Authors: Tim Lebbon
Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #Fantasy Fiction, #General
You did a good lot.
Thanks once again to the Night Shade guys. A big thanks also to Steven Erikson, Paul Kearney, Chris Golden, Sarah Ash, K. J. Bishop, F. Paul Wilson, Mark Chadbourn, and Steve Calcutt.
And, of course, Anne and everyone at Bantam.
SOARING HIGH ABOVE
Noreela, it was easy to believe that the world had ended again.
The evidence of scared, scattered communities lay spread out below, all of them illuminated against a darkness that should not be. Ten thousand faces would be searching for the sun but seeing only this unnatural dusk, and Lenora wondered what they would think were they to spy the hawk. Would they know? Would they have any inkling of what they were looking at?
She thought not. But soon that would change.
For most of the night, Lenora had been trying to avoid the Mages’ attention. She sat motionless and silent, as far back on the hawk’s tail as she could go, two short swords buried in the creature’s hide to provide precious handholds. She watched her masters with a sense of fear the likes of which she had never felt before. The Mages had changed so much. They were strangers to her now.
For the past three hundred years, Angel and S’Hivez had existed bitter and angry, given to lengthy musings on revenge. Lenora had served them and listened—their trusted lieutenant—and over time they had become shadows of themselves: mad old things who showed only occasional flashes of their former brilliance and brutality. Ensconced in their volcano retreat on Dana’Man, they had been fading away, though they had still retained a certain power. Things that once ruled a land could never lose that. But their glories had been vanishing into history, and the more time passed, the more Lenora’s impressions of them had been dictated by memory. The Mages’ power had become a self-perpetuating myth in her own mind.
Now that they had taken back their own, Lenora no longer had to rely on memory.
Angel still clasped the body of the farm boy to her chest, like a mother mourning her dead child. She had cut open his skull, then she and S’Hivez had torn into his torso, searching for something vital amongst his brains and flesh. From that moment, Lenora had felt the raw power surging from them, and they became true Mages for the first time in three hundred years. They had moved bones and organs aside, found what they sought and eaten it.
Then they had seemed to grow, though their size never changed. They remained silent, contemplative, and everything suddenly seemed to flow through rather than around them. And later, when dawn should have been ushering away the night, Angel and S’Hivez had cursed the sky.
Angel had been holding the boy’s tattered corpse ever since.
The hawk had died moments after they finished rooting through the boy’s insides, and Lenora thought they would fall. But then S’Hivez had buried his arms in the creature’s neck, delving inside just as he had probed the dead boy’s carcass, and the creature had risen again, bearing them northward.
a voice said. Lenora looked around, squinting against the wind. She had heard that voice intermittently since the fight with the Monks and machines, and she knew what it was: her dead, unnamed daughter’s shade still craving the comfort of her mother’s arms. Lenora buried her face in the hawk’s stiffening hide and cried tears tainted with anger. She lifted her head slightly and her tears were caught on the wind, blown into Noreela’s skies. She hoped they would spread and fall with the next rains, casting her sorrow across plains and valleys, mountains and lakes, where vengeance would be hers. They were a long way from Robenna, and it was falling farther behind with every heartbeat. But now that she knew she would return, the heat of revenge was growing brighter within her heart.
The people of Robenna had driven her out, poisoned her and murdered her unborn child. Given time, their descendants would pay.
“Dreaming of death and vengeance, Lenora?”
Lenora looked up into Angel’s eyes. The Mage had crawled back along the hawk’s spine and now sat astride its huge tail, her face a hand’s width from Lenora’s. She was beautiful. Whatever time had done to her, she had undone. The might of new magic flickered behind her eyes, and its potential seemed to light her from within.
Lenora tried to speak, but she was lost for words.
“Don’t worry,” Angel said. She drew closer still, until her blazing eyes encompassed the whole world. “So am I.”
“I frighten you?” Angel raised an eyebrow.
Lenora averted her eyes.
“That’s only right. Fear is good, Lenora. You remember the first time I touched you, casting out your pain and driving away death on that burning ship? You were filled with fear then also, but it was fear of the Black. I saved you from death to serve me, and you’ve done so ever since. But you’ve become casual about your fear, as S’Hivez and I have become blasé about our desires. We’ve always wanted to regain magic, but maybe pain grew to suit us better. Perhaps we became too used to life as outcasts.” The Mage looked off past Lenora, back the way they had come. “Do you think that’s true, Lenora?”
“No, Mistress. You’ve always been Mages, with or without magic.”
Angel smiled, and Lenora felt a brief stab of jealousy—she was aware of how she looked with her bald head, scarred body and black teeth—but she cast it aside.
“Lenora, you need never lie to me. You’re almost one of us. You came with us out of Noreela three hundred years ago; you think the same way about this accursed place, and you want the same thing. So we’re
the same…except you don’t have this.” She reached out and touched Lenora’s forehead.
At first, the point of contact burned. Then the sensation changed from heat to one of intense cold—a chill that would freeze air and crack rock—and Lenora’s eyes closed to accept whatever Angel was handing her.
