They were in … awe.
The very notion infuriated him.
‘Silence! They are mortal! They have not the wits to accept the inevitable! You will fight them, you will take them down, every last one of them!’ Seeing them wither before his command, a surge of satisfaction rushed through him and he moved on.
‘And I will claim the Crippled God,’ he hissed under his breath, finally pushing clear of the troops, marching towards his hobbled horse. ‘I will wound him and Akhrast Korvalain shall be reborn, and then none will be able to oppose me. None!’
Motion off to his left caught his attention. He halted, squinted into the green-tinted gloom.
Someone was walking towards him across the plain.
At forty paces he saw the figure raise its arms.
The sorcery that erupted from him was a blinding, coruscating wave, argent as the heart of lightning. It tore across the ground between them, struck one edge of the Kolansii ranks, and scythed through them.
Bellowing in answer, Brother Grave threw up his hands a moment before the magic struck.
He was flung backwards through the air, only to slam into something unyielding – something that gave an animal grunt.
Strength fled Brother Grave. He looked down, stared at two long blades jutting from his chest. Each knife had pierced through one of his hearts.
Then a low voice rumbled close to one ear. ‘Compliments of Kalam Mekhar.’
The assassin let the body sag, slide off his long knives. Then he turned and slashed through the rope hobbling the horse. Moved up alongside the beast’s head. ‘I hate horses, you know. But this time you’d better run – even you won’t like what’s coming.’ He stepped back, slapped the animal’s rump.
The bone-white Jhag horse bolted, trying a kick that Kalam barely managed to dodge. He glared after it, and then turned to face the Kolansii soldiers –
– in time to see another wave of Quick Ben’s brutal sorcery hammer into the press of troops, tearing down hundreds. The rest scattered.
And the High Mage was shouting, running now. ‘Through the gap, Kalam! Hurry! Get to that barrow! Run, damn you!’
Growling, the assassin lumbered forward. I hate horses, aye, but I hate running even more. Shoulda ridden the damned thing – then this would be easy. Better still, we should never have let the other one go. Quick’s going on soft on me.
A Kolansii officer with Assail blood in him stepped into his path, clutching his wounded shoulder.
Kalam cut the man’s head off with a scissoring motion of his long knives, knocked the headless body to one side, and continued on. He knew that tone from Quick Ben. Run like a damned gazelle, Kalam!
Instead, he ran like a bear.
With luck, that would be fast enough.
Hedge knew that sound, recognized that flash of blinding magefire. He rose, dragging Fiddler to his feet. ‘Quick Ben! Fiddler – they’re here!’
On all sides, the last few marines were rising, weapons hanging, their faces filling with disbelief.
Hedge pointed. ‘There! I’d know that scrawny excuse for a man anywhere! And there – that’s Kalam!’
‘They broke the Kolansii,’ Fiddler said. ‘Why are they running?’
As Hedge spun round – as if to shout to the marines – his hand suddenly clenched on Fiddler’s arm, and the captain turned.
He looked skyward.
She was the finder of paths. There were ways through the worlds that only she had walked. But now, as she forced her will through the warren’s veil, she could feel the pressure behind her – a need that seemed without answer.
Instinct had taken her this far, and the world beyond was unknown to her.
Has my course been true? Or nothing but a lie I whispered to myself, over and over, as if the universe would bend to my will?
I promised so much to my lord.
I led him home, I led him to the throne of his ancestors.
I promised answers. To all of the hidden purposes behind all that his father had done. I promised him a meaning to all this.
And I promised him peace.
She emerged into a dying day, trod lifeless grasses beneath her moccasin-clad feet. And the sky above was crazed with emerald comets, the light stunning her eyes with its virulence. They seemed close enough to touch, and in the falling rain of that light she heard voices.
But a moment later those actinic arcs were not alone in the heavens. Vast shadows tore ragged trails through the green glow, coming from her right with the fury of clashing storm clouds. Blood and gore spattered the ground around her like hail.
She spun in that direction, and the breath escaped Apsal’ara in a rush.
A blight was taking the land, faster than any wildfire – and above it was a dragon, appallingly huge, assailed on all sides by lesser kin.
She saw the front of that blight rushing towards her.
She turned and ran. Reached desperately for warrens, but nothing awakened – it was all being destroyed. Every path, every gate. Life’s myriad fires were being snuffed out, crushed like dying embers.
What have I done?
They are following – they trusted in me! My lord and his followers are coming – there is no stopping that, but they will arrive in a realm which they cannot leave.
Where flies Korabas, there shall be T’iam!
What have I done?
Suddenly, in the distance ahead, sure as a dreaded dawn, the rift she had made tore open wide, and five dragons sailed out, their vast shadows rushing towards her. Four were black as onyx, the fifth the crimson hue of blood.
Desra. Skintick. Korlat. Silanah. Nimander.
And awaiting them, in the skies above this world, between earth and the fiery heavens, the air swarmed with their kin. And Korabas.
She saw her lord and his followers drawn into that maelstrom – all lost, stolen away by what was coming.
Where flies Korabas, there shall be T’iam.
And the goddess of the Eleint had begun to manifest.
Panicked, weeping, Apsal’ara began running again, and there, in the distance, beckoned a hill crowded with crags and boulders, and upon that hill there were figures.
As Fiddler turned to face the west, he found himself staring at the most massive dragon he had ever seen. Harried by scores of lesser dragons, seemingly torn to shreds, it was labouring straight for them.
He spun – the Adjunct’s sword was now bleeding coppery, rust-stained light, visibly trembling where it was driven into the earth. Oh no. We’re all dead.
The land beneath the Otataral Dragon was withering, crumbling to dust and cracked, bare clay. The devastation spread out like flood-waters over the plains.
The sword wasn’t enough. We all knew that. When we stood here – her, me, the priest …
He whirled round.
At that moment Quick Ben reached the crest. ‘No one leaves the barrow! Stay inside the ring!’
The ring? ‘Gods below. D’rek!’
The wizard heard him and flashed a half-panicked grin. ‘Well said, Fid! But not gods below. Just one.’
Kalam stumbled into view behind Quick Ben, lathered in sweat and so winded he fell to his knees, face stretched in pain as he struggled to catch his breath.