Promise of wrath the hel.., p.32
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       Promise of Wrath (The Hellequin Chronicles Book 6), p.32

           Steve McHugh
 

  “This is one of those things that Merlin would probably like to forget,” Remy said. “The last person who investigated the dwarves was Mordred, and that didn’t turn out so well. Not the nice chap who likes to talk about Mario—and seriously, what the hell is that about?—but the psychopath who liked to cut people into tiny pieces and make them vanish. No one wants a re-creation of that particular man. Maybe Merlin thought it better to be out of sight, out of mind. The dwarves have vanished: no longer my problem.”

  “That also sounds like Merlin,” I admitted. “Mordred was framed because he came here to investigate weapons he found.” I was talking mostly to myself. “He came here because he found one of the scrolls, or the person using it. We were investigating a bunch of murders, and we’d found dwarven blades and armor, but no scrolls. I was sent away soon after, but he continued looking into it. That’s when he found a scroll. Someone in Avalon set him up. Who in Avalon kept this all secret?”

  “Kay, Arthur, Elaine, Merlin: take your pick,” Zamek said. “All would have had a vested interest in keeping this quiet. And if one of them was the one smuggling weapons and spirit scrolls out of the city, they’d really want to keep that quiet. Whoever stole the scrolls could have sold them to Avalon’s enemies, flooding the world with humans who have the power of sorcerers. An enemy of Avalon’s with an army of powerful spirit-scroll users—it’s not a nice thought.”

  “I spoke to Mordred before I came here,” I said. “He was sacrificed to help someone save face. He was framed for the king’s murder because he found something he shouldn’t have. Someone in Avalon set him up. And according to Morgan, there were more than enough people in Avalon who wanted him out of the way. Mordred was meant to become the king, not Arthur. His abduction was beneficial to a lot of people. It’s not difficult to link the smugglers of the scrolls with the same people behind what happened to Mordred: Hera, Kay, and the like. They were the ones who came here when it was under blood-elf rule; they were the ones who wanted him dead. I’d put money that they were also the ones stockpiling stolen spirit scrolls, and wanting Mordred out of the way. And by the time we realized he was innocent, it was too late.”

  “Let’s get these damn scrolls, and let’s do it quickly,” Irkalla said. “Later, we can deal with who got Mordred almost killed. One problem at a time.”

  Adam rejoined us, looking intrigued. “I found something. There’s a second rune-warded room one floor up from here. I don’t know if the addresses would be in there, but that whole area was where the research into the tablets was done, so it’s a good bet.”

  I kept looking at the map for a second longer, and felt eyes on me. “Scrolls first, then the addresses. We’ll need to go up to get out, unless you all want to fight the horde on your front lawn. The addresses can be done after.” I looked around the table at everyone who was going to take part. “I want us all back here in one piece. So, let’s get this done.”

  Everyone took a few minutes to get ready before two of the dwarves left the room to scout ahead and ensure we weren’t going to be walking into a platoon of blood elves. Our destination was over a dozen floors down and on the other side of the building, so we plotted a course to avoid as many blood elves as possible.

  “I hear you used your magic to kill an elf,” Brigg said as he sidled up beside me.

  “Looks that way,” I admitted. “Wish I knew how.”

  “I have a theory.”

  “A theory?”

  “Yes, it’s a collection of ideas intended to explain something, but not necessarily ideas that have been proven to be correct.”

  I rolled my eyes. Apparently I was starring in an episode of The Naked Gun and no one had told me. “I know what the word theory means, Brigg. I want to know what your theory is.”

  “Oh, I wasn’t sure. Anyway, my theory is that it’s only elemental magic that the elves, and other creatures in the realm, are immune to. The crystals that affected their immunity to magic only ever reacted to elemental stimulus, not your omega magics. I found several scrolls about the subject in one of the rooms about six hundred years ago. Haven’t met a sorcerer to test it out on, though.”

  “I’m sure I’ll get a chance to test it again.”

