Read The Silent Army Online

Authors: James A. Moore

Tags: #epic fantasy, #eternal war, #City of Wonders, #Seven Forges, #The Blasted Lands, #Sa'ba Taalor, #Gods of War

The Silent Army (4 page)

BOOK: The Silent Army
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There were secrets kept by every living being. Those weren’t the secrets that bothered the Sisters.

It was the secrets of the dead that worried them. More importantly, how Desh Krohan would respond to those secrets.

The Sisters waited in silence, uncertain they wanted to know the answer to that particular query.

Darsken Murdro walked along the edge of the Mid Wall and observed those around him. From time to time his staff tapped the ground in a measured thump, but otherwise he was silent.

There was a pathway around the Mid Wall that he was certain was not deliberate. People were avoiding touching the barrier, as if it might be paper and would slip away from them should they try to use it as a support. Refugees with nothing were still avoiding actually using the wall as shelter. Instead they took whatever supplies they had and placed them on the ground a dozen feet from the edge.

The people around him were scared. He could understand why. Their world, or at least a portion of it, had been torn from the ground and raised into the sky. That was the sort of thing that tended to make people edgy.

On the wall itself stood an army of silent statues. They were made of stone. It was impossible to miss that. Just the same, from time to time they moved, looking in one direction or another, shifting their weight to favor this leg instead of that. Far more unsettling, occasionally they would melt into the very stone of the Mid Wall and step out in a different spot, as if they were dropping through water.

He could understand the wariness of the homeless masses forced to stay near the wall. It was late, the sun long since set, and cold enough to leave most breathing puffs of steam as they huddled together or jealously guarded what they had left in the world.

Darsken moved among them but was not one of them. He walked because he needed to clear his mind from his earlier work.

He needed to prepare himself for when Desh Krohan came for him as he would inevitably do. It would not be long now. The Sisters would have spoken with the First Advisor, and he would want more answers than they could provide.

Darsken leaned against the cold stone wall and closed his eyes for a moment. Not far away someone made a gasping sound, surely thinking he must be mad for daring to touch the Mid Wall. Madness was always an option, of course. Sometimes it seemed a delightful distraction from the world around him.

“Why did I say yes?” he mused to himself. The sorcerer had asked his assistance, nearly begged him to speak to dead Goriah, and he had agreed. His logic was sound enough. Better that he take the risk of speaking with the dead than the sorcerer himself do it.

Inquisitors were trained in necromancy. They had to be in order to gain certain knowledge that would otherwise be lost. Once set on a trail, the Inquisitors almost never let go until they found the answers to their questions by any means necessary. That was the true reason they were feared. There were always rumors that they tortured their targets, and from time to time they earned the secrets they needed that way, but mostly the Inquisitors knew that torture was almost never a reliable method of gaining information. People would lie to escape the pain of a hot brand or metal pinchers. Empathy, observation and patience. Those were the best methods.

Still, when necessary, any tool in the box would suffice to find the answers required.

Desh Krohan could have performed the necromancy himself. Would have, very likely, despite the laws against it, because it was one of his.

Emotions ran hot when a loved one was murdered. Had the sorcerer been the one to work the magics he might well have handled everything perfectly, but he might also have let his emotions best him. It was an easy thing to do. Darsken knew all of the Sisters, had spoken with Goriah on many occasions and had liked her well enough. He had worked with her on a few cases that had been of importance to the sorcerer and his Sisters alike.

His feelings for her would have never been a problem. If she called for vengeance he would not have responded. If she begged for another day, another year, he would not have been swayed by her desperate pleas. That was why he said yes when the sorcerer asked his assistance, because he would not be weakened by the bonds of familial love.

Not far away from him he heard people making more noises. He did not need to raise his eyelids to know that the sorcerer had found him.

When he opened his eyes Desh Krohan was before him. The sorcerer wore his robes of office and there was no face to be seen within the shadows of the dark cowl.

Darsken Murdro was not a man who was afraid of much. Inquisitors were trained to ignore fear in its many incarnations. Fear was a tool of the trade and nothing more. Still, seeing the sorcerer before him, looming out of the darkness, he felt a shiver in his guts.

