Authors: RJ Blain
THE EYE OF GOD
PEN & PAGE PUBLISHING
The Eye of God
Copyright © 2013 by RJ Blain
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
For more information or to contact the publisher, please visit penandpage.ca or rjblain.com
Original cover art copyright © 2013 by Chris Howard
This book is dedicated to my father.
I wish you were around to see this. I think you’d be surprised.
Mom, thanks for putting up with me all of these years. I know I’m responsible for more than a few of your gray hairs, and I really appreciate all you’ve done for me.
Heather, thanks for being my editor and putting up with all of my writer quirks. Without you, this book wouldn’t have gotten so far.
Brooke, Jaime, and the rest of the Google+ Hangout crowd:
Thanks for keeping me company.
To Samantha Potter, Russell Holly, and Natacha Ozbasar: Without your support, I never would’ve been able to publish this book.
And last, but not least, I’d like to thank my husband for putting up with me as I worked on writing this book.
The wind clawing at Terin’s back was cold from the winter still clinging to the neighboring mountains. He pressed closer to the cliff, digging at the stone until his fingers and toes ached. His boots hung over his shoulder, but until he reached the top, he didn’t dare to put them back on. Howling its fury at his resistance to its will, a gale blasted at him before settling to a calmer, whispering breeze.
As the sun set, the shadow of the columned manor stretched over him and cast him into darkness. Lantern light spilled over the plateau’s edge, and its glow taunted him.
Terin risked looking down, and a shudder coursed through him. One by one, the lights of Lower Erelith City winked to life. From his perch near the top of the plateau, they resembled stars in the night sky. If he made even one mistake, he wouldn’t need to worry about his master’s will or his mission; there wouldn’t be enough left of him to bother scraping off the stones.
At least it wouldn’t hurt for long if he did fall.
Every muscle ached with the effort of maintaining his grip. Until true night fell, he couldn’t climb to the gardens above. So long as he remained hidden, so long as he obeyed his master’s will, he’d be safe from his master’s wrath—so long as he succeeded at his task.
Worry gnawed at him as he stared up at the sky. Remnant streaks of red and gold lit the western horizon. The stones beyond the manor’s shadow glowed with the crimson hue of blood.
One finger at a time, Terin peeled his right hand off the stone he’d been clutching for the better part of an hour, biting his lip to keep silent. His skin pulled and tore open old when he reached for the next handhold above his head. Ignoring the protest of his stiff muscles, he inched his way upward.
While most of the cliff was bare stone, the presence of a spring encouraged things to grow. Scrub clung to the rocks, cracking them and making the cliff unstable. Where he’d spent most of the afternoon waiting, the strong, rugged rocks offered stable handholds. Near the estate, gnarled roots protruded from crumbling stone, tearing at him as he sought to grip something that wouldn’t break away under his weight. Too many of the mossy stones shifted and creaked when he brushed against them. Sweat dripped from Terin’s brow, stinging his eyes before falling to his chin.
Laughter echoed from above, and the faint melody of a harp ushered in the night.
Terin sighed and stared at the tangle of roots he was crawling over. It should’ve been an easy mission: Sneak into the estate, find any sales slips lacking the Emperor’s seal, and bring them back to his master. All before dawn. No one was to be killed or injured if he could avoid it. It was something he’d done before.
Any other night, the task would’ve been simple. What had he done to earn his master’s ire, to have to do such a thing during a festival party? At least he hadn’t been ordered to assassinate someone, though he didn’t expect the respite to last long.
“Time to get this over with,” he muttered, worming his way up to where the Citizen’s garden skirted the cliff’s edge. The hilt of his short sword jabbed him in the ribs, and he twisted around to adjust it. He would’ve rather left it behind, but his master had insisted he bring the weapon with him.
Arguing wasn’t an option; he’d brought it without voicing his complaint. Shaking his head, Terin forced his attention to his task.
A thick hedge of roses formed a fence around the property. The foliage blocked his view of the estate, but it didn’t mask the giggling of women or the lusty chuckles of men.
Terin wiggled as close to the roses as he dared, pausing to catch his breath. A flash overhead drew his eye. Balls of light, brought to life by God’s Word, danced in the sky and cast opalescent hues on the revelers within the garden. His mouth gaped open.
Seven balls, each one matching the colors of the rainbow, darted to and fro, leaving streams of colors in their wake. Terin swallowed back the lump in his throat. While seven wasn’t so great of a feat, it meant trouble lurked on the other side of the hedge.
The thought of meeting a Speaker left a sour taste in his mouth. Worse, the possibility existed that the Speech-wrought display wasn’t the work of just one Speaker. One Terin could handle. Two would add more complexity to his mission than he liked.
Terin’s hope of a bloodless night faltered as two more of the lights burst into existence. Those within the garden let out a cheer. Adjusting his grip on the cliff, Terin lowered his hand to his sword and fingered the leather grip.
