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Ignis

Coral

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a part of Ignis, by The Stinky Hat.

Entered Coral.

The Stinky Hat holds sovereignty over Coral, giving them the ability to make limited changes.

358 readers have been here.

Setting

One of the Seven Holy Cities, a port city located on the northeast coast of the continent. A city of white stone, rising from the harbour to surround and engulf a vast, flat-topped hill known as Jen'rahb.
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Coral

Entered Coral.

Minimap

Coral is a part of Ignis.

4 Characters Here

Damien Ernestine [22] Imperial Historian.
Kulp [6] Cadre Mage
Adaephon Delat Blackmont [2] Eldest son of House Blackmont. A soul-shifter.
Damien [1] Imperial Historian.

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Pale had fallen. The price was Dahgir's Host and four mages. Only now were the Black Moranth legions moving in. Korlat's jaw clenched, her lips drawing from their fullness into a thin white line.
Something tugged at her memory, and she felt a growing certainty that this scene was not yet played out.
The sorceress waited.
[i]The Warrens of Magic dwelt in the beyond. Find the gate and nudge it open a crack. What leaks out is yours to shape. With these words a young woman set out on the path to sorcery. Open yourself to the Warren that comes to you—that finds you. Draw forth its power—as much as your body and soul are capable of containing—but remember, when the body fails, the gate closes.