  Brigg ignored my sarcasm. “I hope so.”

  When he didn’t leave, I spoke, “Got something else to say?”

  “We need to talk. Before we do this. I wasn’t going to; I was going to try and ignore you before you left, but Adam made me see that maybe I owed you a few answers.”

  We walked off to the far end of the room and took a seat on the floor. I felt apprehensive about what I would learn, and wondered if maybe Brigg would spoon-feed me what he thought I wanted to hear just to get out of a situation he didn’t want to be in.

  “I don’t know who your father is,” were the first words out of his mouth about it. “The only person who knew that was your mother. Or maybe Merlin. But my point is the number is small, so don’t ask.”

  “I learned who my mother was the day I ended up here. Three days I’ve been here. And then when they tried to rune-scribe me, my brain went nuts and showed me the ritual you put me through. I literally know nothing else about my mother or why I was dunked into a pool of blood. Oh, that’s not true. I know that Merlin knows who my mother was, and has kept it from me for the last sixteen hundred years.”

  Brigg nodded, and his expression softened. “Your mother, Brynhildr, was a good woman. Smart, fearsome, and more than capable of holding her own. She was one of the few associated with the Norse pantheon that I actually liked.”

  “She was a valkyrie.”

  “Her people gave their allegiance to Odin because it was a mutually beneficial idea. The Valkyrie were exceptionally powerful warriors, and Odin didn’t want that power slipping into anyone’s hands but his. He offered them a lot for their help. We’re talking giving them money, power, their own realm if they needed it.”

  “The valkyrie have their own realm?”

  “I’m not sure if that part was ever finalized before the Norse cut off all contact with the outside realms, but last I heard, yes. Your mother and the rest of the valkyries worked for the Norse gods for centuries, maybe even longer, and then out of the blue your mother was banished. She was pregnant at the time, with you. I don’t know who your father is, Nate, but whoever it is pissed off Odin enough to jeopardize his entire pact with the valkyries. Your mother had to smooth everything over and almost make them swear to continue to serve the Norse.” He paused for a moment and sighed. “I’m sure you have lots of questions, so go right ahead.”

  I had more questions than time to ask them, but a few sprang to the front of my mind. “Who was my mother hiding me from?”

  “People who really didn’t want you around. Hera wasn’t meant to be there; that was something your mother was less than happy about. Hera was one of the people you were being hidden from. But then, Merlin made sure you were kept safe, so it all worked out. Besides, Hera only knew that you were there for the memory-erase, not anything else.”

  “Why take my memories?”

  “Well, we had to make sure that you couldn’t remember who you were. Your mother was insistent. She had people who would have liked to use you to get to her, so she did the thing she never wanted to do: made you forget her.”

  “What are the blood-curse marks for?”

  “To keep your powers in check. I don’t know what they do, or what they block; those marks were handed to me by your mother. But I know she was worried that the vast amount of power inside of you would cause people to hunt you. It had to be released slowly. I performed the ritual, but I didn’t perform the blood magic that bound those marks to you; that was someone else. I have no idea who. Sorry.”

  “Those marks still aren’t gone. Sixteen hundred years and counting.”

  “Blood magic isn’t an exact science. They’ll leave when they’re good and ready.”

  “What war was coming?”

  “The Norse were on the brink
of a civil war. That’s why they vanished and shut their borders. Your mother didn’t want you involved. As it turned out, it’s a war that lasted a long time. No one really knows what happened once they shut their gates.”

  “Why you? Why did my mother bring me to you? And why have people such as Zeus, Thor, and the like at the ceremony?”

  “You saw all of that blood in the pool? Well, we needed power to add to it. Zeus, Thor, Merlin: they all bled into that pool, just enough to ensure the marks bonded quickly. They added their power to your blood-curse marks. Your mother asked each of them individually to attend before you were even born, but when push came to shove, she just didn’t want to go through with it. Understandable, really. She was losing her child.”

  “She told me that my father was dead. I guess giving me up wasn’t as easy as she’d hoped.”

