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Authors: Michael Moorcock

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BOOK: The Stealer of Souls
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Huge columns rose above them, hewn ages before from the living rock, giant statues and wide balconies, many-tiered. Windows a hundred feet high and sweeping steps cut into the face of the chasm. The Ten drove their yellow chariots through a mighty gate and into the caverns of Nihrain, carved to their entire extent with strange symbols and stranger murals. Here slaves, wakened from a sleep of centuries to tend their masters, ran forward. Even these did not fully bear resemblance to the men that Elric knew.

Sepiriz gave the reins to a slave as Elric and Dyvim Slorm dismounted, staring about them in awe.

He said: “Now—to my own chambers and there I’ll inform you of what you wish to know—and what you must do.”

Led by Sepiriz, the kinsmen stalked impatiently through galleries and into a large chamber full of dark sculpture. A number of fires burned behind this hall, in big grates. Sepiriz folded his great body in a chair and bade them sit in two similar chairs, carved from solid blocks of ebony. When they were all seated before one of the fires, Sepiriz took a long breath, staring around the hall, perhaps remembering its earlier history.

Somewhat angered by this show of casualness, Elric said impatiently: “Forgive me, Sepiriz—but you promised to pass on your message to us.”

“Yes,” Sepiriz said, “but so much do I have to tell you that I must pause one moment to collect my thoughts.” He settled himself in the chair before continuing.

“We know where your wife is,” he said at last, “and know also that she is safe. She will not be harmed since she is to be bargained for something which you possess.”

“Then tell me the
whole
story,” Elric demanded bleakly.

“We were friendly with your ancestors, Elric. And we were friendly with those they superseded, the ones who forged that blade you bear.”

Elric was interested in spite of his anxiety. For years he had attempted to rid himself of the runesword, but had never succeeded. All his efforts had failed and he still needed to carry it, although drugs now gave him most of his strength.

“Would you be rid of your sword, Elric?” Sepiriz said.

“Aye—it’s well known.”

“Then listen to this tale.

“We know for whom and for what the blade—and its twin—were forged. They were made for a special purpose and for special men. Only Melnibonéans may carry them, and of those only the blood of the royal line.”

“There is no hint of any special purpose for the swords in Melnibonéan history or legend,” Elric said leaning forward.

“Some secrets are best kept fully guarded,” Sepiriz said calmly. “Those blades were forged to destroy a group of very powerful beings. Among them are the Dead Gods.”

“The Dead Gods—but, by their very name,
you
must know that they perished long ages ago.”

“They ‘perished’ as you say. In human terms they are dead. But they
chose
to die, chose to rid themselves of material shape and hurled their lifestuff into the blackness of eternity, for in those days they were full of fear.”

Elric had no real conception of what Sepiriz described but he accepted what the Nihrainian said and listened on.

“One of them has returned,” Sepiriz said.

“Why?”

“To get, at any cost, two things which endanger him and his fellow gods—wherever they may be they can still be harmed by these things.”

“They are…?”

“They have the earthly appearance of two swords, runecarved and sorcerous—Mournblade and Stormbringer.”

“This!” Elric touched his blade. “Why should the gods fear this? And the other went to limbo with my cousin Yyrkoon whom I killed many years ago. It is lost.”

“That is not true. We recovered it—that was part of Fate’s purpose for us. We have it here in Nihrain. The blades were forged for your ancestors who drove the Dead Gods away by means of them. They were made by other unhuman smiths who were also enemies of the Dead Gods. These smiths were compelled to combat evil
with
evil, although they, themselves, were not pledged to Chaos, but to Law. They forged the swords for several reasons—ridding the world of the Dead Gods was but one!”

“The other reasons?”

“Those you shall learn in times to come—for our relationship will not be ended until the whole destiny has been worked out. We are obliged not to reveal the other reasons until the proper time. You have a dangerous destiny, Elric, and I do not envy it.”

“But what is the message you have?” Elric said impatiently.

