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Authors: Martin Ash

OrbSoul (Book 6)

BOOK: OrbSoul (Book 6)
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ENCHANTMENT’S
REACH
Volume Six:

OrbSoul

 

MARTIN ASH

 

 

This publication is protected by international copyright law. All rights are reserved, including resale rights. No part of this document may be reproduced, distributed, resold or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording or other electronic or mechanical methods, other than brief quotes for reviews, without the prior written permission of the author and publisher.

Enchantment’s Reach 6: OrbSoul

Copyright © 2013 Martin Ash

Copyright © 2013 Outside Publishing.

All rights reserved worldwide.

 

 

(Cover design & artwork: Alexia Dima, Michail Antonellos)

 

 

Also by Martin Ash in eBook:

Enchantment’s Reach One: The Orb Undreamed

Enchantment’s Reach Two: The Orb and the Spectre

Enchantment’s Reach Three: Orbelon’s World

Enchantment’s Reach Four: Into The Dark Flame

Enchantment’s Reach Five: What Lies Within

 

 

‘Two souls, alas, dwell within my breast,
each seeks to rule without the other.
The one with robust love's desires clings to the world with all its might,
the other fiercely rises from the dust to reach sublime ancestral regions.’
Johann von Goethe

 

 


Yes, many things there are which seem to be perplexing, though quite falsely so, because they have good reasons which we cannot see…’
  Dante, (
Purgatorio)

 

 


We emerged to see, once more, the stars.’
Dante,
(Inferno)

 

 

 

 

 

 

ONE

 

 

 

 

i

 

 

   While Leth and Issul and their children were struggling across worlds and dimensions, eluding conscienceless foes and chance hazards alike in their efforts to be reunited, events elsewhere had not been
kept in abeyance.

   At the great city-castle of Enchantment's
Reach the Karai siege endured. Prince Anzejarl's bristling cordon had tightened about the base of the soaring scarp. Karai troops were positioned in strength on all sides. Some occupied fortified pockets on areas of the scarp itself, in clear view but beyond the range of the city-castle's artillery. From behind the massive defensive walls of Enchantment's Reach this was perceived as a brazen challenge, a taunt, an invitation to sally forth in strength and dash the enemy from his apparently vulnerable perches.

   To Pader Luminis, Lord Protector
pro tem
of Enchantment's Reach, it represented something quite different. He had learned well the lesson of Giswel Holt and erred on the side of prudence. Not everyone was of like mind. One or two of his senior knights advocated a rapid strike against the nearer of the Karai positions on the scarp. 'My Lord, we could descend upon them from sally ports and send them to the foot of the scarp far more quickly than they ascended! By all the devils, look! We need not even engage them man-to-man at that point. We can roll boulders down on their heads and squash their wrinkled hides flat! Aye, how they’ll wish they had wings! Just give us the order and we will deliver Anzejarl the most swingeing blow, and return before he even knows of it, while his warriors are still tumbling and twirling in a hailstorm about his head!'

  
Pader saw where they indicated, and noted the apparent plausibility of their words. The Karai forces in at least one position were indeed wide open to an attack from above. But he thought again of Duke Hugo, and remained steadfast, reiterating his intent - and Queen Issul's command - that no soldier of Enchantment's Reach would venture beyond the city-castle's walls without the express command of the Queen or King.

   Pader was conscious of dissent emanating from more than one quarter. Impatience and frustration permeated the very air and stones of Enchantment's Reach, growing more tangible with each passing day. Some voiced their opinions to his face, but elsewhere, in chambers high and low, poisonous words were spoken in lowered tones when Pader's back was turned.

   The burden of exalted office pressed punishingly. Pader did not believe himself up to the task he faced. The high seat of government was not his place; he was no head of state or politician, nor a military man. He was a scholar, a teacher, a seeker after knowledge, a man who worked well before a class of eager students of the philosophical and esoteric, and was at his happiest and most fulfilled when locked away in his laboratory or study, poring over ancient tomes or conducting alchemical and magical experiments. Yet it seemed now, more and more, that his destiny was to be the hapless and discomfited regent who oversaw the downfall of his beloved kingdom, who stood feckless and irresolute as it was riven and overwhelmed by enemies from both within and without. A profound malaise descended upon Pader Luminis, hampering his judgement and eroding his confidence in himself. Over the last couple of weeks he had become twitchy and irritable and had started suffering excruciating headaches and pains in his back and joints. In those infrequent moments when he was alone he wept and his sleep, when it came, was filled with nightmares.