  Anger flashed across Brigg’s face. “Don’t do that. Don’t talk about it as if you have any idea what she went through. She hated having to give you up. She did it to save your life. As for your father, I never heard he was dead. In fact, I heard she saw him just before the ritual. Again, I don’t know who he is, nor did I ever care to find out. Some secrets are best left staying that way.”

  “So he could be alive?”

  “Could be. Could be anything for all I know. Can’t say I know what happened to your mother, either. You stayed for a few days after the ritual, and she left. She sat with you while you were semiconscious, but we needed her to go before you fully woke. I learned that you were ambushed on the way to Camelot.”

  I nodded.

  “You ever find out who?”

  I shook my head.

  “Yeah, well, I’ll leave you with this. Name one person off the top of your head who would risk doing something in Avalon itself, outside of the city of Camelot, just to try and kill a possible rival.”

  One name came to mind first. “Hera.”

  Brigg stood and placed his hand on my shoulder. “Good guess.”

  “If she wanted me dead, why stop there? Why not keep trying?”

  “Ah, Nate. Hera always liked to think she was the top of the pile, but she never was.”

  “She is now. Zeus vanished a few hundred years ago.”

  Brigg shook his head. “No. She might be in control of whatever Zeus and she achieved together, but she’s still working for someone else. How many times has she tried to kill you, personally?”

  “She tried to have me killed several times over the years. I can’t prove anything, but I’m pretty sure she has. Every time I get in her way, she sends some people after me.”

  “And there’s your problem.” He leaned closer and whispered, “If Hera really wanted you dead, she’d do it herself. She’s not above it. Which means they’re token efforts by someone who doesn’t want to be seen to be trying to kill you. Who is so powerful that they scare Hera? Someone who has enough power to make sure that she leaves you alone. For centuries. You understand? Someone out there scares her so much that she never tried to make a concentrated effort to kill you again.”

  He stood up straight.

  “It’s not Kay, that’s for sure.”

  “No, it’s not.”

  “Merlin?”

  “If it were Merlin, you’d have been killed a thousand times over.”

  “Then who?”

  Brigg shrugged. “I have no idea. I’ve been stuck in here. They’ve separated the dwarves from the earth realm, the Norse gods from everyone, and from what I’ve heard from your companions, fractured Avalon. They’ve spent a long time plotting and planning and moving figures around. And while I have no idea who it is, I hope like hell I’m dead when they decide to make themselves known.”

  CHAPTER 31

  I was thankful when we reached the west wing staircase, where the two scouts waited for us.

  “Lots of elves after floor twenty-one,” one of them told us. “There are a few scouts up above it, but they haven’t been able to get past the rune-scribed parts of floor twenty-five, so that’s holding them.”

  “You set a trap?” Diane asked.

  “The entire floor is inscribed with runes,” Adam said. “If anything resembling an elf walks on it, the whole floor becomes an inferno, as do the next five floors above.”

  “That would burn this whole place down,” Zamek said. “I’m pretty certain the elders wouldn’t like that.”

  “If they come that far up, we have no chance anyway,” Brigg told him. “Better to burn this place to cinders than let it fall into their grubby hands.”

  “I thought dwarves really hated to destroy anything written,” Remy pointed out.

  “And now you see why it’s so important that we drive them back,” Brigg said. “We can’t lose the library. It still has plenty of secrets to give up, and I have no intention of going down without a fight. There were always a few stragglers on higher floors, but if those creatures get to floor twenty-five en masse, that’s half of this library. The only reason they’ll make it that far up is because we’re dead.”

  We followed the scouts down the stairwell, moving slower and with more caution the closer we got to our destination. When we hit floor twenty-five I peered around the corner at the hallway and found all of the doors open and runes etched onto every surface. They glowed golden with power, standing starkly against the library’s white stone.

  The runes had been etched into the stairwell for another four floors. On one landing there were bloodstains, old and brown, on the floor and walls, and pieces of dwarven armor scattered across the floor. There had been a lot of fighting here at one point, maybe when the elves first invaded; it was hard to tell.

