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Authors: William King

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BOOK: 4 City of Strife
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He moved on down the corridor, feeling a little nauseous. Disorientation spells often had that side effect as well as making it difficult to keep balanced. Up ahead he heard chanting. He moved towards it, counting his steps.

The air grew damper and colder still and he reckoned that at very least he must now be beneath the warehouse, possibly beneath the river. He pictured a vast warren of tunnels radiating outwards from below the Krugman house and he wondered if perhaps those tunnels had hidden exits in other parts of the city, concealed by magical wards, protected by spells of disorientation. It would certainly make it possible to come and go unseen from the house. This was how the Silent Man had got out into the night. There were certain advantages to that as well as certain risks. He realised that this was the first time in a long time he had been in a place where he had not seen even the faintest traces of rats.

He was grateful there were no guards down here. He supposed with the magical wards there was no need. Most men would simply wander lost. Without guards there was less chance of someone witnessing something they shouldn’t.

Of course, just because there were no human guards did not mean there were no sentinels. A sorcerer could call on many things to do their bidding, not all of them creatures of this world. It would be best to be on his guard.

Up ahead the chanting had halted. Kormak wondered whether he had tripped some alarm or broken some ward. Perhaps it had nothing to do with him. Perhaps the caster had just reached a necessary stopping point in whatever ritual they were working.

He waited for a moment to see if anything happened. His breath came out in a cold cloud. Water dripped. He pushed forward, moving closer to the door from behind which the noise had been coming. He kept his movements as stealthy as he could, leaned against the door and listened.

Only the constant drip-drip-drip of the water broke the silence. He counted slowly to ten, then pushed the door open.

He found himself looking into a large chamber, full of alchemical equipment. On one huge bench stood flasks and burners and a complex apparatus of glass tubes and beakers. On a massive stone slab lay a gigantic corpse of very strange appearance. Over it stood Jurgen Krugman.

It looked like Kormak had come upon the birthplace of the Silent Man.

Jurgen looked up and for a moment his mouth formed a circle as if he intended to scream. Kormak sprang into the room, feeling a fine mesh of magic give way around him as his sword and amulets met some new warding spells.

Jurgen reached within his robe, and threw something down, speaking a Word of Power as he did so. A brilliant flash dazzled Kormak, leaving only after images of the blast flickering on his retina. For a moment he feared he was blind. The chanting started again and he heard a strange wheezing sound. An odd scent of putrefaction and incense filled the air.

He cursed himself for being too quick to enter the chamber. Had Jurgen known he was there? Had he been forewarned by the disruption of his spells?

It did not matter now. He shook his head and tried to clear his eyes. The wheezing sound grew louder. Something heavy was moving now, sending glassworks tumbling to the floor.

Beakers clattered to the ground near him. Crystal shattered. A chemical tang filled the air. His skin tingled. As he caught the first taste on his tongue he held his breath. Jurgen had thrown a vial at him, of a sort that released poisoned vapours. Kormak reeled backwards, hoping to get through the door he had entered by, but he was disoriented and his back slammed into the wall. The heavy footsteps moved closer, the strange wheezing sound was almost deafening. He smelled corruption of a type he had met before when he encountered the Silent Man. The vague outline of something huge emerged from what seemed like a mist. His eyes stung and watered but his sight was starting to clear at last.

The blurred form lashed out at him. He raised his blade to block it. Too slow. Something batted it aside, knocked it from his grasp, sent it hurling away from him. Glassworks shattered as his blade flew through them. He felt the air displace and hurled himself to one side. A massive arm passed above him with the force of a battering ram. It smashed into the wall with terrible force.

Kormak rolled away. The initial thunderbolt flash had cleared from his eyes now and he realised that he was inside a cloud of vapour. He dared not breath, much as he felt the urge to. He kept rolling until he was outside the cloud but it kept expanding towards him.

Inside the mist a huge figure lumbered, man-like, shadowy, a head taller than he was and far broader. It moved with an odd, apish lope and as it did so made that strange wheezing sound. He glared around, looking for his sword and caught no sight of it. The expanding cloud of gas and the tables full of alchemical beakers hid it from view.