“Due to the disturbance created by Jagreen Lern, one of the Dead Gods has been enabled to return to Earth, as I told you. He has gathered acolytes about him. They kidnapped your wife.”

Elric felt a mood of deep despair creep over him. Must he defy such power as this?

“Why…?” he whispered.

“Darnizhaan is aware that Zarozinia is important to you. He wishes to barter her for the two swords. We, in this matter, are merely messengers. We must give up the sword we keep, at the request of you or Dyvim Slorm, for they rightfully belong to any of the royal line. Darnizhaan’s terms are simple. He will dispatch Zarozinia to limbo unless you give him the blades which threaten his existence. Her death, it would not be death as we know it, would be unpleasant and eternal.”

“And if I agreed to do that, what would happen?”

“All the Dead Gods would return. Only the power of the swords keeps them from doing so now!”

“And what would happen if the Dead Gods came back?”

“Even without the Dead Gods, Chaos threatens to conquer the planet, but with them it would be utterly invincible, its effect immediate. Evil would sweep the world. Chaos would plunge this Earth into a stinking inferno of terror and destruction. You have already had a taste of what is happening, and Darnizhaan has only been back for a short time.”

“You mean the defeat of Yishana’s armies and the conquest by Sarosto and Jagreen Lern?”

“Exactly. Jagreen Lern has a pact with Chaos—all the Lords of Chaos, not merely the Dead Gods—for Chaos fears Fate’s plan for Earth’s future and would attempt to tamper with it by gaining domination of our planet. The Lords of Chaos are strong enough without the help of the Dead Gods. Darnizhaan must be destroyed.”

“I have an impossible choice, Sepiriz. If I give up Stormbringer I can probably survive on herbs and the like. But if I do give it up for Zarozinia, then Chaos will be unleashed to its full extent and I will have a monstrous crime upon my conscience.”

“The choice is yours alone to make.”

Elric deliberated but could think of no way of solving the problem.

“Bring the other blade,” he said at last.

         

Sepiriz rejoined them a while later, with a scabbarded sword that seemed little different from Stormbringer.

“So, Elric—is the prophecy explained?” he asked, still keeping hold of Mournblade.

“Aye—here is the twin of that I bear. But the last part—where are we to go?”

“I will tell you in a moment. Though the Dead Gods, and the powers of Chaos, are aware that we possess the sister blade, they do not know whom we really serve. Fate, as I told you, is our master, and Fate has wrought a fabric for this Earth which would be hard to alter. But it
could
be altered and we are entrusted to see that Fate is not cheated. You are about to undergo a test. How you fare in it, what your decision is, will decide what we must tell you upon your return to Nihrain.”

“You wish me to return here?”

“Yes.”

“Give me Mournblade,” Elric said quickly.

Sepiriz handed him the sword and Elric stood there with one twin blade in each hand, as if weighing something between them.

Both blades seemed to moan in recognition and the powers swam through his body so that he seemed to be built of steel-hard fire.

“I remember now that I hold them both that their powers are greater than I realize. There is one quality they possess when paired, a quality we may be able to use against this Dead God.” He frowned. “But more of that in a moment.” He stared sharply at Sepiriz. “Now tell me, where is Darnizhaan?”

“The Vale of Xanyaw in Myyrrhn!”

Elric handed Mournblade to Dyvim Slorm who accepted it gingerly.

“What will your choice be?” Sepiriz asked.

“Who knows?” Elric said with bitter gaiety. “Perhaps there is a way to beat this Dead God…

“But I tell you this, Sepiriz—given the opportunity I shall make that god rue his homecoming, for he has done the one thing that can move me to real anger. And the anger of Elric of Melniboné and his sword Stormbringer can destroy the world!”

Sepiriz rose from his chair, his eyebrows lifting.

“And gods, Elric, can it destroy gods?”

