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Authors: James Erich

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Love & Romance

Dreams of Fire and Gods 2: Fire (7 page)

BOOK: Dreams of Fire and Gods 2: Fire
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“Why are we here?” he asked. “I’ve already heard about the capture of the Iinu Shavi and I’ve seen the Great Hall in my dreams.”

“The Taaweh have been attempting for a thousand years to reach the tomb of the Iinu Shavi. Many stone bridges have been built, while the Eyes were turned away, but all have collapsed under their own weight. The distance is far too great. And of course, the Stronni have attacked the Taaweh whenever attempts have been made.”

Koreh looked at the dark shape hovering motionless in the air above the chasm for a long time before the full implications of what his companion had said sunk in. “Wait a moment. Are you saying that the Stronni have known, all these centuries, that the Taaweh are still around?”

“Of course. How could they not?”

Koreh was stunned. That the
vönan
had no knowledge of the Taaweh had been clear to him when he spent time with Sael and Geilin. Did the
ömem
know? Or the
caedan
? Perhaps not. He felt sure the Stronni didn’t want the humans to know that their ancient rivals still lived.

“But why bring me here?” Koreh persisted. “You could have told me all this while we were safely in the forest or in Gyishya. Why put ourselves in danger by venturing into Stronni territory?”

“So that you might see clearly what you will be facing.”
A thrill of fear rose up Koreh’s spine and spread throughout his face and arms, making him feel chilled even in the warm night. “Me? You want me to come here and… and do what?”
“Rescue the Iinu Shavi.”

Rescue
her?” Koreh asked, his voice beginning to grow shrill. “How? I won’t be able to reach the hall any more than you can!”
“Not unless you can fly,” the Taaweh replied calmly.
And then the true horror of what the Taaweh were expecting hit him. They knew Koreh couldn’t fly.
But Sael could.
That was why the Taaweh had insisted that Sael not learn Taaweh magic and sever his magical connection to the Stronni. He needed to remain a
vönan
so he could fly up to the Great Hall. But then what? He wasn’t a powerful enough mage to take on the gods! Not even Geilin could do that, and he was supposedly the most powerful mage in Harleh—perhaps even in the East Kingdom.
“I can’t fly,” Koreh said evasively.
“But your
tyeh-iinyeh
can.”
“Barely! There must be a dozen mages in Harleh who can fly better than he can!”
The Taaweh shook his head. “They cannot be trusted. They long to be back in the embrace of the Stronni.”
“What about Master Geilin?”
“His connection to the Stronni has been severed. He is no longer a
vönan
.”
This news startled Koreh into silence for a moment, but he looked out upon the enormous dark void before him and said, “What happens if we reach the Great Hall?”
“The Stronni will attack you while you attempt to free the Iinu Shavi.” The Taaweh said it so matter-of-factly, it sounded almost as if he didn’t consider it to be dangerous. Or perhaps he simply didn’t care what happened to Koreh and Sael, as long as the Iinu Shavi was set free.
Koreh took several deep breaths as he listened to the wind blowing across the barren desert around them and whistling through the hollow chasm. Everything around them was dead rock and sand. No plants, no animals, not even any insects as far as Koreh could tell. The Taaweh had told him the Stronni did not trust anything living—not here; not near their greatest victory prize and hostage. They feared the Taaweh might subvert even the smallest plant to spy or act on their behalf.
“When?” he asked at last.
“Soon,” the Taaweh replied. “When Omu—the Eye of Druma, as you call it—is dark and clouds obscure your journey. Then it will be time.”
Koreh hesitated just a moment before asking, “Will we die?”
The Taaweh had some amount of prescience, he knew. Did they know the final outcome of the rescue attempt?
His companion smiled affectionately and said simply, “Only one of you.”

Chapter 5

 

D
ONEGH
and Father Gednon approached the soldier’s camp, weary and smelling of sweat. Both had stripped off their tunics as the Eye warmed them from directly overhead, but the exertion of carrying their packs had caused small rivulets to streak their torsos just the same. Donegh had been careful to disguise just how physically fit he really was, but he hadn’t had to worry. The priest was in fairly good shape himself and Donegh had simply matched his pace.

