Dead Stars - Part One (The Emaneska Series) (7 page)

BOOK: Dead Stars - Part One (The Emaneska Series)
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Durnus’ smile faded. ‘That it probably does.’

‘Verix,’ chided Heimdall, and the goddess looked confused. She ran a hand through her strange, sea-green hair.

‘I’m sorry. I’m used to speaking my mind,’ she said.

‘As goddess of truth, I’m sure you are,’ chuckled Durnus, and the moment was forgotten.

Heimdall clapped his hands. Modren was trying to assess him now, staring as intently as he dared. The god was pale-faced, like his comrades, and his hair was golden, like dried wheat. The god was as tall as the Siren Eyrum, but once again, impossible to fathom. It was the same with Verix. Their faces, aside from the colour of their eyes and hair, seemed to evade scrutiny like the very stars themselves. Modren found that the harder he looked, the stranger they became. Their chests did not rise and fall with their breathing. They did not blink. Not a single mole nor blemish marred their skin. The closer he leant to them, the larger they grew. Modren moved forward to take his drink from the little table in the centre of the circle, and found himself confused at how much Heimdall had suddenly grown. The god towered above him, in ways the Undermage’s brain couldn’t comprehend. He felt bludgeoned by his mere presence, breathless in the man’s shadow.

‘Modren?’ said a voice, shattering the mage’s thoughts. Modren blinked, and realised Heimdall was staring down at him, a bemused look on his face.

‘Sorry, sir,’ he muttered. ‘It’s not every day you meet a god.’

At this, Heimdall laughed. It was a deep booming sound, like thunder. For a moment, it shocked the others in the room, and then somehow some of the tension seemed to bubble off, and the mages and Durnus found themselves relaxing.

‘I imagine not, Undermage. I imagine not.’ Heimdall shook his head. ‘What strange times these are, that gods sit in armchairs and watch men drink wine. For the first time in my existence, I have trouble trusting my eyes and ears.’

Durnus smiled and sipped his wine. ‘To business, then?’

‘Indeed. Loki, come sit,’ ordered Heimdall. The younger god did as he was told. He tore himself away from the window, and, ignoring the last spare chair, he perched instead on the edge of a stool.

‘Where do we possibly start?’ Verix asked.

‘First things first,’ sighed Tyrfing, running his hand across his jet black beard. ‘Has there been any sign of her?’

Heimdall shook his head sadly, a hint of frustration in his flaxen eyes. ‘Wherever the spawn is, I cannot see her, not here, nor from our fortress. She is too strong.’

‘What of the woman that travels with her?’

‘She too is hidden.’

Tyrfing and Durnus sighed as one. They had secretly been hoping for some good news from Heimdall. If anyone could find Farden’s child, it would be a god who could watch a blade of grass growing from a hundred miles away, a god who could see the shadows slinking back to their holes at dawn. If he couldn’t see her, then nobody could. This was dire news indeed. They sipped their wine.

‘What of the other gods?’ asked Durnus. ‘Can they be of any help?’

Loki sniffed. ‘Are we no use to you?’

‘Loki,’ growled Heimdall.

Durnus looked in the direction of the younger god’s voice. ‘That is not what I meant. I know the prayer is strong at the moment, and therefore so are the gods. What I meant was are any of you capable of helping physically, in battle?’

Verix shook her head. ‘If we were, we would not have come here on a ship.’

Loki looked out the window again. ‘No, we would have fallen from the sky as brimstone and fire instead of slipping down a shaft of moonlight.’

‘That’s a shame,’ said Modren, eyeing the younger god.

Heimdall leant back in his chair and spread his hands over the velvet. It felt so foreign to him. ‘What Loki and Verix mean is that if we could have, we would have. We would not waste time with ruses such as these.’ He rubbed his eyes. ‘What have you done to find her? I have seen some of your efforts already.’

‘Everything in our power,’ replied Tyrfing. ‘We’ve sent countless messengers, trackers, ships, hawks, and mages into the wilds, chasing every lead we’ve ever had. Every time, she disappears like smoke.’

‘And we’ve lost plenty of good mages because of it too,’ said Modren. The gods and goddess looked questioningly at the Undermage. He elaborated, narrowing his eyes. ‘The only clues we ever get are the dead she leaves behind. The maimed, skinned dead that they are. She and that old crone seem to make a point of actively hunting down our best mages, and then taking their Books. I hope they go mad, and save us the bloody trouble.’

