predict how many friends the älfar will find. But one thing is certain: the story continues.

  Those who have helped me to keep this book going in the right direction include my trusted test readers, Sonja Rüther and Tanja Karmann, and the newcomer to the team, Petra Ney, whose comments and hints enhanced the novel.

  My thanks are due also to my editor, Angela Kuepper, who always shows me ways I could improve, and Carsten Polzin from Piper Verlag, who at my request allowed me to design the German cover.

  I’d like to say thank you again, this time to Tanja Howarth for setting the stage, Sheelagh Alabaster for the English translation, Nicola Budd for her work and our nice conversations, and, of course, Jo Fletcher—she has a heart for villains with style!

  Markus Heitz

  Germany,

  2008

 


 

  Markus Heitz, Righteous Fury

 


 

 
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