While one Speaker could conjure nine lights at one time, it was unlikely enough that Terin was forced to assume there were at least two in the gardens. He would plan for three being present and hoped he could slip by them as they worked to entertain the Citizens.
Terin hesitated a moment longer, watching the balls bob and dance among the stars to the melody of the harp. Without any warning that he’d crossed the line between doing his duty and disobedience, heat stabbed at his neck. His breath hissed through his teeth, and he grabbed at the collar around his throat. The metal singed his fingertips. He forced his eyes back to the ground, struggling to keep silent.
Such displays were meant for the eyes of the Citizens alone, not for slaves, and especially not for a slave like him, who had a duty to fulfill.
The collar fell inert, and the burning ebbed to a throb. Terin spared one more glance at the lights. Warmth spread through his throat in the promise of punishment. He sighed, lowered his eyes, and crawled onto the precarious ledge.
Resentment left a bitter taste in his mouth. The scripture to bring the lights to life was on the tip of his tongue, but he didn’t dare Speak. That was a privilege of the Citizens. His Speech belonged to his master, and his master wouldn’t reward him with something as useless as watching lights.
A rainbow glow illuminated the ground in front of him, mocking him. Terin shook his head and forced himself to focus on his duty. Where the hedge of roses ended, a pale stone wall guarded the estate. It perched on the decaying edge of the plateau. Its foundation, clinging to the rocks, was warm to his touch.
The whispers of God’s Words clung to the wall and the underlying stone in a litany meant to keep the edge from crumbling to Lower Erelith City far below. With a few Words of his own, he could send it plummeting down. Terin secured his hold on one of the stones and peered over the edge.
Lights flickered below, though they were few and far between, lacking the strength of the lanterns in the center of Lower Erelith City. None of the lights moved. While few risked living so close to the plateau, Terin didn’t want to be responsible for even more deaths. He’d killed enough people—innocent people—all at his master’s will.
Terin sighed and traced his finger along a line of mortar sealing the marble blocks together. With a few Words, a little concentration, and the sapping effort of Speaking, he’d have all of the distraction he needed to obey his master’s orders.
As if sensing his intent to obey his master, the collar cooled and erased the remnants of his punishment for staring at the lights meant for the Citizens’ eyes alone.
Terin’s mouth twisted into a humorless smile. If he destroyed some of the Citizen’s wall to do his master’s bidding, it mattered none to the collar—none to his master—as long as he didn’t kill any of the guests or guards.
Terin closed his eyes and drew several deep breaths. He slid his legs off the edge of the cliff and dangled from his hands until he found a foothold below. He climbed below the wall’s foundation, listening to the whispers of the ensorcelled stone until it faded to nothing more than a faint hum in his mind and ears. A great outcropping of smooth, weather-worn granite jutted out from the softer white stones, marking where the cliff stabilized.
Water trickled down its face from a crack above. A fine mist cooled his face. Thick blankets of moss and fern clung to the stone, in sharp contrast to the rest of the plateau’s faces.
The top of the vein stretched a few feet above where the wall overlooked the cliff. Terin dug his fingers into the cracked mortar and climbed up. The added height let him peek over the top of the wall.
Glass shards reflected the colors of the rainbow, and the light illuminated the rusting nails embedded in the stone.
Terin scowled at the deterrent. The precaution would keep a Citizen out, of that he had no doubt. It stopped most thieves, since the good ones let themselves in through the front gates when no one was looking. Terin would’ve preferred the gates, too, but his master had been adamant: He was to approach the estate from the cliffs, not from the streets.
He glanced down at the city below again, and let out a frustrated huff. With one slip—one little mistake—he’d be free, but even the thought of it triggered the collar’s warning heat. His muscles stiffened, and alternating waves of hot and cold stabbed at his muscles and bones.
Terin closed his eyes.
Death would have to come to him another way—a way his master hadn’t forbidden. When the paralysis faded, Terin reached up to touch the thin ring encircling his throat.
It cooled to the temperature of the air, sensing his resignation to his fate and his master’s will.
His day would come. Until then, he’d do the best he could and hope to dodge the fall of his master’s heavy hand, not that he had much luck with that in the past.
The lights exploded overhead in a shower of streamers which fell off the side of the cliff and then swooped. Delighted cries once again shattered the peace of the night, followed by a softer applause.
It was time. Terin untied the laces of his boots and put them on. Shaking his head at his sword, he unbuckled it and set it down. Lying down on his stomach, Terin placed his hand on the marble wall below. He stared at where the foundation and the cliff met.
“O, Land, Gift of God, treasure of the Mortal Man, open and share thy wealth with all,” he Spoke, focusing his will on the weakened cliff. The whispers of God’s Word imbuing the stone swelled to a discordant scream. The lingering presence and will of the Speaker who’d once secured the wall to the plateau struggled against him.