‘She is hunting Written?’

Modren nodded. There was bitterness in his eyes. He rubbed his knuckles together. ‘Almost always. But she isn’t picky, either. If a normal mage gets close enough, she’ll kill them all the same. I’ve lost more mages to that little bitch than I care to count. That’s why I’ve recalled every single Written to the city. I intend to keep them here too, sirs,’ he said.

‘Why Written?’ asked Loki.

‘Because we’ve become stronger,’ Tyrfing answered. By his side, Modren nodded. ‘We’re more dangerous than we’ve ever been. I think she must be worried.’

‘Picking us off on our own, rather than facing us as a group.’

Loki looked confused. He frowned. ‘And how is that possible?’

Heimdall hummed. ‘The magick in this world is getting stronger by the day. Like a storm brewing or a season shifting. Even Evernia is puzzled by it.’

Loki’s frown got even deeper. ‘Why haven’t I felt it?’

Verix closed her eyes and sniffed the air again. ‘Because you, like I, have never travelled here before,’ she told him. ‘Do you think it is her?’

‘Are you serious?’ asked Modren. ‘One little girl, affecting the whole of Emaneska’s magick? That’s ridiculous. I spent the all of last night watching ten year-old farmhands flick through beginner’s spell books and cast spell after spell. Half of them had never even seen a spell book before last night. Yet here they are, a mere handful amongst the thousands of people that flood into Manesmark every day, all showing signs of magick in their blood, keen as daggers to be a mage. Young, old, rich, poor. One man set fire to his wife’s dress just by singing a song that he swore he’d never heard before. Just the other day, another turned a chicken inside out. I, for one, find it very disturbing. The magick is simply tumbling out of these people. And don’t even get me started on the things I see in the magick markets these days… Something’s wrong with the magick in this world.’

Tyrfing stood up to circle his chair. ‘I agree with Modren. It’s not just the magick or the markets. Stranger and stranger things keep appearing in the wilds. Faeries, huldras, ghosts, talk of other gryphons even. There is talk of creatures even we have never heard of, creatures that seem to have emerged almost from nowhere.’

Durnus tapped his fingernail on his wine glass. ‘Almost as if they’re drawn to something.’

Tyrfing shook his head. ‘It
can’t
be her. If she’s that powerful, why would she be hunting us Written down, sneaking about like an assassin? Why would she fear us in number?’

‘Then maybe she’s just hunting
one
Written…?’ ventured Loki. The room fell silent. Tyrfing and Modren both sipped their wine, while Durnus just stared sightlessly into space. His pale eyes said nothing. His lips however, said it all. They were drawn tight, almost as white as his eyes, as if the blood had been sucked straight out of them. Durnus didn’t trust himself to speak. If Loki felt the tension, he didn’t show it. He just waited for his answer. It never came.

Verix sighed. ‘If that is the case, and what Loki suggests is true, then it is either because Farden is a danger to her, or she and the old woman want vengeance. Both can be useful to us.’

Modren glowered at his wine. ‘And what of my dead mages?’

‘Collateral.’

‘I don’t think I’ve ever cursed at a lady before, never mind a goddess, and I don’t intend to start today. I would appreciate it if you could inject a little tact into that truthful tongue of yours. With all due respect,’ Modren said, slowly and carefully. Verix simply closed her eyes and said nothing in return.

Heimdall held up his hands. ‘We digress.’

‘Indeed we do,’ Durnus sighed. ‘I think we have time on our hands. We’ll discuss what our defences are later, after dinner. For now, you three need to change. Elessi has supplied clothes for you in the adjacent rooms. She will get you anything else you need.’

‘Thank you, Durnus,’ said Heimdall, getting to his feet. Loki went to stare out of the window again. Verix stayed in her chair, eyes closed and concentrating on something. As he moved to leave, Heimdall put his hand on Tyrfing’s shoulder. ‘I should like to see Ilios, when there is a chance.’

‘Tonight,’ muttered the Arkmage. It was impossible to miss the flicker of angst in his face. He caught the god by the arm as he moved away. His ocean-blue eyes met Heimdall’s tawny ones. There, under the weight of them, it felt as though the god was looking through him, as if he were as faceless as glass. ‘Do you know where he is?’ he asked. ‘Farden?’

