Authors: J.S. Morin
It took another twenty minutes, but K’k’rt happened upon a piece of masonry that looked promising and called Madlin over. “Inspect this one, and see if it fits your requirement.”
Madlin lifted a chunk of granite too large for the elderly goblin to manage. She turned it over in her hands.
This is perfect!
There were runes from the wall’s defenses on one flat surface, and along the shattered edge, a perfectly smooth trough. A shot from a coil gun had split one of the runes and left an unmistakable mark from its passing. “Yeah, this will do it. Come on, let’s get out of here and show your dragon that my guns work.”
“My aching knees could use a break before we head down the mount—”
K’k’rt stopped and gaped as the world-hole opened. “How did you activate it from here?”
Madlin stepped through into Korr, where Rynn sat at the controls of the world-ripper, goggles down and a scarf wrapped around her face. There was no one else present in the hold of the
. “You coming?”
K’k’rt nodded and stepped tentatively through after her, and the hole closed behind them.
The taproom of the Savage Swordfish was packed. The regular patrons had been shoved out, told they weren’t welcome and to come back some other night. The crews of Denrik Zayne’s pirate fleet were in town, and all of Marker’s Point were going to know about it. Men from the
traded jests and boasts with sailors from the
, and the crew of the
told the men of both that they could shove those boasts in their ale-holes.
Captain Denrik Zayne sat at a table with three guests, and no man called into question the choice of his companions, even if it left Captain Zhi-Yin of the
at a table with his own men. Zayne knew that he had the reputation to do as he liked, the loss of the
notwithstanding. He soaked in the room, the feeling of being among all his loyal crewmen—and the disloyal ones as well. Money did not buy loyalty, but the credible promise of money soon to come bought enough for his satisfaction. Those with whom he shared his table were a different sort. That night, he chose to drink with those whose loyalties had nothing to do with money.
“This is most unlike you, Captain Zayne,” teased Captain Stalyart of the
. “You might confuse people into believing you are a man of good humor and jovial disposition.”
Denrik sneered and tilted back a bottle of whiskey. After a gasp, he said, “So I’ll burn a village to remind them. A village with orphans in it.”
“Are you sure that will be enough?” Stalyart persisted. “This is quite a rowdy and festive occasion.”
“What’re we doing here, anyway?” Tanner asked. “You been clam shut about it for a week now. What’s the big surprise?”
Denrik nodded to his son. “Go ahead. Tell him.”
“We’ve got a war started,” Jadon said.
“Yeah,” muttered Tanner, sloshing the last of an ale around the bottom of his tankard. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
“You don’t know that I got the goblins to attack the Kadrin Empire,” Jadon said.
Tanner blinked. The ale-stupefied expression on his face told everyone at the table that he had, perhaps, misheard. “What’s that now?”
“Raynesdark,” Denrik said. “Except this time, it fell. It seems that Madlin Errol’s hand-held cannons fared better than my own import of ship-based cannons. Of course, there is no longer a demon guarding the Kadrin Empire, so I’m sure that was no small factor.”
“Jealous of your own son, Captain?” Stalyart asked. He shook his head, belying the grin on his face. “For shame.”
“With the help of the transference machine, I’ll be able to take the rest of the Kadrin Empire,” Jadon said. “It’s just a matter of time now.”
“It’s got to be her idea, or you’ve got to be
sure you get control of them all,” Denrik said. “They keep even one hidden machine; they could doom us.”
“Sounds like they’ll be plenty of doom to go around,” Tanner said, closing his eyes and swallowing the last of his ale. He let the tankard slam down on the table to get the barmaid’s attention.
“Is there going to be a problem with this, Mr. Tanner?” Denrik asked. “You were eager enough to be rid of your warlock companion. The empire is no better. I don’t have any quarrel with the peasants—most of them will be fine … better off, even. The rot of corruption at its heart though, is going to finally be ripped from it.”
Tanner looked around for a barmaid and caught one’s attention. Seconds later, his empty tankard had been traded for a full one. He took a long pull from it before he answered. “No. You go on, do what you need to do. I’ll play along.”
“Mr. Tanner, cheer up. We’re going to free the world.”