When the First Advisor to the Empire spoke his voice was a whisper, soft and cold, delivered from only a foot way. “You claim you can bring Goriah back to me?”

“I can.” He resisted the urge to lick his lips. If a hundred men held blades to his throat he would have shown no more fear than if the only threat was a pleasant breeze. The sorcerer made no more impact.

“How? Without sacrificing another life, how is that possible?”

All magic had a price. It was possible to raise the dead. It had always been possible. Necromancers merely spoke with them and there was a cost. But to resurrect a dead form and give it life again was far different. The very best you could hope for was a life for a life and usually the cost was far higher. A hundred lives. A thousand. Even then there was no guarantee that the person brought back would be complete.

“I have ways. You know this. You know what Inquisitors do and why it is allowed.”

There were a hundred thousand ways to learn the truth. Some of them cost the person being questioned more than discomfort. Some lost years to the Inquisitor. It was far easier to take a bit of life force to get the truth than it was to get answers by pulling toenails or cutting away fingers. The ethics of the situation never got considered. There were truths to be found. Some truths could make a difference between whether or not kingdoms went to war.

That life was stolen away and not often returned. Instead it was held for other purposes, if an Inquisitor were wise.

Darsken liked to think he knew a thing or two about wisdom.

Desh Krohan nodded his head. Not in agreement to a pact, but in consideration. A moment later he was gone.

Darsken did not pursue him. He would decide for himself if he wanted his Sister returned to life.

The Inquisitor waited for several minutes, listening to the wind and the sounds of people moving, adjusting and trying to get comfortable in the cold and darkness.

After a time he moved for his home, and occasionally the sound of his staff tapping marked his way along the cobblestones.

Deep in the ground, beneath the palace of the Empress, there were rooms and chambers and hallways that remained hidden from most. A select group was trusted to know the truths that rested underground. Most were students of the sorcerers who knew that their ability not to speak of what they learned was one of the first lessons they must take to heart.

Failure to keep a secret would be discovered. It always had been. The secrets under the castle were kept well indeed.

It was in one of those rooms, a comfortable enough affair for all the secrecy, that Cullen sat on a pallet for sleeping, wrapped in a thick fur, rocking slowly back and forth. Deltrea was with her, as she always was. Hours before she had been in one of the towers of the palace, but as soon as the armies of the Sa’ba Taalor attacked, she was taken here for her own protection.

The sorcerer wanted her undamaged.

“Are you still in pain?” Deltrea’s voice was grating on her nerves. She had been more tolerant of her friend when she was alive. These days, the voice of the woman was inevitable.

“Yes. I am in pain. Why are you still here, Deltrea? Why do you keep talking to me?”

“We have already discussed this.” Deltrea leaned against the wall of the nicely decorated cell, her shoulder and arm pushing against a tapestry that did not ripple or notice her at all. “Either I am a ghost or you are mad. Only you can decide.”

“When Desh Krohan comes again. I will ask him if you are real.”

“If you do that and he says I am not, how will you respond?”

Cullen shrugged. “Either way, at least I will know.”

Deltrea sighed and then squatted down until they were at eye level again. “Does it hurt? That great thing inside you?”

“It’s not a thing and you know it. It’s the Mother-Vine, whatever is left of her.”

“What makes you say that?” Deltrea leaned closer. “You did not make that claim before.”

“What else could it be?”

“Does it hurt? Carrying the Mother-Vine?”

“It would hurt less if she would stay still.”

Deltrea eyed Cullen’s stomach. “Well, you don’t look pregnant.”

Cullen laughed softly. “I am not pregnant. I don’t rut like you do. I choose my mates more carefully.”

“More like you don’t choose at all.”

“That is still more carefully than you. How many men did you fuck before you died?”

Deltrea did not answer, but instead crossed her arms and stared at the ground in sullen silence. It seemed there was a way to shut her up after all.

The sound of the door opening was loud, and Cullen looked toward it as the sorcerer entered.

