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Authors: Barb Hendee

The Night Voice

BOOK: The Night Voice
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B
Y
B
ARB
AND
J. C. H
ENDEE

T
HE
N
OBLE
D
EAD
S
AGA
—S
ERIES
O
NE

D
HAMPIR

T
HIEF
OF
L
IVES

S
ISTER
OF
THE
D
EAD

T
R
AITOR
TO
THE
B
LOOD

R
EBEL
F
AY

C
HILD
OF
A
D
EAD
G
OD

T
HE
N
OBLE
D
EAD
S
AGA
—S
ERIES
T
WO

I
N
S
HADE
AND
S
HADOW

T
HROUG
H
S
TONE
AND
S
EA

O
F
T
RUTH
AND
B
EASTS

T
HE
N
OBLE
D
EAD
S
AGA
—S
ERIES
T
H
REE

B
ETWEEN
T
HEIR
W
O
RLDS

T
HE
D
OG
IN
THE
D
ARK

A W
IND
IN
THE
N
IGHT

F
IRST
AND
L
AST
S
ORCE
RER

T
HE
N
IGHT
V
OICE

A
LSO
BY
B
ARB
H
ENDEE

T
HE
V
AMPIRE
M
EMORIES
S
ERIES

B
LO
OD
M
EMORIES

H
UNTING
M
EMORIES

M
EMORIES
OF
E
NVY

I
N
M
EMORIES
W
E
F
EAR

G
H
OST
OF
M
EMORIES

T
HE
M
IST
-T
ORN
W
ITCHES
S
ERI
ES

T
HE
M
IST
-T
ORN
W
IT
CHES

W
ITCHES
IN
R
ED

ROC

Published by New American Library,

an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

This book is an original publication of New American Library.

Copyright © Barb Hendee and J. C. Hendee, 2016

Penguin Random House supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin Random House to continue to publish books for every reader.

Roc and the Roc colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

For more information about Penguin Random House, visit
penguin.com
.

E
B
OOK
ISBN
978-0-698-15445-2

LIBRARY OF
CONGRESS CATALOGING
-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
:

Hendee, Barb.

The night voice: a novel of the noble dead / Barb & J. C. Hendee.

pages cm.—(Noble dead; 11)

ISBN 978-0-451-46932-8 (hardback)

I. Hendee, J. C., author. II. Title.

PS3608.E525N54 2016

813'.6—dc23 2015029616

PUBLISHER'S NOTE

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

PROLOGUE

L
ight, salt-laden winds blew in over the evening ocean, where an aging man with white-blond hair sat leaning against the bare base of a tree. His hair might have once been even closer to white, and it now showed darker streaks, making it more white-gray than white-blond.

Only a few noises reached him from the little seaside town a short walk inland. He never looked back and only stared out over the water, as if he already knew every sound that he heard.

A pale glimmer like an old worn road of light ran from the shore beyond his outstretched legs and tall boots to the horizon, where the sun had sunk beyond sight and the ocean. He was quiet and still, for he was not truly looking for anything out there. Lost elsewhere in thought, perhaps he didn't hear ever-so-soft footfalls among the trees. If he did, he didn't show it. More likely, he knew those sounds as well as those of the town.

The dark, small form was lighter of foot than almost anyone else.

“So . . . where's that husband of yours?” he asked wryly without stirring.

The short one among the deeper dark of the trees halted with a sigh.

“Oh, Father!” she whispered in exasperation. “One day, I
will
sneak up on you.”

He laughed, though it was a tired sound. “Not in this life, my little wild one.”

When she stepped nearer out of the trees, she was no more than a shadow, indistinct in a long robe and deep cowl. The closer she came, the more the light showed her sage's robe of deep forest green. That in itself was strange, since no known order of sages wore that color.

Inside the cowl's depths, twilight might have sparked a more brilliant, verdant green in her large, almond-shaped eyes. Those eyes were not unlike his, though his were the more traditional amber of their people. She slowed to a stop a few steps off and behind on his right, and he still stared out across the waters.

“I came as soon as I received your message,” the daughter said softly, taking another step. “You did not go with Mother . . . to see
her.

“No point,” her father answered with a slight shake of his head. “
She's
already gone by now, and so your mother was enough.”