The figure emerged from the mist and he caught sight of the full horror of it. Its skin was grey and dead. It seemed formed from parts of many different corpses, sewn together with sinew and metal. This was what the Silent Man looked like naked and unmasked.

The wheezing came from its chest as it moved, and Kormak imagined phlegm-filled lungs moving accordion-fashion as it walked, making that strange sound as air was forced into and out of its chest. The creature did not breathe; so much was obvious, for the cloud of gas had no effect on it. It was animated by powerful magic. Bones showed through the knuckles of the hand with which it had punched the wall. Black pus dripped from the wound but the creature felt no pain.

It kept coming towards him, arms outstretched as if to grapple, and Kormak knew that if he let himself fall within its grip there would be no escape. He looked around for a weapon he could use in lieu of his sword.

All he could see were beakers full of chemicals. He grabbed the nearest and threw it at the monster. It shattered, spraying the Silent Man with greenish fluid. The monster came on, shards of broken glass digging into its bare feet, having no more effect than the chemical.

Kormak raced around the bench, hoping to see Jurgen. Perhaps if he could reach him and stop him, the spell animating his creature would be broken. He was nowhere in sight. Perhaps he had ducked down behind one of the work benches, perhaps he was obscured from view by the gas cloud.

Kormak grabbed another glass jar. In it floated what looked like a pickled brain. He picked it up and heaved it at the monster. This time he aimed for the face, hoping to blind his foe. The jar shattered and the brain came free, flopping and sliding down the monster’s face and chest like a great wrinkled slug.

The Silent Man shook its head as if to clear its eyes of fluid and kept on coming, barely slowed down by the impact. Kormak turned at bay again. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a familiar sight, the hilt of his sword, lying amid a pool of liquid and broken glass. He moved towards it. Something came flying towards him. He barely had time to duck. In imitation of his own actions the monster had thrown something at him. It shattered against the far wall.

Taking advantage of the fact he was off-balance, the Silent Man sprang forward, Kormak twisted to get away, throwing himself towards his sword. He fell flat and scrabbled on his hands and knees towards his sword. An immensely strong cold hand grasped his ankle and pulled him backwards. Turning he saw that the monster had him in its grip. He lashed out with his free leg, kicking it in the face as it began to raise him up. The impact pushed him forward a little and he stretched out his right hand to try and grasp his sword.

His fingers closed on the hilt and he twisted once more, jack-knifing his body upwards, flailing gracelessly with the blade. It came into contact with one of the monsters limbs, and where it pierced flesh it burned. The monster’s mouth went wide as if it were trying to roar in agony.

No sound emerged save the wheezing of its corrupt lungs. It let go of Kormak’s ankle. He pulled himself upright and began to hack away at the monster. With every stroke, its flesh blackened. He sliced away its right arm. For a moment it wriggled across the worktable top like a serpent and then it lost all animation and stopped.

Another stroke split its skull and the monster fell. Kormak drove his blade home into the Silent Man’s breast and let it remain there for long heartbeats, cleansing it of whatever dark force animated it. The monster ceased to move and lay there as inky black fluid leaked from its body.

Kormak turned, eyes narrowed, seeking the one who had animated it.

Jurgen Krugman cringed back in the corner. He did not look like a terrible necromancer. He looked like a scared man who could see death advancing on him with bony claws outstretched. Of course, appearances meant nothing when dealing with magicians. Kormak moved towards him warily.

“I see Karsten offered you enough for a direct attack on me. Tell me how much and I will double it.” His voice was still rich and confident.

“I am doing this gratis” Kormak said. “It’s time to put a stop to this conflict once and for all.”

The runes on his sword caught the light. Jurgen tipped his head to one side. “Unless I am much mistaken that’s a dwarf-forged blade.”

“It is.”

“So the gaze of the Order of the Dawn is finally focused on Vermstadt.”

“Your understanding of the situation is excellent.”

“I see I am to be repaid for patronising you.” Regardless of what he had done, Kormak found himself admiring the man’s coolness.

“You would be a dead man tomorrow anyway—your attack on Karsten tonight has seen to that. The whole town will be outside your door with torches blazing once word of what you have done gets out.”

