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Authors: James Erich

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Love & Romance

Dreams of Fire and Gods 2: Fire (9 page)

BOOK: Dreams of Fire and Gods 2: Fire
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Chapter 6

 

D
ONEGH
was as baffled by the fact that he was still conscious on the Harleh side of the boundary as Commander Eivan. But once it became clear he wasn’t about to collapse, the commander had abandoned him to his fate and returned to camp. Donegh contemplated throwing a knife at the man’s back. Eivan could do little to retaliate, but he knew he would likely miss. The dizziness hadn’t quite left him yet.

So he removed himself to a spot where he felt certain he couldn’t be seen by any of Eivan’s men, and sat with his head between his legs for a time, breathing slowly until the dizziness eventually passed.

The hollow feeling inside his head remained and gnawed at him. It didn’t take long to determine the cause—he could no longer hear the
ömem
. For the first time in his life, there was an oppressive silence inside his head, a disturbing emptiness he’d never experienced before. Even as a small child, before the
samöt
found him, the voices had been there, constantly whispering, along with the sense that he could often “see” everything around him, even what should have been out of his sight. Some children who were born with the link went mad from it, but Donegh had reveled in it.

Now it was gone. And for the first time in his life, Donegh knew what it was like to be alone. He hated it.

But whatever allowed him to stay conscious in these woods would also allow him to get out of the valley again once he’d killed the
dekan
. He clung to that thought as he navigated through the forest to Harleh Keep. He was “blind” in that he could no longer get the lay of the land from the
ömem
, which could have made it difficult to find his way. But there was a natural basin shape to the valley that guided him to the northeast.

After about a league, Donegh began to notice a change in the light. He’d thought little of it, at first, being too preoccupied with thoughts of finding Harleh and how he would navigate within its walls, now that he could rely only upon his own senses. But eventually it became apparent to him that something was… off. The light seemed to have an odd bluish tint to it. He glanced at his hands, now looking ghastly and corpselike, and then looked up at the sky. Heavy clouds blotted out the Eye, which wouldn’t have been all that strange, except for their strange blue color.

It wasn’t long afterward that he came upon the enemy camp. Thousands of soldiers were camped in the forest, their uniforms and standards all bearing the red-and-gold colors of Harleh and Worlen and displaying the hawk crest of the Menaük family. It was difficult for Donegh to assess their numbers, though he doubted they matched the size of the force sent from gü-Khemed. To his annoyance, Donegh was forced to detour far to the south in order to skirt around the camp without being seen.

Just before nightfall, the thick foliage over his head parted briefly, and Donegh stopped dead in his tracks. Rising up out of the forest in the distance was a vision more terrifying than the vile, undead thing that had attacked him in the Dead Forest—a vast cluster of enormous gray-green spires, sparkling with thousands of yellowish lights and rising up into swirling blue clouds. Through the link, Donegh had seen the entire kingdom, and he knew no towers existed anywhere that could reach those heights—until now. And the architecture was completely alien. The swirling sky above them reminded Donegh of the vortex of a hurricane, yet the valley seemed bathed in an eerie calm.

Was this strange new… city… the source of the disturbance in Harleh Valley? It seemed likely. Donegh wondered if he should investigate it further, but his mission was still to kill the
dekan
. No doubt the emperor would appreciate more information when Donegh returned, but Donegh’s first priority had to be the mission he’d been contracted for. If he succeeded in killing Sael
dönz
Menaük and escaping from Harleh, then he could think about investigating the strange new city. Getting himself captured or killed before reaching Harleh would serve no one.

So Donegh continued through the forest, which by now he realized was far more extensive than it should have been. Where was the plain? He should have reached it a few hours after leaving Eivan’s encampment. Yet there seemed to be no end to the trees. By nightfall, Donegh began to wonder if he’d somehow gotten turned around. Was he heading south into the ancient forests there? It was impossible to see the Eye with this odd cloud cover. The sky had grown noticeably lighter in the west, just before evening, but that was only helpful for a short time.

He was beginning to feel a little panicked when he finally caught sight of the lights of Harleh through the trees up ahead. His relief was short-lived, however, as the lights were coming from torches along the battlements, carried by guards, and the heavy, steel-reinforced wooden gates were closed. Harleh appeared to be in a state of alert. Not that this was surprising, considering the circumstances.

Had he not been cut off from the
ömem
, Donegh would have been able to see the positions of all the guards and anything else that might aid him in getting into the keep. But now he had no more advantage than a common thief, trying to find the right moment to slip through the gate or possibly scale the wall.

Snug up against the outer wall, extending to either side of the gate and a good distance outward along the solitary road into the keep, was a small village. The wooden-framed buildings had apparently suffered considerable damage recently. They looked burned, especially near the road, and several of the buildings near the gate had been completely destroyed and were now in various stages of reconstruction. The emperor’s forces had apparently gotten this far, attacking the gate with firebolts.

But what had happened then? How had Harleh survived? And where had all the emperor’s men gone?

The forest grew right up to the edge of the village and appeared to surround all of Harleh Keep. “Harleh Plain” no longer existed. But this bizarre circumstance allowed Donegh to remain hidden in the underbrush and skirt the edge of the village unseen while he considered his possibilities.

Moving around to the northern part of the circular keep, Donegh came across yet another incredible sight— medical pavilions full of bodies. Or perhaps they were merely injured— Donegh couldn’t tell. They were soldiers, dressed in the silver-and-gold colors of the emperor, and they were laid side by side in rows. Donegh estimated about a hundred men per pavilion, and he counted fifty pavilions on this side of the keep. The number of men sent to attack Harleh had been closer to ten thousand, so perhaps there were more pavilions out of sight around the curved walls of the city.