Silence lingered briefly.

“You did not want to go?” she asked.

“Of course I did!”

Finally, he glanced away from the light upon the water, but he still didn't look up at her. She felt his sadness, for she shared it for the one who had passed away. Too short a life had ended, even for a human woman, an old friend to them all.

The daughter looked closely at her father's sad and coldly angry profile. Even in the dark, she saw the lines of age on his face.

“At least she was happy again, for a while,” he added. “I'll give
him
that, and she deserved it.”

Another long silence, and then . . .

“She was your friend as well as Mother's,” the daughter insisted. “You should have gone. I would have, but I thought to come here first.”

At first, he didn't answer. “Your mother needed to go alone this time,” he said quietly. “It's the last time. And you don't know everything . . . about how it might end.”

CHAPTER ONE

G
hassan il'Sänke was powerless to stop the motion of his legs. He strode down the darkened streets of Samau'a Gaulb, the main port city of il'Dha'ab Najuum, the imperial city of the Suman Empire. Trying to exert his will for perhaps the hundredth time, he screamed out with his thoughts, for even his voice was not his to command.

Stop!

As always, it had no effect.

Trapped, he was merely a passenger . . . a prisoner within his own flesh taken over by a thousand-year-old specter.

Khalidah now ruled his flesh.

Ghassan's body walked past people on the street who barely glanced his way. To them, he would appear mundane. Beneath the hood of a faded open-front robe, his short chocolate-colored hair with flecks of silver was in disarray. Strands dangled to his thick brows above eyes separated by a straight but overly prominent nose. Though he had once worn the midnight blue robe of a sage in the order of Metaology, now his borrowed clothing—a dusky linen shirt and drab pantaloons—was no different from that of a common street vendor.

His body turned into a side alley. His head swiveled as he—as Khalidah—looked around.

Spotting several barrels halfway down the shadowed alley, he went and crouched down beside them. His left hand reached inside his shirt, and his fingers gripped the chain of a medallion, which he drew out. Panic—no, terror—flooded him, and he screamed out again.

No!

“Buzz, you little brain fly,” Khalidah whispered with the domin's own voice, and then came the command, cutting like a knife in only thought.
Be silent!

Everything before Ghassan's mind's eye went black with pain. He felt the specter squeeze the medallion and focus his will to make the connection to the one other who carried such a medallion. All Ghassan could do was listen.

My prince . . . my emperor, are you there?

Ghassan heard the answer, another cruelty of awareness dealt by his captor.

Yes, Ghassan. I am here.

Ghassan's impotence smothered his pain in despair; he was trapped in the prison of his own mind and unable to protect his prince.

The former imperial prince, Ounyal'am, had been elevated to emperor pending his coronation. Still, and as always, he trusted very few people. He trusted Ghassan almost absolutely, and Ghassan had taught him long ago how to use the medallion so they could communicate in the secrecy of thought from a distance.

Ounyal'am was likely in his private chambers, believing he conversed with his mentor. Instead, he touched thoughts with the thousand-year-old specter of the first sorcerer to walk the world.

Ghassan struggled for one instant of control over his flesh—and he failed again against the will of Khalidah. He would have wept in the dark if he could have as his prince—his emperor-to-be—asked . . .

Is all well, domin?

• • •

Gripping the medallion, Khalidah exerted more of his will to suppress Ghassan il'Sänke. That it took a little effort surprised him, but only for a passing thought. Of any body he had ever inhabited, he had never been forced to work at all to keep its original inhabitant trapped.

Still, taking il'Sänke had been a great blessing, for the renegade domin possessed the trust—the friendship—of the emperor-to-be. And he answered back while still allowing the domin to hear.

Yes, my emperor . . . simply busy. And what of you?

Ounyal'am's answer took a moment.

Funeral arrangements for my father have been finalized. The palace is overrun with nobles and royals. I did not think court plots would ever become so thick . . . and open.

Khalidah had seen the result of the impending funeral in the city as well. Many areas had become overcrowded. Temporary housing had grown scarce.

And your coronation plans . . . and wedding?
he ventured.

Another moment's hesitation passed.
Both progress, but there has been some upheaval since I announced my chosen bride.