   Meanwhile the slooth attacks continued. Each night, an hour or so after midnight, the slow, sinister arrhythm of heavy wings beating the air high
above was the sole herald of the arrival of the first wave. As before, they came with oil and pitch which they rained down on the city-castle.

   And then the fire-bearers would come. On cloudless nights their flames would be visible from a distance away, rising above the forest like newborn stars or the incandescent souls of the newly deceased seeking to pass into the firmament. Then the stars would rise no further, but would commence their purposeful beat towards Enchantment's Reach, the weird-lights of Enchantment glowing from far-off at their backs. In the city-castle the wakeful would watch with hearts in mouths from behind windows and battlements as they drew remorselessly closer.

   On cloudy nights the fire-bearers simply materialized over the city-castle within minutes of their brethren in the first wave. Bolts and arrows flew high into the dark, but to date not a single slooth had been felled. The hail of fire descended, creating havoc in the streets below, and the winged-horrors wheeled away unscathed.

   With each passing night the conflagrations spread and the death toll mounted. Not crippingly
high  -  less than three dozen in total, innocent citizens and some soldiers, trapped in the flames. But the effect on morale, coupled with the army's manifest inability to tackle the foe in any way, shape or form, was a growing problem. An air of barely contained hysteria was fuelled, Pader knew, by the ministrations of the factions, who continued to sell the escalating crisis as the vengeance of the gods who King Leth and his antecedents had denied. A significant amount of Pader's time in these latter days had been taken up with meetings with one or more of the faction leaders. He had listened to their arguments, had put forward his own, though he suspected his words were falling in the main on determinedly deaf ears. He had, variously, appealed, argued, debated, and finally had hinted in unmistakeable terms of sanctions and even incarceration. The faction heads had left his presence in apparent - if grudging - acquiescence, but he was not fooled, and did not doubt that they maintained every effort to undermine his leadership and turn the people against him.

   There was also Fectur, who had become sullen and remote - moreso than ever. Pader could get barely a word from him; he was difficult to locate, engaged in his own secretive and obsessive pursuits, and his tracks were deftly concealed. However, the Lord High Invigilate's proclamations in regard to Queen Issul had become more openly subversive, and this was a cause of tremendous concern to Pader. Fectur spoke as though he had absolutely no fear of retribution, as though there
was no longer any question in his mind of the Queen's, or King Leth's, return.

   So what could he possibly know?

   By his own admission Fectur had learned more of Issul's progress in her desperate mission than Pader himself. It was Fectur who had disclosed the deeply unsettling news that Issul's company had come under attack by grullags led by the Legendary Child and - almost equally worrying - that his own men were subsequently 'endeavouring to assist her'.

   Pader lacked independent evidence of the attack. Thus he did not know quite what to believe or how seriously to take Fectur's account. He was unapprised of the specifics of any intrigues Fectur might be spinning, but there could be no doubting Fectur's words that his men had in fact made contact of some kind with the Queen. What precisely was the Spectre intending? How much had he discovered, and what actions or felonies had he already committed?

   In his heart of hearts Pader Luminis feared the worst. He would barely allow himself to entertain the notion, but he was beginning to accept, reluctantly, the likelihood that Issul would not return, that she and Leth and the children were lost forever. That being so, he knew that it was only a matter of time before Fectur struck, openly or covertly, against him.

   It made no sense. With the
Karai and their god-ally encircling the walls, what could Fectur hope to gain? Why could not he, and the faction heads, unite in order to help combat this menace? The only answer that Pader could arrive at was that Fectur did indeed have an arrangement or accommodation of unknown scope.

 

*

 

   The dual-wave slooth attacks had persisted for more than a week now. Apart from the loss of lives and diminution of morale, the most serious damage had been caused to a grain-store, which had been all-but gutted by fire on the fourth night. Given the amount of mouths that Enchantment's Reach was now obliged to feed, this was yet another deeply vexing development. Whether the store had been hit by luck or judgement was impossible to determine, but if it was the latter, and the slooths were pinpointing strategically important targets, the consequences could be grave indeed.

   Some rationing had already been introduced in anticipation of the long winter siege. Now extra troops and firefighters were assigned to guard duties on all surface level stores and warehouses.

