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Authors: James Erich

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Love & Romance

Dreams of Fire and Gods 2: Fire (3 page)

BOOK: Dreams of Fire and Gods 2: Fire
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The man held out his hand patiently, and Koreh finally gave up waiting for an answer and reached out to take it. He wasn’t surprised when they fell through the floor, though the sensation of plummeting down hundreds of feet was stomach churning. He wondered briefly if it was possible to vomit while traveling like this, but fortunately he didn’t find out. The other thing that seemed odd was that they didn’t pass through other rooms on their way down the spire. Koreh saw no flashes of light, as if they were dropping through open spaces. It was all dark.

When they finally emerged, jerking upward in a dizzying motion that caused them to literally pop out of the earth, they were at ground level in a misty clearing, surrounded by tall pine trees. Koreh’s bare feet landed upon soft, dead pine needles.

He immediately glanced upward, fearing the Eye might see them. But the mist was heavy and the sky was not visible through the gently swaying branches.

“Come,” Koreh’s companion said.

He began walking without looking back to see if Koreh was following. He had to scramble to catch up.

By now, Koreh had learned it was seldom useful to ask questions. The Taaweh had never been short-tempered or impatient with him, but they spoke only when they felt it necessary… which wasn’t very often. When Koreh asked questions, his hosts would occasionally answer, but more often not. They didn’t equate silence with rudeness, as most humans would do. So Koreh had begun to grow out of the habit of speaking. He simply followed his companion through the pine forest, waiting for their destination to be revealed to him.

After a short time, Koreh heard a voice speaking. Not his companion’s, but the voice of a woman, coming from somewhere off to his left. The Taaweh stopped walking and turned to Koreh, touching his finger to his lips to command silence. The sound drew nearer, though it was difficult to see who was talking. The mist was very thick here.

“Is it much farther?” It was the voice of an elderly woman. “Me family’ll be sick with worry if I’m no’ there for supper.”

A young woman replied, soothingly, “You’ll see your family soon.”

“I don’t e’en know how I ended up here. Last I knew, I was in bed, too weak to do anythin’.”

“Don’t worry, grandmother. You’re safe and we’re almost there.”

Koreh could see them now as they approached out of the mist, the old woman stooped and clinging to her companion’s arm. The young woman was beautiful and elegantly attired in a dress of fine blue-green silk. Her auburn hair was held in place with a ribbon of the same hue. The old woman was dressed in filthy rags, but her companion smiled kindly at her and patted her gnarled hands as they walked by Koreh in the mist.

The old woman didn’t appear to see him standing there beside the Taaweh while she continued to fret about her son and her grandchildren, but the young woman glanced up at him briefly and smiled, meeting his startled gaze. However, when she addressed the old woman again, she said nothing of the two men watching from just a few feet away.

Koreh waited until they’d disappeared into the mist before he asked, “Is she Taaweh? The young one?”

His companion seemed amused. “The stooped woman who was wearing rags?”

“No, the younger one.”

“She
was
the younger one,” the man replied, and Koreh had his answer. The Taaweh lived far longer than humans did, though Koreh had no idea just how long that was.

“What is this place?” he asked. “It is
Tyeh Areh
.”

Koreh had heard of the “Great Mist.” The leader of the Taaweh, the Iinu Shaa, had shown Koreh something of their history, and there had been something he hadn’t understood at the time—one of many things—something about the Taaweh guiding humans into the Great Mist when their life left them. “Is that old woman dead, then?”

“Your people would say that.”

Koreh shuddered and looked in the direction the two women had gone. He could see no trace of them now, and the forest around him was completely silent. “What’s in there?” he asked, referring to the thick, impenetrable fog that lay in that direction.

“All humans find out eventually,” the Taaweh mused, “but tonight you will go no farther,
iinyeh
. Another task awaits you.”

Chapter 2

 

D
ONEGH
was loath to trust the old
ömem
, even after Nedegh did an expert job of cleaning and bandaging his arm. He’d been told there had been no contact between the Sisterhood and the
ömem
in Harleh since the valley had gone dark, but that was merely what the Sisterhood claimed. A lifetime of having the
ömem
’s voices in his head hadn’t made him trust them. If anything, it had made him wary of their deceptions. He knew, as all
samöt
did, that the
ömem
made and broke alliances as it suited them, and were beyond even the emperor’s reach if one of their betrayals angered someone.

Or nearly. The emperor had shocked everyone when he put out Marik’s eyes as punishment for her part in an assassination attempt almost a decade ago. The fact that he’d executed the assassin had meant little—all
samöt
knew a failed assassination could mean death. But to harm an
ömem
was almost unheard of. It had taken considerable negotiations and the transfer of an enormous amount of gold into the coffers of the Sisterhood to finally call off the death mark on the emperor’s head. Even now, it was said the Sisterhood had only granted him a temporary reprieve and would one day send the
samöt
for him.

Marik, herself once a woman of great beauty, had retreated from the court, unable to bear the pity of the men who had once admired her. But rather than spend her days hiding from the world, the woman had put her Sight to use aiding cutthroats in the ruins of Old Mat’zovya. Perhaps, Donegh thought, she dreamt of revenge. But only her sisters truly knew what she might be plotting, and they remained silent on the matter.

Donegh had no love for the emperor—few did—but he had been contracted by the emperor to assassinate Vek Worlen and his son, Sael, who by now must have ascended to Dekan of Harleh. Donegh was in the eastern half of the kingdom now, which was ruled over by the
vek
as the emperor’s regent. The people here were loyal to the
vek
and his family, and the
ömem
held the
vek
in high esteem. Donegh preferred not to rely on the nebulous code of honor between the
ömem
and the
samöt
for his safety. He was nothing more than a weapon in a deadly power struggle between the two most powerful men in the kingdom, and the odds of his survival were small. But if he was going to die, then he would do so honorably…
after
he had succeeded in his task. He had no intention of allowing someone to slit his throat before he even reached Harleh valley.