Well, the young fool should have expected that. A'ish'ah, daughter of the general and emir Mansoor, was too cripplingly shy to fit the role of first empress. Worse, the most powerful families of the empire had all vied to place their own daughters at the side of Ounyal'am. His announcement must have come as quite a slap to their faces.

Of course there would be a backlash.

Khalidah had no interest in whomever Ounyal'am married and had asked only because il'Sänke would have. The new emperor's trust must be maintained as a potential resource. Now it was time to press on to matters of more interest.

After recent events,
Khalidah began,
have restrictions on movement out of the city been eased?

Yes, as other matters have taken precedence.

Have any reports of concern come from other parts of the empire, perhaps from the eastern desert?

No . . . why? Is there something to be concerned about?

With a quick twinge, Khalidah grew cautious. Had he gone too far—been too specific—in his questions?

Like the captain of your private guard, I have always feared an assassination attempt. More so now before your pending coronation. Your death is the only way left for others to wrest authority over the empire. I protect you from without as your bodyguards protect you within the palace walls.

Yes . . . yes, of course. But no, I have not received reports of interest since my father's death.

Very good.
And then Khalidah considered another ploy, to keep Ounyal'am not only ever dependent but also useful.
But too little news can be a warning. An empire that is suddenly quiet is one to watch closely for the slightest oddity. I will be in contact again soon . . . my emperor.

Good night, Ghassan.

The medallion cooled in Khalidah's grip as he rose, dropped it inside his shirt, and strode toward the alley's open end. It was time to return to Ghassan il'Sänke's hidden “sanctuary” shielded from all senses by the ensorcellments of the domin's eradicated sect. There hid a collection of people equally useful.

Magiere, the dhampir, rested in secret with her half-elven mate, Leesil. There was also a young foreign sage, Wynn Hygeorht, and her own companion, Chane Andraso, a vampire. Then there were two elven males, one young and naive, and the other elderly, able, and disturbingly with a mind that seemed impenetrable so far. There was a mixed-blood girl who was more baggage than anything. But the worst were the two nonhuman, nonelven
creatures
among the others.

The pair of majay-hì—Fay-descended wolves—had yet to sense Khalidah, likely because of the living flesh he inhabited. He had seen their kind begin to appear near the end of the war a thousand years ago.

Still, Khalidah almost could not believe his twisted fortune and thought it was not all luck. In the end, it was a great opportunity.

This group had attempted to kill him, and that unto itself was amusing. They believed they had succeeded, never suspecting that he had fled his previous host before death for the flesh of Ghassan il'Sänke. Even if they ever doubted his destruction, he was in the last possible host they would think vulnerable to “the specter.”

Khalidah felt il'Sänke thrash against his greater will, which was all the more satisfying. Of course, he should not chuckle to himself while walking the streets. It would look odd.

The domin's assembled group had to be controlled—guided—in their task of gathering his god's greatest treasures: the anchors of creation.

One each for the five metaphysical elements, they were now merely called “orbs.” These powerful devices had been created more than a thousand years ago by a god with too many names.

Fáhmon
, the Foe or Enemy . . .
Kêravägh
, the Nightfallen . . .
Keiron
, the Black One . . .
in'Sa'umar . . .
the words in the dark . . .
il'Samar
, the Night Voice . . .

No, perhaps not names but titles. Even more had come and gone to be forgotten by most, but he remembered them all. And the last held the false affection of a slave's eternal fear of his master.

Hkàbêv . . .
Loved One . . . Beloved.

That title made him burn inside. Even true love betrayed countless times could become hatred equally passionate.

Centuries ago, Beloved had lost a great war upon the world and retreated into a hidden and dark dormancy. Now this god had awakened, calling its servants—slaves—to regather its prime tools, the “orbs.”

Khalidah clenched his hands—il'Sänke's hands—as he quickened his pace. He would bring the orbs to Beloved . . . but not as his god wished.

Now deep into the capital's east side, he turned down a dark, lampless side street past three shabby buildings and stopped before the fourth's crooked
door. Its once-turquoise paint was pale and peeling. So many cracks had spread over so many years of heat and dry wind that they were visible in the dark.