It was still dark, the pavilions lit by lanterns, with torches on the paths between them, but from what Donegh could see, not one of the men in the nearest pavilion was moving. None of them lifted his head or scratched himself or rolled over, so Donegh decided they
must
be dead. Yet a single soldier guarded each pavilion, and women wandered among the bodies as if watching over them. Donegh spotted
ömem
here and there. If these men were dead, why watch over them? And why, weeks after the battle supposedly occurred, were they not yet buried? They should have been rotting by now.

The assassin recognized one of the
ömem
as she entered the pavilion near him, and he decided it was worth the risk to sneak closer and try to get her attention. The old woman had taken a seat at the edge and removed her sandals, as if they pained her. With the solitary guard at the far opposite corner lost in idle gossip with the guard from the neighboring pavilion, Donegh saw his opportunity. He slipped through the bushes and tall grass between the forest and the wooden crate the
ömem
was sitting on, his dark cloak allowing him to blend in with the shadows.

She spotted him when he was a few feet away from her. Though the height of the uncut grass still hid him from the sight of the guards, the old woman could see him easily by looking down from where she was perched. She started but quickly recognized him.

“You seem shorter in person,” the old woman remarked dryly, keeping her voice low. She was teasing him, he knew, for being crouched down in the grass, but it was also true that she and Donegh had never actually met face to face. “Is rescue at hand then?”

Donegh slithered up to the crate and placed his back against it. “Do you need rescuing, Mem?”

She snorted, though she still kept her voice low. “We all need rescuing. Every last
ömem
,
vönan,
and
caedan
in this accursed city!” She added, almost as if talking to herself, “I had chambers in Worlen palace, my own servants….”

“What’s happened?”

 

“Perhaps you’ve noticed that the sky is… shall we say, a bit off?”

 

“Of course.”

“These… people… or whatever they are—they call themselves the ‘Taaweh’. They marched in and took over, they did! Without the
vek
or his poor excuse for a son lifting one finger to stop it. Then they did
that
to our sky and rendered us all helpless!”

Donegh lowered his voice, hoping the woman would take the hint and quiet herself. “Did these people build that city to the west?”

“Aye. That’s the other thing. That whole gigantic city and all this wretched forest—it all sprang up in a matter of hours! Please tell old Mem that you’re here to break us out of this horrible place!”

“Are these… Taaweh… keeping you prisoner?” Donegh asked.

Mem made a rude noise. Donegh couldn’t see her properly from his hiding place, but she shifted slightly, and he hoped she was checking to make sure the guard was still distracted. “Not them. T h e
vek
’s son! He’s taken over as
dekan
, now that poor Dekan Harleh is in his grave, may he find honor in the Great Hall, and the
vek
has returned to Worlen. The wretched boy has us locked down tight! Nobody is to leave the city. Not that anyone would brave those forests.”

This seemed a foolish thing to say, since it should have been obvious that Donegh already
had
braved the forests. But Donegh ignored it. “What happened to the emperor’s army?”

“Don’t you have eyes in your head? The entire army is right here, except for officers,
vönan,
and
ömem
. Those are inside the keep somewhere.”

“I can see the bodies,” Donegh replied impatiently. “I was asking how the forces of a single city managed to slaughter the emperor’s army. And why are they guarding the bodies?”

“They aren’t dead,” Mem said. “As far as we can tell, they’re merely asleep. But they haven’t awoken in weeks, which means that they
should
be dead. No food; no water. They won’t die, but we can’t wake them up. We’re out here to watch over them, in case they do— each
ömem
assigned to look after ten pavilions, which means a damned lot of walking!—and if you ask me, it’s just busy work. These men aren’t going anywhere! And I assure you it had nothing to do with Harleh. It was
them
— those Taaweh sorcerers! Put them all to sleep before the battle had really even started!”

Donegh was quiet for a moment, digesting this. It was bizarre, but it didn’t really change anything. His mission hadn’t changed. He still needed to kill the
dekan
. “I need to get into the keep.”

Mem knew better than to ask what his mission was, though she no doubt suspected it. “There’s only one way in— through the gate. And it’s heavily guarded. But the guards will be bringing some of us inside when it grows light. Mostly women, but there are a few servant boys who run errands and fetch water and food for us. If you cast off that cloak, you might be able to pass for one of them.”

He thanked the old woman and slipped back into the forest. The road that curved around the keep passed directly through the center of the pavilions, so it was likely that anyone returning to the keep would follow it. Mem’s plan seemed a good one, so Donegh found a spot where the trees grew close to the road, just before it entered the village. It seemed the best place for him to slip into the procession unnoticed.

Just before dawn, however, a rider came full gallop along the road—a messenger, most likely. Donegh was too far away from the gate to overhear anything the messenger shouted up to the guards on the battlements, but a short time later, the massive gate swung open, while soldiers swarmed out to stand at attention on either side of the road.

From the north, a caravan was making its way toward the spot where Donegh crouched in the underbrush. Soldiers in full battle armor rode the horses in front, and the two leads carried the red-and-black standard of Worlen, dominated by the Menaük family hawk crest.

Apparently Vek Worlen was returning to Harleh.

S
AEL
was awakened from a strange dream about a beautiful flaxen-haired woman, imprisoned high above the earth in a floating tomb, to find his guard pounding on the door. He had feared Harleh might be under attack, but it turned out to be far worse—his father was coming.

BOOK: Dreams of Fire and Gods 2: Fire
13.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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