The Curse on the Chosen (The Song of the Tears Book 2)

BOOK: The Curse on the Chosen (The Song of the Tears Book 2)
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Tales of the Three Worlds

 

THE SONG OF THE TEARS TRILOGY

 

Book 2 – The Curse on the Chosen

 
 
 

Ian Irvine

THE SONG OF THE TEARS TRILOGY

 

Book 2 – The Curse on the Chosen

 
 
 

Copyright 2007, 2014 Ian Irvine

(First published by Penguin Books Australia, 2007)

 
 

Acknowledgements

 
 

I would like to thank my editor, Nan McNab, and my
agent, Selwa Anthony, for their hard work and support over many years. Thanks
to Janet Raunjak and Laura Harris at Penguin Books and Tim Holman, Bella Pagan
and Darren Nash at Orbit Books for support, encouragement and assistance. I
would like to thank everyone at Penguin Books and Orbit Books for working so
hard on the ten books of this series to date, and for doing so well with them.

 

 

Contents

 
 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

 

MAP

The Continent of Lauralin

 
 

PART ONE – THE CHTHONIC FLAME

 
 

PART TWO – THE TOWER OF A THOUSAND
STEPS

 
 

PART THREE – THE RANGE OF RUIN

 
 

First Chapters of Book 3, The Destiny
of the Dead

Glossary

About the Author

Other Books by Ian Irvine

 
 
 

PART ONE

THE CHTHONIC FLAME

 
 

ONE

 
 

Maelys stood frozen in the centre of the cave, glaring
at the rigid back of her enemy. The nightmare had come to pass. That monster,
Jal-Nish Hlar, God-Emperor of all Santhenar, held her mother, aunts and her
little sister Fyllis, the only family Maelys had left, in the festering
dungeons of Mazurhize. Now they were going to pay for her failure; they would
die in unspeakable agony for helping Nish escape his father’s prison, and it
had all been for nothing.

‘Uurgh! Gahh!’

Xervish Flydd was on his knees, throwing up on the floor,
and she blamed herself for that as well. She had pressured him to
renew
his aged, failing body, but the mighty
spell had gone wrong and the God-Emperor had appeared before Flydd could
recover from the trauma. Though he now had the body of a man in middle age, he
had lost his gift for the Secret Art. Without it they could not hope to escape
through the sealed door into the perilous shadow realm as they had planned,
then back to a distant part of Lauralin where they could hide in safety while
Flydd regained his strength.

Huge, gentle Zham stood by the columns carved into the rear
wall, sword in hand, but he could do nothing to save them. Neither could her
friend Colm, beside him. They were also going to die.

And then there was Nish, slumped against the side wall.
Maelys had once looked up to him as the Deliverer, the one man who could
overthrow the tyrant God-Emperor, break his cruel grip on the world and relieve
the suffering of Santhenar’s downtrodden people. Nish had made that promise and
all Santhenar looked to him to keep it, but he never would. Ten years in
Mazurhize had broken him; he wasn’t a shadow of the hero he’d once been.

Jal-Nish, secure in the power of his Profane Tear, Reaper,
stood nonchalantly on the sill of the cave, at the brink of the
thousand-span-high precipice of Mistmurk Mountain, gazing out. The twin bands
of his platinum half-mask circled the back of his head, one high, the other
low, and his good hand fondled the sorcerous quicksilver tear that hung from a
chain about his neck. And well he might, for Reaper and its absent twin,
Gatherer, gave him the power to control the world.

His sky palace ground its way towards them on the
thigh-thick cables anchoring it to the plateau. In a few minutes it would be
within reach; his Imperial Guard would come down the gangplank and all hope
would be lost.

Maelys’s stomach knotted at the thought of what Jal-Nish’s
torturers would do to her little sister, a slender, pretty, blonde-haired girl
of nine – no, she would be ten now. Fyllis wasn’t clever, but she
possessed a gift that had saved her family several times, when the
God-Emperor’s scriers had come searching ruined Nifferlin Manor armed with
uncanny spying devices. Jal-Nish wanted to eradicate all stray gifts for the
Secret Art, and did not hesitate to kill children to ensure that he succeeded.

Her jaw was clenched so tight that her teeth hurt. A stray
breeze swirled through the entrance, icing the sweat on her brow. She must save
her family, whatever it took, or die trying. No, she could not die. Failure was
unthinkable; she couldn’t give up, even if everyone else had, but how was
she
to defeat the most powerful man in
the world?

Jal-Nish had deliberately turned his back to show his utter
contempt for them, and drive home their helplessness. And she was helpless, for
Maelys was a small, demure woman, only nineteen, with no training in the
warrior’s arts. Moreover, she’d been brought up to be truthful, polite, gentle
and respectful, and her stern aunts had taught her obedience with a leather
strap. How could she hope to match wits with this cunning and merciless man; to
defy his authority over them all?

She had to find a way. Jal-Nish wasn’t as powerful as the
world believed him to be, yet he had easily overcome everyone in this cavern.
Nonetheless, he had a secret fear that someone would find the antithesis to his
Profane Tears – the one thing that could nullify their power – and
lead an army to overthrow him. Maelys had foolishly pressured the old, feeble
Flydd to cast that terrible renewal spell upon himself in the hope that he
could help her find the antithesis to the tears, and she had to answer for the
consequences.

Only one person might know if the antithesis existed, and
that was the Numinator, the shadowy figure who had established and controlled
the former Council of Scrutators during the one hundred and fifty year war
against the lyrinx. The Numinator dwelt in the Tower of a Thousand Steps, on
the Island of Noom in the frozen Antarctic wastes, a thousand leagues – a
year’s march – to the south of here. It was an impossible distance in a
world whose every ell was monitored by the God-Emperor’s human, and inhuman,
spies.