In this decrepit tenement's top floor was a set of hidden rooms where il'Sänke had given sanctuary to Magiere and the others. The place had been ensorcelled by the domin's sect of sorcerers among the metaologers of the Guild of Sagecraft's Suman branch. The same sect had kept Khalidah imprisoned for more than a century before he escaped and killed all but Ghassan il'Sänke. They had a few other such places throughout the capital and even in other cities of the empire. If he chose to walk up to the top floor, at the end of its passage he would face the phantasm of a window—that was actually a secret door.

Though the window appeared and felt quite real, the scant number of people who knew the truth might explain it as an illusion. Khalidah knew this was not the case, as there was no “illusion” to be dismissed. A phantasm lived—became real—to the senses of whomever it affected. And all were affected when the passage's end came into their awareness, their sight, or even just their touch, should that place be too dark at night to see clearly. Only several small pebbles ensorcelled by the sect allowed a bearer to experience, touch, and open the door that was hidden there.

Khalidah remained in the street, staring at the crooked, bleached, and peeling front door. With a blink, he slipped into a cutway between the buildings and entered the alley behind the tenement. In another blink, the dark behind his eyelids filled with lines of spreading light.

A double square, formed in sigils, symbols, and signs, burned brightly; then came a triangle within the square and another triangle inverted within the first. As his eyes—il'Sänke's eyes—winked open, his incantation in thought finished faster than a catch of breath.

Khalidah's hearing magnified instantly.

A few blocks away, he heard a scratchy-voiced woman berating a monger for trying to cheat her over a jar of olives. Though distant, many footfalls,
mewling mules, goats, and haggling and bargaining accosted his heightened hearing. He shut all of this out, and then heard a thundering buzz nearby.

A fly swarmed too near him.

With a flash of a fingertip, he killed it without looking, but what he could not hear irritated him even more. Yes, he heard voices and movements inside the lowly tenement, but he heard nothing from the hidden rooms at the end of the top floor. The ensorcellment upon the sanctuary was stronger than expected.

“Ah me, my dear domin,” he whispered aloud, though it was not necessary for il'Sänke to hear him. “Such great effort and yet for nothing.”

Khalidah exerted his will, broke through, and, tilting up one ear, he heard . . .

• • •

“Chap, where's the last of our cheese?” Wynn asked, digging into a small canvas sack. “Did you eat it? All of it?”

Chap glanced over without lifting his head from his forepaws and watched Wynn invert the sack and shake it to see if anything fell out. She was dressed in a loose shirt and pants, having left her midnight blue sage's robe crumpled on her bedroll. Wispy light brown hair, still uncombed, hung around her pretty oval face.

“Well, did you?” Wynn pressed, dropping the sack.

He knew what she saw when she looked at him: an overly tall wolf with silver-gray fur and crystalline blue eyes, the ears and muzzle just a little long for its kind. That was because he was not a wolf.

Chap did not bother answering.

Eight people and two majay-hì, he being one of them, had been living on top of one another in two rooms for days and nights on end, and this state of affairs was taking its toll. They were safe for the moment but trapped in hiding. Their current quarters had passed from feeling overcrowded to outright stifling.

There was little enough comfort these days so, yes, he had eaten the cheese.

If there had been any more, he would have eaten that too!

Chap surveyed his surroundings for the . . . uncountable time.

Shelves lined three walls of the main room, all filled with scrolls, books, plank-bound sheaves, and other academic paraphernalia. This was no surprise in a place once a hideaway for a sect of renegade metaologer sages who had resurrected the forbidden practice of sorcery.

Cold lamps provided light, and one rested on a round table surrounded by three chairs with high backs of finely finished near-black wood intricately carved in wild see-through patterns. The lamps' ornate brass bases were filled with alchemical fluids producing mild heat to keep the crystals lit.

The right side of the main room's back half, just beyond a folding partition, was covered in large, vibrantly patterned floor cushions. Farther right was a doorless archway into another room with two beds. Fringed carpets defined various areas throughout the place.

For two or three people, all of this would have been a welcome luxury. For eight people and two majay-hì, it was cramped, cluttered, and becoming unbearable. There were also packs and sacks filled with personal belongings everywhere . . . aside from two large chests in the bedchamber.

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