  Brigg placed his hand against a gouge on the wall that looked as if it had been made from a bladed weapon.

  “During the original elven uprising, the fighting here was ferocious,” he said wistfully. “We lost a lot of good dwarves when the elves first came, but we drove them off, locked the gates, and had some semblance of freedom here. But then they came back with that hooded bastard.”

  He walked off without another word.

  “He’s been through a lot,” Adam said. “Lost his son and wife in the first war with the blood elves, his three daughters over the years too. It’s just him and his scrolls now. This place is all he really cares about.”

  “He was a soldier once,” Zamek said. “A general, a warrior. He fought the blood elves beside me in the citadel, giving so many time to flee. He was beside me when the citadel fell, when we had to retreat into the city, and after all of his losses, I know for a fact that he wouldn’t hesitate to save these scrolls over a dwarf. He thinks we failed as a species, but he hates the blood elves more. Just be careful with any plans he suggests. It’s almost guaranteed that he wants the blood elves to die a lot more than he wants to live.”

  As we reached the nineteenth floor, I mentally readied myself for whatever was coming up, and hoped my shadow magic would be able to get me into the room in one piece. Brigg sent his people down one end of the hallway to watch for elves, while Diane, Irkalla, Udthulo, and Birik went to the other end.

  “Do you know what you’re doing?” Remy asked.

  I ignited my shadow magic and widened the shadows made by the crystal lights on the ceiling. The shadow stretched out beneath my feet and I sank into it, noticing Remy and Brigg’s looks of concern as I did. I was about to tell them it was fine, when a second later we were all inside the shadow realm I’d last been to with Chloe when we were escaping the panthers.

  “What is this place?” Remy asked, glancing around. The nerves in his voice were easy to hear, and even easier to understand.

  “It’s where my magic takes me,” I explained. “I can bring a shadow toward us to use as an exit. I just need to find the right one.”

  I began searching for the shadows when we heard a defiant roar. Out of the darkness charged the commander I’d sent here during the attack on the walkway. Both Remy and Brigg unsheathed their weapons, but I raised a hand toward the commander cr
eating gray shadows that wrapped around the elf until there was nothing but shadow, and then it vanished.

  I dragged the correct exit shadow over to us, and a second later we found ourselves out of the shadow realm and inside a small room.

  “What did you do?” Remy asked as soon as his feet touched normal stone, an expression of relief on his face.

  “I wrapped the commander in several different shadows and sent him back to this realm.” I explained. “When my curse marks unlock a new power, they don’t unlock the how-to guide to go with it. I’ll need to figure out how everything works in time, but I’ve been using magic for a long time, and natural instinct counts for a lot where magic is concerned.”

  “What happened to the commander?” Brigg asked.

  “A guess? A different part of him arrived at a different shadow. I won’t know for sure until we get out of this room, but if that’s what happened it’s probably not pretty.”

  “Yeah, well it worked, and we don’t have to deal with it,” Remy said. “Right now, I’ll take any small victory we can get.”

  I looked around at the hundreds of scrolls that littered the benches and floor inside the room. There were dozens of runes on the wall too.

  “Any clues how to open the door so we don’t have to go back through that realm?” Remy asked.

  “I’ll look into it,” Brigg said, and he set about trying to decipher the runes while Remy and I found an old trunk and began loading the scrolls into it.

  “I hope one of these things works,” Remy said, opening a scroll. “None of it means a damn thing to me.”

  I took it from him and started reading. “This is a spirit scroll,” I told him. “This writing says nothing in particular; it’s just a bunch of words for power, contract, spirit, and then names. Three names, to be exact: Aelia, Hiram, and Ninsun. Two male, one female. A Roman, a Carthaginian, and a Sumerian name.”

  “What bar did they walk into?” Remy asked.

  I ignored him. “And below those names is one I can’t even begin to pronounce.”

 
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