The sky palace crept ever closer. It was connected to the
mouth of the cave by a long but narrow metal plank which swayed and flexed in
the ferocious updraught rushing up the sides of the plateau. Jal-Nish watched
the approach, not bothering to check on his prisoners. What if she ran and
thrust him over the cliff? Any normal man would be smashed to pulp at the
bottom, but Jal-Nish was not a normal man; she felt sure he could save himself
with Reaper. Besides, she was no murderer; it wasn’t in her to kill a man from
behind, not even him.

She knew he dreaded that everything he’d done would be
undone once he grew old and died. He sought immortality with the tears, yet
feared that he would never find it. But Maelys did not know how to exploit that
weakness, either.

So much for his fears; what about his hopes? Family was
everything to Jal-Nish, though his wife had repudiated him many years ago,
after a lyrinx’s claws turned him into a monstrosity. His daughter and three
older sons had died without issue and he had no living relatives apart from
Nish, who had just rejected his father’s offer and all he stood for. Though
Jal-Nish felt desperately alone, he was too proud to ask for his only son’s
help again.

‘Flames,’ slurred Flydd. ‘White, cold flames, burning but
never consuming.’

He had been talking nonsense for ages, always about fire and
darkness. He groaned and slumped back to sit on his heels, threads of vomit and
blood-stained saliva hanging from his open mouth. Jal-Nish’s head shot around,
his fingers working instinctively on the shimmering surface of Reaper, only to
let out a short, barking laugh. Flydd heaved up a black clot onto the dry moss;
Jal-Nish, bouncing on the balls of his feet, resumed his vigil.

‘Darkness aflame,’ choked Flydd. ‘Never the same; forever in
pain; the flame to regain.’ He spat out another clot and began to mumble incoherently.

And Maelys had helped to do this to him. Guilt-ridden, she
tried to shut out his groans, for the sky palace would be here in a minute.
Family was her only lever and Nish was all the God-Emperor had left –
or was he
? What if she could convince
Jal-Nish otherwise?

Her heart began to thunder. Dare she try? Jal-Nish had been
a scrutator, and possessed all their arts of interrogation and torture; he was
practised at extracting secrets from even the most hardened opponents. He must
be even more skilled now, for Gatherer controlled his wisp-watchers,
loop-listeners, snoop-sniffers and all the other instruments, public and
secret, with which he maintained control over the world. No one could resist
Gatherer, with the possible exception of little Fyllis.

But Gatherer was on his sky palace, and that gave Maelys a
slender chance. Could she pull it off, all alone? She quailed at the thought of
trying, for deceit was foreign to her nature, but she had to, no matter what it
cost her. She knew there would be a cost; she’d discovered that the first time
she’d been forced to act against her principles.

Somewhere below the entrance to the cavern, rock crunched.
Jal-Nish held up his hand and the grinding stopped as the winch cables were
halted. He leaned out, peering down at the gigantic anchor embedded in the
precipice below the cavern, which sounded as if it were tearing free.

‘Slowly,’ he said to Reaper. ‘Take it slowly now.’

The grinding resumed; the sky palace inched closer. Flydd
was raving about wraiths and darkness, and a woman dressed in red, but his eyes
were empty. She began to fear that his old self was lost inside his renewed
body and he was sinking into insanity, but she couldn’t worry about that now.
It was all up to her and she had to do two impossible things: first, find a way
to save her family from Jal-Nish, and second, discover a means of escape.

The glimmerings of a plan came to her, so reckless that it
just might work, though if she were caught he would put her to such agonies
that the chroniclers would still be telling the tale in a thousand years. She
looked away, struggling to curb her panic. How could a shy, bookish country
girl even think to deceive the God-Emperor and his Profane Tears?

She had to find a way. Maelys glanced through the swaying
curtains of moss and lichen that partly closed off the entrance. Jal-Nish was
still looking out. She made up her mind; she would not give up on her family
while she lived. She would do whatever it took, and pay the price later.

Taking a deep breath, conscious that she might not have many
left, she called, ‘Jal-Nish?’ She could not bring herself to use the title
God-Emperor
.

He turned and put his head through the moss curtain,
frowning at her. Maelys’s knees went weak at the thought of what she was about
to do. It couldn’t possibly succeed; he would see through her instantly.

‘Yes?’ he said. The platinum half-mask covered the ruined
left and central parts of his face, including his nose and chin, but left his
right eye, brow and cheek exposed. ‘What do you want, girl?’

Maelys couldn’t bear to look at him, or Nish, who had
previously rejected her so humiliatingly; or least of all, Colm, who she felt
sure was in love with her. She cared for him too, and admired him even more,
since Colm, honourable man that he was, had previously declined to press his
suit at such a difficult time for her. After this, he never would. What she was
about to do would cost her all her friends, and mean the death of any hopes she
held for Colm and herself.

‘I’m pregnant!’ she said hoarsely. ‘By Nish.’

 

 

 
TWO

 
 

Colm choked. Nish jerked upright. The dead moss rustled
where Flydd knelt, bloody strings swinging from his lips. Even the gentle
giant, Zham, looked shocked.

Maelys couldn’t afford to look any of them in the face. This
meant life or death; nothing else mattered. She kept staring at Jal-Nish, and
his one eye lit up for an instant, enough to give him away. Oh yes, he wanted
what she could bear him – he wanted it more than anything in his empire.
But then his face hardened.

‘Cryl-Nish said, only half an hour ago, that he’s not had
congress with any woman since escaping from Mazurhize. Are you calling my son a
liar?’

BOOK: The Curse on the Chosen (The Song of the Tears Book 2)
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