There was one single image: the death of Noreela. Lenora viewed it at the speed of thought, north to south, east to west, passing over mountains and valleys, deserts and lakes, and everywhere finding the stain of destruction on the landscape. A city lay in ruins, buildings burned down into ruined heaps, streets strewn with smoking corpses, waterways polluted with rotting flesh. Farms and villages were equally devastated, their inhabitants laid out in neat lines and fixed to the land by wooden spikes. An army lay dead on a hillside, muddied armor already rusting beneath the blood spilled from the thousands of corpses. A great river was home to a hundred boats, all of them submerged, each of them filled to their watery brims with naked corpses.
And all the while, Noreela itself was suffering great traumas. A mountain range swam in fire, only the highest peaks still visible above the flames. On an endless plain the ground was cracked open, but instead of fire and lava rising up, the land’s innards rolled out across the grass, giant coils of molten earth and stone hardening in the twilight and venting scampering things the size of the largest hawk. The air turning to glass, the ground melting away, water bursting into flame…The whole of Noreela was in chaos, and at its center pulsed a magic grown darker than ever before.
“There, at the hub,” Angel’s voice said. “That’s us.” And Lenora saw. The fleeting visions slowed, settling toward a huge wound in the land. The wound bled. In the center of this sea of blood, floating in a boat forged from the bones of countless victims, writhed two ecstatic shadows.
The Mages, joyous with the victory of vengeance found.
Angel removed her finger from Lenora’s head.
“The future?” Lenora gasped.
“No one sees the future. I showed you what I
of the future: Noreela drowning in blood. And with your help, S’Hivez and I will make it so.” Angel paused, looked down at her hands, then continued. “You have no idea of this
Lenora! It’s like being dipped in molten metal, yet knowing you can send that heat anywhere, to do anything. S’Hivez and I have been communing with shades, and they are working for us already. I can see what’s happening in the land because the shades tell me! We know that the Monks are dead back in the valley, and the machines are still once again. We know that the Duke’s army is weak and formless in Long Marrakash. We know that night is here for Noreela, and it is
night. I can step from one side of the land to the other simply by closing my eyes.”
Lenora was speechless. The energy came off Angel in waves, and the whole of Noreela pivoted on the Mage’s every utterance.
“Our army is yours,” Angel said. “When it lands at Conbarma, you will be there to welcome it in and arm it with the greatest weapons we can make. And then you will take Noreela.”
“You’re leaving?” Lenora asked, aghast.
Angel turned to crawl back along the hawk.
“But where are you going?”
“You question me?”
“Of course not.”
Angel laughed, as if dismissing Lenora’s query and her own stern answer. But she said no more, leaving Lenora wondering what the next few days would bring.
War, for certain. More bloodshed and death than she had ever imagined. But with the Mages leaving the Krote army to its own devices, Lenora found doubt stoking her fear.
SHE SOON LOST
track of time. The constant twilight was unsettling, as if some angry god had swiped the sun from existence. To begin with, Lenora had been able to keep step with time as it drifted by. But as that day passed and they flew on into the steady night, she became confused. She found herself glancing to the west, hoping to see the smudge of a bloodred sunrise, but there was only twilight. As the Mages had taken daylight from the world, so had they removed night, leaving the land perpetually in between: no sun, no stars. Only the moons remained.
The life moon was a silvery disc, low down to the horizon in the east, nervously peering above the edge of the world. The death moon, bright and dusty yellow, rode high in the north. They flew toward it, and it seemed to leak some of its sickly hue across the landscape. There were those who believed that the moons were the remains of ancient gods, banished to the skies by a mutual hatred and destined to gather as many souls as they could in an eternal competition. The life moon was losing, and the death moon was yellow with the swell of wraiths. Soon, moon-followers believed, it would burst.
Lenora had no time for such phony religions. She knew her gods, and they rode this dead beast with her. And now that the Mages were here, Noreela had no room for alternative beliefs. She was lucky; few people ever spent time with their deities of choice.
They flew on, heading northward for Conbarma and the landing site for the Krote army. The Mages let nothing distract them. Noreela was a banquet spread below them, waiting to be plundered and pillaged just as they had dreamed about for three hundred years. Lenora could see larger towns now as they went farther north, splashes of illumination across the shadowed land, and twisting ribbons of light where caravans traveled the surrounding countryside. She would have so loved to land, take on one of these groups and show them the true meaning of fear. Since the battle for Conbarma, the whole land had changed, and she craved the feel of an enemy’s blood on her skin once more. But the hawk carried them on, its dead tentacles trailing behind them, gas sacs still gushing to keep them afloat, and Lenora knew that the Mages had a more encompassing revenge in mind.
There would be slaughter, and blood would be spilled. But first they had an army to welcome.
IT HAD BEEN
dusk when they left the machines’ graveyard, and when they sighted the Bay of Cantrassa below them, Lenora guessed that it should be dusk again. They had been gone for almost two full days, and she hoped that her warriors had prepared Conbarma for the arrival of the Krote ships. They would be only days away, perhaps even now passing the northernmost reaches of The Spine. Time was moving on, and war was close.
As S’Hivez guided the hawk down to follow the coastline to Conbarma, Lenora found herself eager to dismount. She craved some time away from her masters. She was tired, her skin was burned by the cold wind and she felt dizzied by the power she had been close to for so long. The Mages exuded a force that sent Lenora’s tired mind into a spin. They were like holes punched in reality, so alien that even she, their servant and lieutenant, could barely endure their presence.