Heimdall shook his head. ‘I do not.’

Tyrfing took a breath and nodded, and slowly but surely, released the god’s arm. ‘Fine,’ he replied. With a squeak of his boot, he grabbed his glass and the bottle of wine, and then went to an ornate pine door at the far end of the room, by the window. Durnus listened to his footsteps and made a face.

‘Where are you going?’ he asked.

Tyrfing’s reply was almost sliced in half by the slam of the door. ‘To my forge.’

Modren and Durnus looked at each other. Heimdall look confused. The Undermage stretched and yawned. ‘Be glad you’re not a chunk of hot metal, sir,’ he said.

Drowned, like the cracked hull of a stricken ship, was the city in its night-time noise. The sun had vanished over the peak of Hardja no more than an hour ago. The western sky glowed like dying coals. Krauslung seemed intent on making up for the failing light with its own manmade glimmering. Candles, torches, fires, lanterns, they all came alive. That, and the interminable sound of evening in the city. The ruckus seemed louder tonight. Call it a funeral for the winter. Call it an average night in a city full of coin, sailors, and people who knew how short life could be. Call it an excuse. It was all of those things.

Heimdall, the god who could hear the shadow of a cat sliding across a floor tile, stood alone on the Arkmages’ balcony, letting himself melt in the noise. For the moment his tawny eyes remained closed and squeezed tight. He would occasionally wince at the smash of glass, a window, or a carafe of wine maybe. He could hear the dripping of the taps in a tavern below the fortress. He could hear the feet stamping along to the lively tune of a skald and her ljot, somewhere by the boardwalks. He even knew which floorboards needed repairing. He could hear those who used the night to meet in alleys and cellars, to conspire and to rile. He could hear them whispering. Every single one of them.

Heimdall dragged himself from the ocean of noise for a moment, feeling a wave of nausea. It was hard, being so close to it all. So loud and so bright, here in the midst of it all. If he let himself open his eyes and ears to their fullest, he would be blind and deaf in seconds. Heimdall made sure to keep himself distant, as he was accustomed to.

Ignoring the dull beginnings of a headache to slake his curiosity, the god moved forward to the battlements and put his elbows on the stone. It felt warm to his skin, perhaps from the day’s sun, perhaps from always knowing nothing but ice-cold stone. The god smiled for a moment, and opened his eyes.

Heimdall leant forward to watch the glittering city below him. His eyes flicked about, hopping from street to street in an effort to keep them distracted. A cat was stealing some milk from a kitchen pot. On a balcony a man knelt down in front of a woman and lifted up a jewel, a ruby, if the god was not mistaken. It was a fake. In the north, between the walls and the city, a small girl sat on a stone with her head in her hands, whimpering. A few streets away, a man hammered at the door of a house with an iron bar. The man behind him was holding a knife. His hand was shaking. Heimdall drank it in. Tiny sips.

Behind him, he heard the padding of feet in soft cloth shoes. He heard fingers sliding across stone and feeling around door-frames. He waited patiently for the Arkmage to join him at the battlements before speaking. ‘I see you finally escaped the feast,’ Heimdall said, in a whisper that still managed to rumble.

Durnus chuckled in his own hoarse way. ‘Duty calls. You and the others are lucky; you can rely on the tired guest routine. I cannot.’

Heimdall smiled and sighed. He seemed to have relaxed since the morning. It would take them a while to acclimatise, he thought. It had been so long. He and Verix had definitely softened somewhat during dinner. Even Loki had been polite, and had managed a smile or two, even a laugh at one point. The Arkmage had been worried about exposing them to the hordes of greedy, curious councillors, but he had to give his compliments to the three gods; they were fine actors.

Durnus was feeling the effects of his favourite amber wine. He let his blind eyes droop until they were half-closed. Even in the darkness of his blindness, he could pick out a faint glow of the city lights. That was all he ever tasted. His ears did him proud. He too let himself melt into the noises of Krauslung. Although the beast had been stripped from him, his old vampyre senses had remained in place of his sight, and he too could hear and smell things no ordinary man could. He rubbed his tired face, feeling the creases under his fingertips, and sniffed the salty air. ‘So blissfully unaware,’ he said of the city.

BOOK: Dead Stars - Part One (The Emaneska Series)
12.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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