Two figures sat atop the glacier wall, overlooking the ruins of Raynesdark, their feet dangling a hundred feet above the rubble-strewn streets. Below them, countless goblins filled the city, poring over the shattered buildings and corpses, beginning the process of setting the captured city in order. Crews worked on clearing the debris from the streets, removing corpses, scrubbing blood and dust from the areas that had just been cleared, and inspecting the buildings for stability. Not a single one of them was aware that they were being watched.
“So, was it everything you hoped it would be?” Juliana asked, staring down at the destruction even as the goblins sought to put things back to rights.
Kyrus’s face was somber except for a hardened set to his eyes. “Of course not. I still remember saving this city once. It really wasn’t that long ago.”
“A lifetime,” Juliana replied, kicking her feet absentmindedly against the wall.
“Six winters, approaching seven,” Kyrus said. “I bargained for the stone folk to help rebuild that wall the goblins just destroyed.”
“Madlin and her father destroyed it.”
Kyrus shrugged. It made no difference. “This will all work itself out. When it does, they’ll have a peace of their own, not one I imposed on them. But …”
“But what?” Juliana asked.
“I do wonder, at times like this, whether I’m being selfish,” said Kyrus. “The demons don’t want another Tallax because they’ll have someone to answer to. That whole book could be a lie, you know. Have you considered that? Illiardra admits she was the one who wrote it, and who was around that long ago to gainsay her?”
“Do you really think the book is a fabrication? A convenient lie she prepared over five thousand years ago? I don’t think even the immortals are that far-sighted.”
“What if they were?” Kyrus asked. “What if they knew someday another sorcerer like Tallax would be born? Statistically, it was only a matter of time.”
“They should be more worried about the Mad Tinker,” said Juliana. “That science of his was frightening. You at least have your conscience keeping you in check. What if the next weapon he builds is even more powerful? I think he’d rather destroy the world than lose it.”
“Rashan was like that,” Kyrus said. He held up a palm and a tiny, translucent sphere appeared, resembling a globe. “He wanted the Kadrin Empire to rule all of Veydrus … he didn’t even want it for himself, just the knowledge that he had delivered the victory. I still have yet to find a historical analog for a conqueror like him.”
“You know I couldn’t just let them all die,” Juliana said softly.
“When I said we couldn’t interfere in the mortal’s wars, I never mentioned non-combatants.”
“So you don’t mind me shielding the peasants, sneaking them down into the lower mines?” Juliana asked.
Kyrus shrugged. Unable to suppress a smirk any longer, he let Juliana see it. “Of course I don’t.”
“Well then,” Juliana said. With a flourish, a newspaper appeared in her hand, written in the language of the stone folk—the language of Korr. “Read this.”
Kyrus took the paper. The picture on the front was of a crowd of kuduks carrying placards. The image was grainy, but he could make out slogans such as “Dead Humans = Safe Deeps,” “Free Humans Are Rebel Humans,” and “Collar And Shave.” The headline read: HARDLINE ANTI-HUMAN MOVEMENT GAINS TRACTION.
Kyrus read through the article. “Looks like some of the kuduks want all humans either chained up or shot.” He shrugged and handed the paper back to Juliana.
“Dead humans in Veydrus, dead humans in Korr. Did you know, that kuduk Draksgollow is planning on wiping out
the Korrish humans? He’s planning to replace them with slaves from Tellurak.”
Kyrus smiled. “It’ll never happen.”
“It’ll never happen because you’ll see you were wrong and stop it, or because you think it’ll never get that far?”
“I just won’t bet against a man who can destroy a runed wall without even using magic.”
* * * * * * * *
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About the Author
Born in New Hampshire in 1977, J.S. Morin found himself captivated by the wonders of fantasy novels at a young age. He was introduced to the genre via the works of R.A. Salvatore, Ed Greenwood, and Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman. He loved exploring other people’s worlds, from Shadowdale to Hyrule. He also quickly found Dungeons and Dragons to be a creative outlet for stories, characters, and new worlds of his own creation.
His other passion was for building and designing things, and when it came time to choose a career, he went down that road. A Mechanical Engineer by day, he spends his evenings with his wife in their New Hampshire home, enjoying the simplicity of life in a quiet state.
By night he dreams elaborate dreams of visiting fanciful worlds, performing acts of heroism, and solving intriguing puzzles, which inspire him to craft stories that he hopes will help shape the lives of the next generation of fantasy readers. He hopes to avoid finishing growing up.