C
HAPTER
F
IVE

Elric rode like a giant scarecrow, gaunt and rigid on the massive back of the Nihrainian steed. His grim face was set fast in a mask that hid emotion and his crimson eyes burned like coals in their sunken sockets. The wind whipped his hair this way and that, but he sat straight, staring ahead, one long-fingered hand gripping Stormbringer’s hilt.

Occasionally Dyvim Slorm, who bore Mournblade both proudly and warily, heard the blade moan to its sister and felt it shudder at his side. Only later did he begin to ask himself what the blade might make him, what it would give him and demand of him. After that, he kept his hand away from it as much as possible.

Close to the borders of Myyrrhn, a pack of Dharijorian hirelings—native Jharkorians in the livery of the conquerors—came upon them. Unsavoury louts they were, who should have known better than to ride across Elric’s path. They steered their horses towards the pair, grinning. The black plumes of their helmets nodded, armour straps creaked and metal clanked. The leader, a squint-eyed bully with an axe at his belt, pulled his mount short in front of Elric.

At a direction from its master, the albino’s horse came to a stop. His expression unchanged, Elric drew Stormbringer in an economic, catlike gesture. Dyvim Slorm copied him, eyeing the silently laughing men. He was surprised at how easily the blade sprang from its scabbard.

Then, with no challenges, Elric began to fight.

He fought like an automaton, quickly, efficiently, expressionlessly, cleaving the leader’s shoulder plate in a stroke that cut through the man from shoulder to stomach in one raking movement which peeled back armour and flesh, rupturing the body so that a great scarlet gash appeared in the black metal and the leader wept as he slowly died, sprawling for a moment over his horse before slumping from the mount, one leg high, caught in a stirrup strap.

Stormbringer let out a great metallic purr of pleasure and Elric directed arm and blade about him, emotionlessly slaying the horsemen as if they were unarmed and chained, so little chance did they have.

Dyvim Slorm, unused to the semi-sentient Mournblade, tried to wield her like an ordinary sword but she moved in his hand, making cleverer strokes than he. A peculiar sense of power, at once sensual and cool, poured into him and he heard his voice yelling exultantly, realized what his ancestors must have been like in war.

The fight was quickly done with and leaving the soul-drained corpses on the ground behind them, they were soon in the land of Myyrrhn. Both blades had now been commonly blooded.

Elric was now better able to think and act coherently, but he could spare nothing for Dyvim Slorm while intratemporally asking nothing of his cousin who rode at his side, frustrated in that he was not called upon for his help.

Elric let his mind drift about in time, encompassing past, present and future and forming it into a whole—a pattern. He was suspicious of pattern, disliking shape, for he did not trust it. To him, life was chaotic, chance-dominated, unpredictable. It was a trick, an illusion of the mind, to be able to see a pattern to it.

He knew a few things, judged nothing.

He knew he bore a sword which physically and psychologically he needed to bear. It was an unalterable admission of a weakness in him, a lack of confidence in either himself or the philosophy of cause and effect. He believed himself a realist.

He knew that he loved, obscurely at times, his wife Zarozinia and would die if it meant she would not be harmed.

He knew that, if he were to survive and keep the freedom he had won and fought to hold, he must journey to the Dead God’s lair and do what he saw fit to do when he had managed to assess the situation. He knew that for all his admission of Chaos he would be better able to do what he wished in a world ordered by some degree of Law.

The wind had been warm but now, nearing dusk, it grew colder. A low, cloudy sky with the heavy banks of grey picked out against the lighter shades of grey like islands in a cold sea. And there was a smell of smoke in Elric’s nostrils, the frantic chirruping of birds in his ears and the sound of a whistling boy heard over the droning wind.

Dyvim Slorm turned his horse in the direction of the whistling, rode into scrub, leaned down in the saddle and hauled himself up with a wriggling youngster gripped by the slack of his shirt.

“Where are you from, lad?” Dyvim Slorm asked.

“From a village a mile or two away, sir,” the boy replied, out of breath and scared.

BOOK: The Stealer of Souls
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