Korlat's limbs ached. She felt as though someone had been beating her with clubs for the past two hours. The last thing she had expected was that bitter taste on her tongue that said something nasty and ugly had come to the hilltop. Such warnings seldom came to a practitioner unless the gate was open, a Warren unveiled and bristling with power.
She'd heard tales from other sorcerers, and she'd read mouldy scrolls that touched on moments like these, when the power arrived groaning and deadly, and each time, it was said, a god had stepped on to the mortal ground.
If she could have driven the nail of immortal presence in this place, however, it would have to be Hood, the God of Death. Yet her instincts said no. She didn't believe a god had arrived, but something else had.
What frustrated the sorceress was that she couldn't decide who among the people surrounding her was the dangerous one. Something kept drawing her gaze back to the young girl. But the child seemed only half there most of the time.
The voices behind her finally drew her attention. Sergeant Deathmar stood over Sengar and the other soldier, both of whom still knelt at Uruth's side. Sengar clutched an oblong object, wrapped in hides, and was looking up at his sergeant as if awaiting approval.
There was tension between the two men. Frowning, Korlat walked over. 'What are you doing?' she asked Sengar, her eyes on the object in the wizard's almost feminine hands. He seemed not to have heard, his eyes on the sergeant.
Deathmar shot her a glance. 'Go ahead, Sen,' he growled, then strode off to stand at the hill's edge, facing west—towards the Moranth Mountains.
Sengar's fine, ascetic features tightened. He nodded at his companion. 'Get ready, Karnadas.'
The soldier named Karnadas leaned back on his haunches, his hands in his sleeves. The position seemed an odd response to Sengar's request, but the mage seemed satisfied. Korlat watched as he laid one of his thin, spidery hands on Uruth's trembling, blood-splashed chest. He whispered a few chaining words and closed his eyes.
'That sounded like Denul,' Korlat said, glancing at Karnadas, who remained motionless in his crouch. 'But not quite,' she added slowly.
'He's twisted it somehow.' She fell silent then, seeing something in Karnadas that reminded her of a snake waiting to strike. Wouldn't take much to set him off, I think. Just a few more ill-timed words, a careless move towards Sengar or Uruth. The man was big, bearish, but she remembered his dangerous glide past her. Snake indeed, the man's a killer, a soldier who's reached the next level in the art of murder Not just a job any more, this man likes it. She wondered then if it wasn't this energy, this quiet promise of menace, that swept over her with the flavour of sexual tension. Korlat sighed. A day for perversity.
Sengar had resumed his chaining words, this time over the object, which he now set down beside Uruth. She watched as enwreathing power enveloped the wrapped object, watched in growing apprehension as the mage traced his long fingers along the hide's seams. The energy trickled from him with absolute control. He was her superior in the lore.
He had opened a Warren she didn't even recognize.
'Who are you people?' she whispered, stepping back.
Uruth's eyes snapped open, clear of pain and shock. His gaze found Korlat and the stained smile came easily to his broken lips. 'Lost arts, Korlat. What you're about to see hasn't been done in a thousand years.'
His face darkened then and the smile faded. Something burned in his eyes. 'Think back, woman! When we went down. What did you see? Did you feel something? Something odd? Come on, think! Look at me! See my wound, see how I'm lying! Which direction was I facing when that wave hit?'
She saw the fire in his eyes, of anger mingled with triumph. 'I'm not sure,' she said slowly. 'Something, yes.' That detached, reasoning part of her mind that had laboured with her throughout the battle, that had screamed in her mind at Craig's death, screamed in answer to the waves of sorcery—to the fact that they had come from the plain. Her eyes narrowed on Uruth. 'Khystros never bothered to aim. He was being indiscriminate. Those waves of power were aimed, weren't they? Coming at us from the wrong side.' She was trembling. 'But why? Why would Telnis do that?'
Uruth reached up one mangled hand and clutched Sengar's cloak. 'Use her, Mage. I'll take the chance.'
Korlat's thoughts raced. Uruth had been sent down into the tunnels by Dahgir. And Deathmar and his squad had been down there.
A deal had been struck. 'Uruth, what's happening here?' she demanded, fear clenching the muscles of her neck and shoulders. 'What do you mean, "use" me?'
'You're not blind, wornan!'
'Quiet,' Sengar said. He laid down the object on the wizard's ravaged chest, positioning it carefully so that it was centred lengthways along Uruth's breastbone. The top end reached to just under the man's chin, the bottom end extending a few inches beyond what was left of his torso. Webs of black energy spun incessantly over the hide's mottled surface.
Sengar passed a hand over the object and the web spread outward.
The glittering black threads traced a chaotic pattern that insinuated Uruth's entire body, over flesh and through it, the pattern ever changing, the changes coming faster and faster. Uruth jerked, his eyes bulging, then fell back. A breath escaped his lungs in a slow, steady hiss.
When it ceased with a wet gurgle, he did not draw another.
Sengar sat back on his haunches and glanced over at Deathmar.
The sergeant was now facing them, his expression unreadable.
Korlat wiped sweat from her brow with a grimy sleeve. 'It didn't work, then. You failed to do whatever it was you were trying to do.'
Sengar climbed to his feet. Karnadas picked up the wrapped object and stepped close to Korlat. The assassin's eyes were dark, penetrating as they searched her face.
Sengar spoke. 'Hold on to it, Sorceress. Take it back to your tent and unwrap it there. Above all, don't let Telnis see it.'