Two guards stopped them at the outskirts of the encampment and asked their purpose.

“We are here for the salvations of your souls,” Gednon announced pompously, taking Donegh by surprise. The young assassin almost laughed but managed to keep his expression suitably pious.

The guards looked them up and down critically. There was no doubting Gednon was a priest—the magical, shimmering tattoo in the center of his chest could not be forged—but Donegh looked like any other peasant. Just before they’d come within sight of the camp, he had persuaded Gednon to let him carry the priest’s belongings along with his own. Since this enhanced the illusion that Donegh was the
caedan
’s servant, it benefitted both of them, and Gednon was clearly delighted at the prospect of arriving at the camp looking like a person of importance.

Donegh kept his eyes downcast as the guards looked at him, and he deliberately slouched under the weight of his bundles.

A moment later, the guards stepped aside and one of them said, “You and your servant can pass, Father. Please report to the commander. You’ll find him in the red-and-gold tent in the center of camp. Just follow the path.”

“Thank you, my son. May the gods grant you victory in all that you undertake.”

Donegh followed Father Gednon through the camp, observing the sheer number of soldiers and conscripts milling about. The tents stretched off into the forest to the north and south as far as he could see, and his inner vision showed him an army far larger than the forces the emperor had sent for the siege of Harleh.

One thing was very clear—the emperor was frightened.

He’d sent an army to defeat his greatest enemy—everyone in the kingdom knew the
vek
was not a man to be trifled with—and not a single soldier had returned. Perhaps they’d merely fallen victim to the mysterious “malady” that afflicted the valley, but the emperor couldn’t be certain that wasn’t part of the
vek
’s plan. Not absolutely.

In any event, it was Donegh’s job to remove one of the things that frightened the emperor—Sael
dönz
Menaük. At least until the
ömem
told him otherwise. The emperor had ordered the assassination of Vek Worlen and both his direct heirs. A friend of Donegh’s, Larekh, had been charged with assassinating the
vek
’s eldest son, Seffni, and he’d succeeded. Unfortunately he’d been captured and executed. Now it fell to Donegh to kill Sael.

Somehow he would have to find a way into the valley without succumbing to whatever magic or sickness was holding the army at bay. Was that even possible? Perhaps the “malady” did not completely block the way. Donegh would have to talk to the soldiers to find out if they’d discovered any limits to it.

There was one tent in the middle of the camp that was larger than those around it. Its sides were marked with broad red-and-gold vertical stripes, and if the two guards standing at attention at its entrance hadn’t been enough to mark it as the commander’s tent, the large imperial standard beside it would have.

Donegh would just as well have given this tent a wide berth, but Father Gednon marched directly up to the guards and announced his presence as if the emperor himself had summoned him here. One of the guards disappeared inside the tent for a moment, and when he returned to hold the tent flap open for the priest, Donegh had no choice but to follow Father Gednon inside.

Commander Eivan was a striking man with broad shoulders and a keen, intelligent look about him. His closecropped, bronze-colored hair emphasized a high brow and a patrician nose. He was dressed in a simple linen undertunic when Gednon and Donegh entered, but Donegh noticed a full suit of armor stood ready in one corner of the tent. Eivan was seated on a simple canvas folding stool, regarding his visitors with piercing gray eyes.

“Father Gednon, is it?” he asked the priest.

Gednon bowed and replied, “Yes, my lord.” As a high-ranking officer in the imperial army, it was certain Eivan was from a noble house.

Eivan shifted his gaze to Donegh and said, “You can drop the bundles… and the pretense. I know who you are.”

For a moment, Donegh was too stunned to move. He felt cold prickling at his temples. “My lord?”

“You’re
samöt
,” Eivan said evenly.