The first time she’d seen him, his hood was up and he terrified her. This time his cowl was pulled away and down and she could see his face. It was a good face. Lean, but not narrow, kind without being weak. She liked him instantly.

The thing that was twisting around her guts seethed and pulsed deep inside her, and she stifled a moan.

“You mentioned a name when you came here, child,” the sorcerer began. “Do you remember?”

Cullen nodded. “Moale Deneshi,” she said softly. “She is the one who sent me here.”

“She has been dead for rather a long time, Cullen.” He walked through where Deltrea was squatting and came closer until, finally, he too lowered himself to her current height.

“Rude,” muttered Deltrea.

“I don’t step aside for specters. Sets a bad precedent.”

Cullen gasped at his words. “You see her?”

Desh shrugged his shoulders. “I sense her. I could see her if I wanted, but I have no need. She is not here for me. She is here for you.”

“What does she do? Why does she follow me?”

“Likely she feels you need protecting or she is simply confused.”

“I’m right here, you know. I can hear the both of you.” Deltrea crossed her arms and sighed.

The sorcerer completely ignored her. “Moale Deneshi is dead,” he said to Cullen. “Why do you claim to speak for her?”

“She’s not dead. She is inside me.”

The sorcerer looked into her eyes for a moment and then placed a hand upon her head. The hand drifted slowly down to rest on her abdomen and, much as part of her was offended by the familiar contact, she knew he wasn’t trying to molest her.

“How is that possible, child?”

Cullen opened her mouth to answer but instead felt her lips move of their own volition, speaking words that made no sense at all. They were a language she did not understand.

Desh Krohan nodded his head as if he understood. A moment later he rose and smiled wearily down.

“Get your rest, Cullen. We will talk soon.”

He left a moment later and closed the door with a gesture. She did not hear a lock engage.

Part of her wanted to test whether or not the door was truly sealed, but she decided against it. She was safe. She had food, water and shelter. That was more than she could have said before wandering into the city. Trecharch, her home, was dead. Destroyed by the Sa’ba Taalor. She saw no reason to go elsewhere.

Deltrea apparently agreed. Her friend had slipped down the closest wall and leaned against it, looking at the space between her sprawled legs as if the floor there held the most astonishing secrets.

“Why so quiet, Deltrea?”

“I’m dead.”

“Well, yes, but you knew that.”

“Yes, but there was the chance that I was just your imagination and now we know better.”

“And that makes you sad?”

“No. Confused. If I’m dead I have no idea why I am still here when everyone else has moved on.”

“I know why.”

“You do?”

“Of course. I’ve never needed a friend more in my life.”

“I thought I annoyed you.”

“You do. Doesn’t mean we’re not friends.”

Deltrea nodded. “I feel a bit better then.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. It’s good to be needed.”

For a while they sat in silence.

Captain Callan looked at the towering waves behind his ship and wished that he had not. It wasn’t the waves. They were bad, but he knew well enough how to ride through a storm and could safely take his chances. He also knew that Vondum was even better than he was and as Vondum was at the helm he should have felt plenty confident.

No. It was the massive vessel behind them that was the problem. His ship – really, if he were being completely honest it was more of a large boat – could survive the waves only by riding up whatever wave came at them and slipping over the top before it crested. They were far enough away from the shore that most did not crash down upon themselves.

The black ship of the Sa’ba Taalor cut the latest wave in half, like an axe blow through soft, pampered flesh. Water flew away from the prow of the vast, black vessel, and even from the distance that still separated them – a dwindling distance, thanks very much – he could see the shapes of the sailors riding those waves, waiting for the chance to destroy him.

Two days ago he’d had a chance to take the river east. It seemed a great deal like he’d made the wrong choice.

Canhoon had lifted from the ground and into the air and he and his shipmates had stared on, stunned.

They had talked of trying to follow it and decided against the notion. What if it fell? That suggestion by Vondum had put an end to the discussions.

The sea with all of its current troubles had to be a better idea.

BOOK: The Silent Army
2.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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