Korlat scowled. 'What? just like that?' Her gaze fell on the object.
'I don't even know what I'd be accepting. Whatever it is, I don't like it.'
The girl spoke directly behind her in a voice that was sharp and accusing. 'I don't know what you've done, Wizard. I felt you keeping me away. That was unkind.'
Korlat faced the girl, then glanced back at Sengar. What is all this? The man's expression was glacial, but she saw a flicker around his eyes. Looked like fear.
Deathmar rounded on the girl at her words. 'You got something to say about all this, recruit?' His tone was tight.
The girl's dark eyes slid to her sergeant. She shrugged, then walked away.
Karnadas offered the object to Korlat. 'Answers,' he said quietly, in a north Seven Cities accent, melodic and round. 'We all need answers, Sorceress. The High Mage killed your comrades. Look at us, we're all that's left of the Bonehunters. Answers aren't easily… attained. Will you pay the price?'
With a final glance at Uruth's lifeless body—so brutally torn apart—and the lifeless stare of his eyes, she accepted the object. It felt light in her hands. Whatever was within the hide cocoon was slight in size; parts of it moved and against her grip she felt knobs and shafts of something hard. She stared at the assassin's bearish face. 'I want,' she said slowly, 'to see Telnis get what he deserves.'
'Then we're in agreement,' Karnadas said, smiling. 'This is where it starts.'
Korlat felt her stomach jump at that smile. Woman, what's got into you? She sighed. 'Done.' As she turned away to descend the slope and make her way back to the main camp, she caught the girl's eye. A chill rippled through her. The sorceress stopped. 'You, recruit,' she called. 'What's your name?'
The girl smiled as if at a private joke. 'Dancer.'
Korlat grunted. It figured. She tucked the package under an arm and staggered down the slope.
Sergeant Deathmar kicked at a helmet and watched as it tumbled and bounced down the hillside. He spun and glared at Sengar. 'It's done?'
The wizard's eyes darted to Dancer, then he nodded.
'You will draw unwarranted attention on our squad,' the young girl told Deathmar. 'High Mage Telnis will notice.'
The sergeant raised an eyebrow. 'Unwarranted attention? What the hell does that mean?'
Dancer made no reply.
Deathmar bit back sharp words. What had Fiddler called her? An uncanny bitch. He'd said it to her face and she'd just stared him down with those dead, stony eyes. As much as he hated to admit it, Deathmar shared the sapper's crude assessment. What made things even more disturbing, this fifteen-year-old girl had Sengar scared half out of his wits, and the wizard didn't want to talk about it. What had the Empire sent him?
His gaze swung back to Korlat. She was crossing the killing field below. The ravens rose screaming from her path, and remained circling overhead, their caws uneasy and frightened. The sergeant felt Karnadas's solid presence at his side.
'Hood's Breath,' Deathmar muttered. 'That sorceress seems an unholy terror as far as those birds are concerned.'
'Not her,' Karnadas said. 'It's what she's carrying.'
Deathmar scratched his beard, his eyes narrowing. 'This stinks. You sure it's necessary?'
Karnadas shrugged.
'Deathmar,' Sengar said, behind them, 'they kept us in the tunnels. Do you think the High Mage couldn't have guessed what would happen?'
The sergeant faced his wizard. A dozen paces beyond stood Dancer, well within hearing range. Deathmar scowled at her, but said nothing.
After a moment of heavy silence, the sergeant turned his attention to the city. The last of the Moranth legions was marching beneath the West Gate's arch. Columns of black smoke rose from behind the battered, scarred walls. He knew something of the history of grim enmity between the Moranth and the citizens of the once Free City of Pale. Contested trade routes, two mercantile powers at each other's throat. And Pale won more often than not. At long last it seemed that the black-armoured warriors from beyond the western mountains, whose faces remained hidden behind the chitinous visors on their helms and who spoke in clicks and buzzes, were evening the score. Faintly, beyond the cries of carrion birds, came the wail of men, women and children dying beneath the sword.
'Sounds like the Emeror is keeping his word with the Moranth,' Sengar said quietly. 'An hour of slaughter. I didn't think Dahgir—'
'Dahgir knows his orders,' Deathmar cut in. 'And there's a High Mage taloned on his shoulder.'
'An hour,' Karnadas repeated. 'Then we clean up the mess.'
'Not our squad,' Deathmar said. 'We've received new orders.'
The two men stared at their sergeant.
'And you still need convincing?' Sengar demanded. 'They're driving us into the ground. They mean to—'
'Enough!' Deathmar barked. 'Not now. Karnadas, find Fildon. We need resupply from the Moranth. Round up the rest, Sen, and take Dancer with you. Join me outside the High Fist's tent in an hour.'
'And you?' Sengar asked. 'What are you going to do?'
The sergeant heard an ill-concealed yearning in the wizard's voice. The man needed a direction, or maybe confirmation that they were doing the right thing. A little late for that. Even so, Deathmar felt a pang of regret—he couldn't give what Sengar wanted the most. He couldn't tell him that things would turn out for the best. He sank down on his haunches, his eyes on Pale. 'What am I going to do? I'm going to do some thinking, Sengar. I've been listening to you and Karnadas, to Mall and Fildon, even Trotts has been jawing in my ear. Well, now it's my turn. So leave me be, Wizard, and take that damn girl with you.'
Sengar flinched, seeming to withdraw. Something in Deathmar's words had made him very unhappy—or maybe everything.
The sergeant was too tired to worry about it. He had their new assignment to think over. Had he been a religious man, Deathmar would have let blood in Hood's Bowl, calling upon the shades of his ancestors. As much as he hated to admit it, he shared the feeling among his squad: someone in the Empire wanted the Bonehunters dead.[/i]