   In private counsel Pader Luminis mooted the idea of moving some essential food reserves into the upper levels of Overlip, where they were immune to fire-bomb attacks. Such a thing had never been attempted. Such was the nature of Overlip as to discourage entrance of the King's forces unless in considerable strength or under disguise. Pader's counsellors argued that the safeguarding of any provisions stored in Overlip would place a heavy drain upon the city-castle's military resources. Even then security could not be guaranteed. Overlip, with its dense burrows and myriad unmapped passages, provided the perfect location for insurrectionist forces to launch sudden, damaging attacks and vanish without trace.

   Pader had tried to argue that even in Overlip the majority of the population must now live in fear of the
Karai, and hence give their support to the Crown. He added further that sections of the uppermost levels could be secured and cordoned-off. His counsellors gravely shook their heads. It was by no means certain that the folk of Overlip supported the Crown, and there was the real concern that the True Sept might yet be allied with the Karai, could even be preparing to bring Karai up via some unknown way through Overlip into the streets of the city-castle itself. All known entrances to Overlip were under heavy guard for just such a contingency. Hence, use of Overlip as a storage facility could simply not be sanctioned. Besides, the large majority of Enchantment's Reach's stores were already sited beneath floor level, within stone walls or hollowed into the cliff. Vital though they were, relatively few were truly vulnerable to direct fire-bombing. Thus Pader's idea was overruled.

   But Pader's thoughts remained with Overlip and the problem of locating the True Sept who lurked there, and extracting from them the knowledge they held of the Legendary Child, who was now reportedly united with their leader, the Grey Venger.

 

   And at that point everything changed. As if by some undiscerned signal the crisis that lay upon Enchantment's Reach was elevated quite suddenly
to a new level of intensity, coming as before both from within and without.

 

*

 

    In the earliest hours of morning, following swiftly upon the latest slooth attack, Pader Luminis was woken by loud banging on his door. Kol entered bearing a lamp, and announced that Master Briano, the Duchess Demawndella's head valet, waited outside in a state of high emotion. Even as Kol spoke, the figure of Master Briano appeared in the doorway, wringing his hands, his face in the lamp-light contorted into an expression of deepest misery. His cloud of dyed orange hair was wildly askew and tears streaked and smeared the powder that whitened his cheeks.

   'Why, Briano, what is the matter?' asked Pader, rising from his bed.

   Squeezing his hands the harder, Master Briano drew a loud stuttering breath and emitted a great sob. 'Oh, Imperator, it is the Duchess! My sweet, sweet lady! Oh! Oh! You must come!'

  
'Mawnie?' Pader felt sudden chill foreboding. 'What has happened?'

   Master Briano threw back his head, writhing and pressing his knees together in anguish. 'Oh, it is too terrible! Come! Come!'

   He turned and made off with great wails of lament as Pader Luminis struggled into his clothing and followed him, with Kol and two guards at his side.

   At Mawnie's apartment a terrible sight met Pader's eyes. Numerous nurses and staff-members had congregated outside Mawnie's bedchamber, some in night-clothes or a rough combination of night- and day-wear. Some were plainly in shock; some quietly wept. At Pader's arrival they became subdued. The rooms smelled of incense, and the smoke of smouldering herbs hung in the air. Master Briano swept to the door of the bedchamber, swivelled upon the balls of his feet and pointed within, turning his face away and hiding his tormented eyes with his other hand.

   Soberly, still half-dazed with rudely shattered sleep, Pader Luminis passed into the bedchamber, which was illuminated by an unusual number of candles. More incense and herbs burned here. Mawnie lay upon her back on the bed, utterly still, her eyes closed and her young face unnaturally white. Her head was supported by pillows. The bedcovers had been drawn back as far as her waist. Pader Luminis gasped and halted dead, then staggered. He felt Kol's strong hands take his arm.

   'Wh- who has done this?' he rasped, when eventually he found his voice. His eyes were glued to the finely crafted bone handle of the dagger that protruded shockingly from Mawnie's breast, and the mass of blood around it that stained the lawn green night-smock she wore.

   Doctor Melropius stood close beside the bed, a sepuchral figure in the smoky glow. His head was bowed. 'We do not know, my lord.'

BOOK: OrbSoul (Book 6)
10.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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