Samöt
?” Father Gednon’s face turned pale. “An assassin? I’ve been traveling with an
assassin
?” He turned to Donegh, hurt and betrayal giving him a rather comical expression.

“You’re a fool, priest,” Eivan continued. “You’re lucky he didn’t slit your throat.”

Donegh’s head quickly turned over the possibilities. It seemed unlikely Eivan could have guessed his identity merely from his appearance. Had Nedegh turned him in? Why? To protect the
vek
?

A woman stepped out from behind a drapery at the back of the tent, dressed from head to toe in a black robe and cowl. Even her face was obscured by a black veil.

Of course. Eivan had an
ömem
with him.

“To kill the priest would have accomplished little,” the woman said in a voice so quiet it was almost a whisper. “His destination is beyond the boundary.”

Eivan looked annoyed. “I won’t have an assassin wandering about my encampment unguarded.”

“You know his purpose,” the woman soothed.

“Which is the only reason I don’t kill him outright. But engaging the
samöt
against your enemies is a cowardly thing to do.” His words were dangerously close to treason, but Donegh doubted Commander Eivan cared much about that. The man leaned forward and addressed himself to Donegh directly. “What will it take for me to be rid of you?”

Donegh fought to keep his temper in check as he bowed to the commander and replied, “I had hoped to learn more about this mysterious barrier or… whatever is preventing your men from entering the valley.”

Eivan stood abruptly, causing his guards to snap to attention. “Then come along. I will show you myself. Then you, my friend, will leave my camp.”

While a flustered Father Gednon was escorted to a tent where he could reside and set up a field temple for the soldiers, one of Eivan’s men gathering up the priest’s belongings, Eivan led Donegh out of the tent and into the forest.

Donegh was surprised none of the soldiers went with them. It was just he and the Commander, and it wasn’t long before the camp was out of sight. Donegh could still hear the sounds of voices and hammering and laughter and the other noises made by a large body of soldiers in camp, but all around him and Eivan was nothing but trees and brush.

“Aren’t you afraid I’ll assassinate you when we’re away from the camp?” Donegh was unable to refrain from asking at last, his voice dripping with contempt.

“You?” Eivan scoffed. “You’re still a boy. The day I can’t defend myself against a single opponent without crying out for aid is the day I retire my commission.”

Donegh was tempted to test his skills at unarmed combat right then and there. The commander was at least a head taller than he was and far more muscular, but Donegh was skilled in taking down opponents without allowing them to land a single blow. He could conceivably have Eivan on the ground with a dagger at his throat before the man had a chance to react.

It was only his Sight that allowed him to see Eivan’s sudden movement as the man lunged for Donegh’s forearm. Donegh dropped to the ground and rolled away, but the Commander leapt over him and caught him as he was rolling back to his feet. Eivan grasped his tunic in a powerful grip and yanked him off balance. Donegh twisted around and grabbed both the man’s forearms, redirecting the momentum of Eivan’s attack so the Commander was lifted off his feet.

Both of them crashed to the forest floor, sending a spray of dead leaves into the air. Donegh held onto Eivan’s sinewy forearms as he rolled over on top of the man. But Eivan kicked upward violently and launched the small assassin through the air. Donegh landed in dead leaves and brush.

He rolled back onto his feet, drawing his knife from his belt as he did so, and crouched on a bed of partridgeberry, braced for another attack.

But the attack didn’t come. Instead Eivan climbed to his feet and laughed aloud. “Good! But you should never have let me grab you to begin with.”

There was something wrong with Donegh’s head. He felt oddly dizzy and disorientated, and there was a strange dark, hollow feeling, as if a hole had been cut in his brain. It didn’t hurt, really. But it was disturbing and a little frightening.

He fought against the feeling, forcing himself to focus on the enemy at hand. “Is that what this is?” he asked, attempting a contemptuous sneer. “A test?”

“An amusement,” the Commander said, brushing dirt and dead leaves off his tunic. “I meant to throw you into it.”

BOOK: Dreams of Fire and Gods 2: Fire
13.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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