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Pale had fallen. The price was Dahgir's Host and four mages. Only now were the Black Moranth legions moving in. Korlat's jaw clenched, her lips drawing from their fullness into a thin white line.
Something tugged at her memory, and she felt a growing certainty that this scene was not yet played out.
The sorceress waited.
[i]The Warrens of Magic dwelt in the beyond. Find the gate and nudge it open a crack. What leaks out is yours to shape. With these words a young woman set out on the path to sorcery. Open yourself to the Warren that comes to you—that finds you. Draw forth its power—as much as your body and soul are capable of containing—but remember, when the body fails, the gate closes.

Korlat's limbs ached. She felt as though someone had been beating her with clubs for the past two hours. The last thing she had expected was that bitter taste on her tongue that said something nasty and ugly had come to the hilltop. Such warnings seldom came to a practitioner unless the gate was open, a Warren unveiled and bristling with power.
She'd heard tales from other sorcerers, and she'd read mouldy scrolls that touched on moments like these, when the power arrived groaning and deadly, and each time, it was said, a god had stepped on to the mortal ground.
If she could have driven the nail of immortal presence in this place, however, it would have to be Hood, the God of Death. Yet her instincts said no. She didn't believe a god had arrived, but something else had.
What frustrated the sorceress was that she couldn't decide who among the people surrounding her was the dangerous one. Something kept drawing her gaze back to the young girl. But the child seemed only half there most of the time.
The voices behind her finally drew her attention. Sergeant Deathmar stood over Sengar and the other soldier, both of whom still knelt at Uruth's side. Sengar clutched an oblong object, wrapped in hides, and was looking up at his sergeant as if awaiting approval.
There was tension between the two men. Frowning, Korlat walked over. 'What are you doing?' she asked Sengar, her eyes on the object in the wizard's almost feminine hands. He seemed not to have heard, his eyes on the sergeant.
Deathmar shot her a glance. 'Go ahead, Sen,' he growled, then strode off to stand at the hill's edge, facing west—towards the Moranth Mountains.
Sengar's fine, ascetic features tightened. He nodded at his companion. 'Get ready, Karnadas.'
The soldier named Karnadas leaned back on his haunches, his hands in his sleeves. The position seemed an odd response to Sengar's request, but the mage seemed satisfied. Korlat watched as he laid one of his thin, spidery hands on Uruth's trembling, blood-splashed chest. He whispered a few chaining words and closed his eyes.
'That sounded like Denul,' Korlat said, glancing at Karnadas, who remained motionless in his crouch. 'But not quite,' she added slowly.
'He's twisted it somehow.' She fell silent then, seeing something in Karnadas that reminded her of a snake waiting to strike. Wouldn't take much to set him off, I think. Just a few more ill-timed words, a careless move towards Sengar or Uruth. The man was big, bearish, but she remembered his dangerous glide past her. Snake indeed, the man's a killer, a soldier who's reached the next level in the art of murder Not just a job any more, this man likes it. She wondered then if it wasn't this energy, this quiet promise of menace, that swept over her with the flavour of sexual tension. Korlat sighed. A day for perversity.
Sengar had resumed his chaining words, this time over the object, which he now set down beside Uruth. She watched as enwreathing power enveloped the wrapped object, watched in growing apprehension as the mage traced his long fingers along the hide's seams. The energy trickled from him with absolute control. He was her superior in the lore.
He had opened a Warren she didn't even recognize.
'Who are you people?' she whispered, stepping back.
Uruth's eyes snapped open, clear of pain and shock. His gaze found Korlat and the stained smile came easily to his broken lips. 'Lost arts, Korlat. What you're about to see hasn't been done in a thousand years.'
His face darkened then and the smile faded. Something burned in his eyes. 'Think back, woman! When we went down. What did you see? Did you feel something? Something odd? Come on, think! Look at me! See my wound, see how I'm lying! Which direction was I facing when that wave hit?'
She saw the fire in his eyes, of anger mingled with triumph. 'I'm not sure,' she said slowly. 'Something, yes.' That detached, reasoning part of her mind that had laboured with her throughout the battle, that had screamed in her mind at Craig's death, screamed in answer to the waves of sorcery—to the fact that they had come from the plain. Her eyes narrowed on Uruth. 'Khystros never bothered to aim. He was being indiscriminate. Those waves of power were aimed, weren't they? Coming at us from the wrong side.' She was trembling. 'But why? Why would Telnis do that?'
Uruth reached up one mangled hand and clutched Sengar's cloak. 'Use her, Mage. I'll take the chance.'
Korlat's thoughts raced. Uruth had been sent down into the tunnels by Dahgir. And Deathmar and his squad had been down there.
A deal had been struck. 'Uruth, what's happening here?' she demanded, fear clenching the muscles of her neck and shoulders. 'What do you mean, "use" me?'
'You're not blind, wornan!'
'Quiet,' Sengar said. He laid down the object on the wizard's ravaged chest, positioning it carefully so that it was centred lengthways along Uruth's breastbone. The top end reached to just under the man's chin, the bottom end extending a few inches beyond what was left of his torso. Webs of black energy spun incessantly over the hide's mottled surface.
Sengar passed a hand over the object and the web spread outward.
The glittering black threads traced a chaotic pattern that insinuated Uruth's entire body, over flesh and through it, the pattern ever changing, the changes coming faster and faster. Uruth jerked, his eyes bulging, then fell back. A breath escaped his lungs in a slow, steady hiss.
When it ceased with a wet gurgle, he did not draw another.
Sengar sat back on his haunches and glanced over at Deathmar.
The sergeant was now facing them, his expression unreadable.