Jurgen’s brow crinkled in puzzlement. “What exactly did I do to Karsten tonight?”

“Your ratkin ally attacked him and his men at the Golden Bear. It came very close to slaughtering them all.”

“You stopped it, of course.”

“Not before it had killed scores of people.”

“How very heroic.” As Kormak moved forward, he took a step back. His hand was outstretched in an odd claw-like gesture of menace. Kormak suspected that a spell would soon be forthcoming. “There’s only one problem. I have no ratkin ally.”

“Forgive me for doubting you but under the circumstances . . . the creature almost tore my throat out.”

“Nonetheless I must insist that I have no ratkin ally.” He sounded convincing. “Why would I need aid from such unreliable creatures when I have the Silent Man?

Jurgen nodded in the direction of the devices used to make the undead monster. Jurgen sighed. “I would have preferred not to have summoned him but it was either use magic or be crushed by Karsten’s mercenary hordes.”

“Necromancy is the work of the Shadow. It has directly resulted in scores of deaths.”

“I would not expect you to believe me, but necromancy is just another one of the magical sciences, albeit one many people find quite gruesome. But to return to what we were talking about earlier, I believe we may have been victims of a conspiracy . . .”


“Me, you, Karsten. It does not take any great leap of imagination to see how this struggle has been manipulated, to cause chaos in the city, to set us at each others throats, to remove me and my family from the picture so the ratkin can take advantage of the chaos.”

“That’s certainly a plausible theory,” said Kormak.

Jurgen warmed to his theme. “It explains some of the early deaths. It forced me into a position to use magic to save myself and my family. This led to a loss of popular support in the city and made people more amenable to our removal. I have been a fool.”

“Very possibly.”

“It means the ratkin is the one who is really responsible and who should be punished.”

“He will be.”

“Then you agree I am not to blame for the war. There’s no need for you to kill me.”

“I agree you are not responsible for the war,” Kormak said. “But I am afraid you still have to die. Summoning the Silent Man was enough to see to that.”

His blade glittered coldly in his hand. He advanced on Jurgen Krugman with death in his eyes.

Chapter Fifteen

KORMAK ENTERED KARSTEN’S study. The big man stared into space. Balthazar warmed his hands by the fire. Jan looked worried as he poured the merchant prince a drink. He seemed to be taking his duties as page very seriously.

“Where have you been?” Karsten asked.

“I paid Jurgen Krugman a visit.”

“And you’re still alive. Did you sell us to him?” Karsten asked.

Kormak was suddenly tired; tired of these rich men and the idea that everything and everyone was for sale, tired of this city, tired of these people. He wanted to be on the road again.

“I killed him.”

Balthazar snickered. Karsten looked pleased.

“You did the right thing and I’ll see you are well-rewarded,” said Karsten. “Now all you need do is find the Beast and kill it.”

“He’s next,” Kormak said. He looked at Balthazar.

“You’re very sure of yourself,” said the sorcerer. He seemed more amused than threatened.

“You’ve killed a lot of people,” Kormak said. “Some of them belonged to my order.”

“Frater Lucian?” Balthazar asked.

Karsten and Jan were staring at them now, not quite understanding what was going on but disturbed by the tone of their voices. Karsten was slowly backing away.

“And Frater Ambrose and his people.”

“I did not get them all. Some of them fled.”

“Jurgen worked out your plan before the end.”

“Jurgen was a clever man, a powerful sorcerer too. As he proved to his own undoing. But he’s gone now and will provide no obstacle to us. I thank you for your part in it.”

“What is going on?” Karsten asked.

“Your sorcerer is no sorcerer,” said Kormak. “He is a ratkin of the brood of Murnath. His little scuttling kin kept him informed of everything that was happening in the city. They were the source of his divinations.”

“And your friend Sir Kormak is no wandering mercenary,” said Balthazar. “He is a Guardian of the Order of the Dawn. I planned that a frenzied mob would remove Jurgen once word of the sorcery he worked on your warriors got out, but Sir Kormak has saved me the bother.” He laughed. It was an unpleasant scratchy sound. “It’s a pity he has to die.”

BOOK: 4 City of Strife
7.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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