“Don’t be a fool,” Nedegh chided him as he thanked her and made ready to venture out into the night again. “You’re safer here than in some squalid tavern.”

“I wasn’t planning on staying in Mat’zovya. I want to get across the lake and camp in the forest.”

Nedegh snorted at this idea. “You have to go through leagues of swamp before you reach the forest. And no fishing boat is going to take you out on the lake at this time of night.”

Donegh bit back a sharp retort. He knew about the swamp and found it insulting that she didn’t give him that much credit. But admittedly, passage across the lake was the bigger problem. It would be foolish and risky to haunt the docks for several hours at a time when there were few townsfolk about and his presence would raise suspicion.

“When can I book passage?” he asked.

The old woman shrugged and waved a hand dismissively. “Some of the fishing boats go out before daylight. But you have several hours until then. You might as well sleep, rather than push yourself to stay awake all night.”

Donegh
was
exhausted, and he couldn’t deny that sleeping now would help keep him more alert for the lake crossing and travel through the treacherous swamp to the east. He finally acquiesced to Nedegh’s offer of a room and allowed the
ömem
to lead him upstairs to a small guest room. Nevertheless, he threw the bolt on the door. It was a flimsy contraption made of sliding pieces of worn wood that would splinter the moment anyone threw the least bit of weight against the door, but it would hopefully provide Donegh with enough warning if anyone tried it. Not that he could seriously picture Nedegh breaking the door down.

He checked the latch on the window, finding it not much more secure but at least made of brass. Then he closed his eyes and mentally prepared himself to wake before dawn before he lay down on the surprisingly comfortable mattress and finally gave in to sleep.

“W
E COUNT
at least ten thousand men,”
General Meik told Sael, “with more on their way, you can be certain.”

“The emperor won’t leave himself unprotected in the capital,” Sael pointed out. “Just how many soldiers do you think he’s likely to spare?”

“The army has been conscripting men from Mat’zovya and other towns. They aren’t well-trained, but they’ll easily outnumber us.”

“Except that they can’t enter the valley,” Geilin commented.

They were in Sael’s private drawing room in the master suite once occupied by his brother Seffni. Considering the hour and the fact that only the three of them were present, he’d chosen this room over the much larger— and much less comfortable—council chamber. They sat in overstuffed chairs before a large fireplace with a moderate fire built in it, sipping glasses of fortified wine, as much to combat the gloom of the omnipresent blue light that bathed the keep as to keep out the slight chill.

That the emperor’s men were unable to enter the valley was news to Sael. He drained what was left in his glass and asked, “What’s this?”

Meik leaned forward and picked up the bottle of wine from the table. “It appears to be true. They’re camped in the forest just at the edge of the valley, but whenever one of them steps foot within the boundaries of Harleh Valley, he collapses to the ground. Our scouts have witnessed this with their own eyes.”

“They don’t actually die, do they?” Sael asked. He recalled the thousands of soldiers lying in neat rows on the battlefield after the rise of Gyishya had brought the emperor’s siege to a halt. The Taaweh hadn’t killed them, thank the gods—merely put them into some kind of supernatural sleep.

His suspicion was confirmed by Geilin. “They fall into a deep sleep, from which nothing will wake them, as long as they remain within the boundary.”

“The first time it happened,” Meik added, “several soldiers ran to the aid of their comrades and every last one of them succumbed to the… spell, if that’s what it is. After that, the soldiers were more cautious. One of their mages was summoned to lift the fallen men back to their side, but his spells had no effect. It was only when one of our scouts revealed himself and offered to haul the unconscious soldiers across the boundary that they were able to retrieve them.”

Sael raised his eyebrows and held out his glass for Meik to refill it. “And they let the scout return to the valley unharmed?”

“Of course!” The general looked vaguely insulted, as if Sael had been impugning his own honor. “There are codes of conduct on the battlefield, even for the emperor’s men.”

Sael wasn’t certain if that was as true as the general liked to think it was, but he lacked experience in the matter, so he chose not to argue. When Meik filled his glass, Sael sat back in his chair and asked, “And their men?”

“They were all fine,” Meik replied with a casual shrug. “They woke as soon as they were across the boundary.”

“Yet our men were unaffected, regardless of which side of the boundary they were on,” Geilin observed. “Just as all of us have been since the valley was shrouded in darkness.”

Another example of Taaweh magic that was nothing like the magic Sael had learned as apprentice to Master Geilin. All three of them had witnessed the power of the Taaweh, and they knew it was formidable. Nevertheless, Sael was nervous relying on something so nebulous with the emperor’s army camping in the forest just ten leagues away. He asked the general, “Just how many men do we have stationed along the boundary?”

“None, Your Lordship.”
“None? None at all?”

Meik shook his head. “You asked us to send volunteers, but there were none. Nobody wants to venture out into that forest. I was able to persuade two of my scouts. That was it.”

Geilin smiled behind his glass, apparently amused, but Sael found this news infuriating. He hadn’t wanted to come across as heavy-handed, especially with things so… uncertain… at the moment. But he couldn’t allow his own military to cower behind the walls of the keep! “Hang it, then! If they won’t volunteer, order them to go. We can’t depend on this magic to keep the emperor’s army out until the Taaweh have given us a better idea of what they’re planning.”

He gathered from the general’s broad grin that this was exactly what Meik had wanted to hear. “Yes, Your Lordship! I’ll see to it.”

BOOK: Dreams of Fire and Gods 2: Fire
9.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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