Korlat wiped sweat from her brow with a grimy sleeve. 'It didn't work, then. You failed to do whatever it was you were trying to do.'
Sengar climbed to his feet. Karnadas picked up the wrapped object and stepped close to Korlat. The assassin's eyes were dark, penetrating as they searched her face.
Sengar spoke. 'Hold on to it, Sorceress. Take it back to your tent and unwrap it there. Above all, don't let Telnis see it.'
Korlat scowled. 'What? just like that?' Her gaze fell on the object.
'I don't even know what I'd be accepting. Whatever it is, I don't like it.'
The girl spoke directly behind her in a voice that was sharp and accusing. 'I don't know what you've done, Wizard. I felt you keeping me away. That was unkind.'
Korlat faced the girl, then glanced back at Sengar. What is all this? The man's expression was glacial, but she saw a flicker around his eyes. Looked like fear.
Deathmar rounded on the girl at her words. 'You got something to say about all this, recruit?' His tone was tight.
The girl's dark eyes slid to her sergeant. She shrugged, then walked away.
Karnadas offered the object to Korlat. 'Answers,' he said quietly, in a north Seven Cities accent, melodic and round. 'We all need answers, Sorceress. The High Mage killed your comrades. Look at us, we're all that's left of the Bonehunters. Answers aren't easily… attained. Will you pay the price?'
With a final glance at Uruth's lifeless body—so brutally torn apart—and the lifeless stare of his eyes, she accepted the object. It felt light in her hands. Whatever was within the hide cocoon was slight in size; parts of it moved and against her grip she felt knobs and shafts of something hard. She stared at the assassin's bearish face. 'I want,' she said slowly, 'to see Telnis get what he deserves.'
'Then we're in agreement,' Karnadas said, smiling. 'This is where it starts.'
Korlat felt her stomach jump at that smile. Woman, what's got into you? She sighed. 'Done.' As she turned away to descend the slope and make her way back to the main camp, she caught the girl's eye. A chill rippled through her. The sorceress stopped. 'You, recruit,' she called. 'What's your name?'
The girl smiled as if at a private joke. 'Dancer.'
Korlat grunted. It figured. She tucked the package under an arm and staggered down the slope.
Sergeant Deathmar kicked at a helmet and watched as it tumbled and bounced down the hillside. He spun and glared at Sengar. 'It's done?'
The wizard's eyes darted to Dancer, then he nodded.
'You will draw unwarranted attention on our squad,' the young girl told Deathmar. 'High Mage Telnis will notice.'
The sergeant raised an eyebrow. 'Unwarranted attention? What the hell does that mean?'
Dancer made no reply.
Deathmar bit back sharp words. What had Fiddler called her? An uncanny bitch. He'd said it to her face and she'd just stared him down with those dead, stony eyes. As much as he hated to admit it, Deathmar shared the sapper's crude assessment. What made things even more disturbing, this fifteen-year-old girl had Sengar scared half out of his wits, and the wizard didn't want to talk about it. What had the Empire sent him?
His gaze swung back to Korlat. She was crossing the killing field below. The ravens rose screaming from her path, and remained circling overhead, their caws uneasy and frightened. The sergeant felt Karnadas's solid presence at his side.
'Hood's Breath,' Deathmar muttered. 'That sorceress seems an unholy terror as far as those birds are concerned.'
'Not her,' Karnadas said. 'It's what she's carrying.'
Deathmar scratched his beard, his eyes narrowing. 'This stinks. You sure it's necessary?'
Karnadas shrugged.
'Deathmar,' Sengar said, behind them, 'they kept us in the tunnels. Do you think the High Mage couldn't have guessed what would happen?'
The sergeant faced his wizard. A dozen paces beyond stood Dancer, well within hearing range. Deathmar scowled at her, but said nothing.
After a moment of heavy silence, the sergeant turned his attention to the city. The last of the Moranth legions was marching beneath the West Gate's arch. Columns of black smoke rose from behind the battered, scarred walls. He knew something of the history of grim enmity between the Moranth and the citizens of the once Free City of Pale. Contested trade routes, two mercantile powers at each other's throat. And Pale won more often than not. At long last it seemed that the black-armoured warriors from beyond the western mountains, whose faces remained hidden behind the chitinous visors on their helms and who spoke in clicks and buzzes, were evening the score. Faintly, beyond the cries of carrion birds, came the wail of men, women and children dying beneath the sword.
'Sounds like the Emeror is keeping his word with the Moranth,' Sengar said quietly. 'An hour of slaughter. I didn't think Dahgir—'
'Dahgir knows his orders,' Deathmar cut in. 'And there's a High Mage taloned on his shoulder.'
'An hour,' Karnadas repeated. 'Then we clean up the mess.'
'Not our squad,' Deathmar said. 'We've received new orders.'
The two men stared at their sergeant.
'And you still need convincing?' Sengar demanded. 'They're driving us into the ground. They mean to—'
'Enough!' Deathmar barked. 'Not now. Karnadas, find Fildon. We need resupply from the Moranth. Round up the rest, Sen, and take Dancer with you. Join me outside the High Fist's tent in an hour.'
'And you?' Sengar asked. 'What are you going to do?'
The sergeant heard an ill-concealed yearning in the wizard's voice. The man needed a direction, or maybe confirmation that they were doing the right thing. A little late for that. Even so, Deathmar felt a pang of regret—he couldn't give what Sengar wanted the most. He couldn't tell him that things would turn out for the best. He sank down on his haunches, his eyes on Pale. 'What am I going to do? I'm going to do some thinking, Sengar. I've been listening to you and Karnadas, to Mall and Fildon, even Trotts has been jawing in my ear. Well, now it's my turn. So leave me be, Wizard, and take that damn girl with you.'
Sengar flinched, seeming to withdraw. Something in Deathmar's words had made him very unhappy—or maybe everything.
The sergeant was too tired to worry about it. He had their new assignment to think over. Had he been a religious man, Deathmar would have let blood in Hood's Bowl, calling upon the shades of his ancestors. As much as he hated to admit it, he shared the feeling among his squad: someone in the Empire wanted the Bonehunters dead.[/i]

Setting

2 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Iaira Blackmont Character Portrait: Adaephon Delat Blackmont
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Pale had fallen. The price was Dahgir's Host and four mages. Only now were the Black Moranth legions moving in. Korlat's jaw clenched, her lips drawing from their fullness into a thin white line.
Something tugged at her memory, and she felt a growing certainty that this scene was not yet played out.
The sorceress waited.
[i]The Warrens of Magic dwelt in the beyond. Find the gate and nudge it open a crack. What leaks out is yours to shape. With these words a young woman set out on the path to sorcery. Open yourself to the Warren that comes to you—that finds you. Draw forth its power—as much as your body and soul are capable of containing—but remember, when the body fails, the gate closes.

Korlat's limbs ached. She felt as though someone had been beating her with clubs for the past two hours. The last thing she had expected was that bitter taste on her tongue that said something nasty and ugly had come to the hilltop. Such warnings seldom came to a practitioner unless the gate was open, a Warren unveiled and bristling with power.
She'd heard tales from other sorcerers, and she'd read mouldy scrolls that touched on moments like these, when the power arrived groaning and deadly, and each time, it was said, a god had stepped on to the mortal ground.
If she could have driven the nail of immortal presence in this place, however, it would have to be Hood, the God of Death. Yet her instincts said no. She didn't believe a god had arrived, but something else had.
What frustrated the sorceress was that she couldn't decide who among the people surrounding her was the dangerous one. Something kept drawing her gaze back to the young girl. But the child seemed only half there most of the time.
The voices behind her finally drew her attention. Sergeant Deathmar stood over Sengar and the other soldier, both of whom still knelt at Uruth's side. Sengar clutched an oblong object, wrapped in hides, and was looking up at his sergeant as if awaiting approval.
There was tension between the two men. Frowning, Korlat walked over. 'What are you doing?' she asked Sengar, her eyes on the object in the wizard's almost feminine hands. He seemed not to have heard, his eyes on the sergeant.
Deathmar shot her a glance. 'Go ahead, Sen,' he growled, then strode off to stand at the hill's edge, facing west—towards the Moranth Mountains.
Sengar's fine, ascetic features tightened. He nodded at his companion. 'Get ready, Karnadas.'
The soldier named Karnadas leaned back on his haunches, his hands in his sleeves. The position seemed an odd response to Sengar's request, but the mage seemed satisfied. Korlat watched as he laid one of his thin, spidery hands on Uruth's trembling, blood-splashed chest. He whispered a few chaining words and closed his eyes.
'That sounded like Denul,' Korlat said, glancing at Karnadas, who remained motionless in his crouch. 'But not quite,' she added slowly.
'He's twisted it somehow.' She fell silent then, seeing something in Karnadas that reminded her of a snake waiting to strike. Wouldn't take much to set him off, I think. Just a few more ill-timed words, a careless move towards Sengar or Uruth. The man was big, bearish, but she remembered his dangerous glide past her. Snake indeed, the man's a killer, a soldier who's reached the next level in the art of murder Not just a job any more, this man likes it. She wondered then if it wasn't this energy, this quiet promise of menace, that swept over her with the flavour of sexual tension. Korlat sighed. A day for perversity.
Sengar had resumed his chaining words, this time over the object, which he now set down beside Uruth. She watched as enwreathing power enveloped the wrapped object, watched in growing apprehension as the mage traced his long fingers along the hide's seams. The energy trickled from him with absolute control. He was her superior in the lore.
He had opened a Warren she didn't even recognize.
'Who are you people?' she whispered, stepping back.
Uruth's eyes snapped open, clear of pain and shock. His gaze found Korlat and the stained smile came easily to his broken lips. 'Lost arts, Korlat. What you're about to see hasn't been done in a thousand years.'
His face darkened then and the smile faded. Something burned in his eyes. 'Think back, woman! When we went down. What did you see? Did you feel something? Something odd? Come on, think! Look at me! See my wound, see how I'm lying! Which direction was I facing when that wave hit?'
She saw the fire in his eyes, of anger mingled with triumph. 'I'm not sure,' she said slowly. 'Something, yes.' That detached, reasoning part of her mind that had laboured with her throughout the battle, that had screamed in her mind at Craig's death, screamed in answer to the waves of sorcery—to the fact that they had come from the plain. Her eyes narrowed on Uruth. 'Khystros never bothered to aim. He was being indiscriminate. Those waves of power were aimed, weren't they? Coming at us from the wrong side.' She was trembling. 'But why? Why would Telnis do that?'
Uruth reached up one mangled hand and clutched Sengar's cloak. 'Use her, Mage. I'll take the chance.'
Korlat's thoughts raced. Uruth had been sent down into the tunnels by Dahgir. And Deathmar and his squad had been down there.
A deal had been struck. 'Uruth, what's happening here?' she demanded, fear clenching the muscles of her neck and shoulders. 'What do you mean, "use" me?'
'You're not blind, wornan!'
'Quiet,' Sengar said. He laid down the object on the wizard's ravaged chest, positioning it carefully so that it was centred lengthways along Uruth's breastbone. The top end reached to just under the man's chin, the bottom end extending a few inches beyond what was left of his torso. Webs of black energy spun incessantly over the hide's mottled surface.
Sengar passed a hand over the object and the web spread outward.
The glittering black threads traced a chaotic pattern that insinuated Uruth's entire body, over flesh and through it, the pattern ever changing, the changes coming faster and faster. Uruth jerked, his eyes bulging, then fell back. A breath escaped his lungs in a slow, steady hiss.
When it ceased with a wet gurgle, he did not draw another.
Sengar sat back on his haunches and glanced over at Deathmar.
The sergeant was now facing them, his expression unreadable.
Korlat wiped sweat from her brow with a grimy sleeve. 'It didn't work, then. You failed to do whatever it was you were trying to do.'
Sengar climbed to his feet. Karnadas picked up the wrapped object and stepped close to Korlat. The assassin's eyes were dark, penetrating as they searched her face.
Sengar spoke. 'Hold on to it, Sorceress. Take it back to your tent and unwrap it there. Above all, don't let Telnis see it.'
Korlat scowled. 'What? just like that?' Her gaze fell on the object.
'I don't even know what I'd be accepting. Whatever it is, I don't like it.'
The girl spoke directly behind her in a voice that was sharp and accusing. 'I don't know what you've done, Wizard. I felt you keeping me away. That was unkind.'
Korlat faced the girl, then glanced back at Sengar. What is all this? The man's expression was glacial, but she saw a flicker around his eyes. Looked like fear.
Deathmar rounded on the girl at her words. 'You got something to say about all this, recruit?' His tone was tight.
The girl's dark eyes slid to her sergeant. She shrugged, then walked away.
Karnadas offered the object to Korlat. 'Answers,' he said quietly, in a north Seven Cities accent, melodic and round. 'We all need answers, Sorceress. The High Mage killed your comrades. Look at us, we're all that's left of the Bonehunters. Answers aren't easily… attained. Will you pay the price?'
With a final glance at Uruth's lifeless body—so brutally torn apart—and the lifeless stare of his eyes, she accepted the object. It felt light in her hands. Whatever was within the hide cocoon was slight in size; parts of it moved and against her grip she felt knobs and shafts of something hard. She stared at the assassin's bearish face. 'I want,' she said slowly, 'to see Telnis get what he deserves.'
'Then we're in agreement,' Karnadas said, smiling. 'This is where it starts.'
Korlat felt her stomach jump at that smile. Woman, what's got into you? She sighed. 'Done.' As she turned away to descend the slope and make her way back to the main camp, she caught the girl's eye. A chill rippled through her. The sorceress stopped. 'You, recruit,' she called. 'What's your name?'
The girl smiled as if at a private joke. 'Dancer.'
Korlat grunted. It figured. She tucked the package under an arm and staggered down the slope.
Sergeant Deathmar kicked at a helmet and watched as it tumbled and bounced down the hillside. He spun and glared at Sengar. 'It's done?'
The wizard's eyes darted to Dancer, then he nodded.
'You will draw unwarranted attention on our squad,' the young girl told Deathmar. 'High Mage Telnis will notice.'
The sergeant raised an eyebrow. 'Unwarranted attention? What the hell does that mean?'
Dancer made no reply.
Deathmar bit back sharp words. What had Fildon called her? An uncanny bitch. He'd said it to her face and she'd just stared him down with those dead, stony eyes. As much as he hated to admit it, Deathmar shared the sapper's crude assessment. What made things even more disturbing, this fifteen-year-old girl had Sengar scared half out of his wits, and the wizard didn't want to talk about it. What had the Empire sent him?
His gaze swung back to Korlat. She was crossing the killing field below. The ravens rose screaming from her path, and remained circling overhead, their caws uneasy and frightened. The sergeant felt Karnadas's solid presence at his side.
'Hood's Breath,' Deathmar muttered. 'That sorceress seems an unholy terror as far as those birds are concerned.'
'Not her,' Karnadas said. 'It's what she's carrying.'
Deathmar scratched his beard, his eyes narrowing. 'This stinks. You sure it's necessary?'
Karnadas shrugged.
'Deathmar,' Sengar said, behind them, 'they kept us in the tunnels. Do you think the High Mage couldn't have guessed what would happen?'
The sergeant faced his wizard. A dozen paces beyond stood Dancer, well within hearing range. Deathmar scowled at her, but said nothing.
After a moment of heavy silence, the sergeant turned his attention to the city. The last of the Moranth legions was marching beneath the West Gate's arch. Columns of black smoke rose from behind the battered, scarred walls. He knew something of the history of grim enmity between the Moranth and the citizens of the once Free City of Pale. Contested trade routes, two mercantile powers at each other's throat. And Pale won more often than not. At long last it seemed that the black-armoured warriors from beyond the western mountains, whose faces remained hidden behind the chitinous visors on their helms and who spoke in clicks and buzzes, were evening the score. Faintly, beyond the cries of carrion birds, came the wail of men, women and children dying beneath the sword.
'Sounds like the Emeror is keeping his word with the Moranth,' Sengar said quietly. 'An hour of slaughter. I didn't think Dahgir—'
'Dahgir knows his orders,' Deathmar cut in. 'And there's a High Mage taloned on his shoulder.'
'An hour,' Karnadas repeated. 'Then we clean up the mess.'
'Not our squad,' Deathmar said. 'We've received new orders.'
The two men stared at their sergeant.
'And you still need convincing?' Sengar demanded. 'They're driving us into the ground. They mean to—'
'Enough!' Deathmar barked. 'Not now. Karnadas, find Fildon. We need resupply from the Moranth. Round up the rest, Sen, and take Dancer with you. Join me outside the High Fist's tent in an hour.'
'And you?' Sengar asked. 'What are you going to do?'
The sergeant heard an ill-concealed yearning in the wizard's voice. The man needed a direction, or maybe confirmation that they were doing the right thing. A little late for that. Even so, Deathmar felt a pang of regret—he couldn't give what Sengar wanted the most. He couldn't tell him that things would turn out for the best. He sank down on his haunches, his eyes on Pale. 'What am I going to do? I'm going to do some thinking, Sengar. I've been listening to you and Karnadas, to Mall and Fildon, even Trotts has been jawing in my ear. Well, now it's my turn. So leave me be, Wizard, and take that damn girl with you.'
Sengar flinched, seeming to withdraw. Something in Deathmar's words had made him very unhappy—or maybe everything.
The sergeant was too tired to worry about it. He had their new assignment to think over. Had he been a religious man, Deathmar would have let blood in Hood's Bowl, calling upon the shades of his ancestors. As much as he hated to admit it, he shared the feeling among his squad: someone in the Empire wanted the Bonehunters dead.[/i]