Read The Viper's Fangs (Book 2) Online

Authors: Robert P. Hansen

The Viper's Fangs (Book 2)

BOOK: The Viper's Fangs (Book 2)
3.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

The Viper’s Fangs

Book 2 of Angus the Mage Series

By Robert P. Hansen

 

Copyright 2014 by Robert P. Hansen

Kindle Edition

All rights reserved.

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to Ronda Swolley, of Mystic Memories
Copy Editing, for the copy edit, and Linda Foegen of American Book Design for
the cover art.

Dedication

For Tom, a long-time friend.

About the Author

Robert P. Hansen teaches philosophy at a community
college and writes fiction and poetry in his spare time. His work has appeared
in various small press publications since 1994.

Connect With Me

For updates on my writing, visit my blog at:
http://www.rphansenauthorpoet.wordpress.com/
.

Although I seldom use it, you can also follow me on
twitter (
http://twitter.com/frummery
).

Amazon author page:
http://www.amazon.com/Robert-P.-Hansen/e/B00I22730I/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Additional Titles

A Bard Out of Time
: a long fantasy poem
accompanied by other fantasy poems.

A Field of Snow and Other Flights of Fancy
:
a collection of light verse and other short poems.

Corpus Colossal
: a collection of all the
poems in the collections published in the spring of 2014.

Last Rites…and Wrongs
: a collection of
macabre poetry.

Love & Annoyance
: a collection of poems
on love and philosophical speculation.

Of Muse and Pen
: a collection of poems on
writing and the creative process.

Potluck: What’s Left Over
: a collection of
poems with no particular theme.

The Drunken Wizard’s Playmates and Other
Stories
: a humorous, fantasy adventure novel with a few extra stories added
in.

The Snodgrass Incident
: a science fiction
novel in which the crew of
The Snodgrass
travels to Enceladus to
investigate the formation of a new Tiger Stripe.

The Tiger’s Eye
: the first book of the
Angus the Mage series of fantasy novels.

Worms and Other Alien Encounters
: a
collection of science fiction stories.

Prologue

1

“Sardach,” Fanzool said as he placed the components of the
divination spell on top of his desk. They were the standard components: a live
rat, a bowl of purified water, a small pile of fine rock dust, a blossoming
plant—a very costly daisy, one of the few still blooming this close to winter—and
a small brazier of coals. Lastly, he set Argyle’s coin—the item he would be
divining—on a fine silk cloth in the center of them all.

He sighed and said with a tight voice, as if he were forcing
a command into the form of a polite request, “I will need privacy.” He paused
for a long moment and then added, “It is a challenging spell, and distractions
will add to the difficulty of the reading.”

Behind him there was a brief rustling like the whisper of a
veil caught in the slightest of breezes—at least, that’s what he imagined he
heard as he felt the presence of Sardach move ever-so-slightly back. But
Sardach didn’t leave; he was still there, still hovering….

“Please, Sardach,” Fanzool begged without looking up,
without hiding the strain in his voice. “I must weave together several strands
in a very precise manner.” He doubted his words would make a difference, but he
needed to say them even if they were only for his own peace of mind. They were
comforting and helped him focus on the task before him. But Sardach would stay
or leave because Sardach decided to stay or leave, and nothing he could say
would change that; only Argyle had sway over Sardach, and he had ordered him to
go with Fanzool to Blackhaven Tower. What other orders he had been given,
Fanzool did not know—did not
want
to know. But they hadn’t left yet, and
the foul thing wouldn’t leave him alone! How could he find out who had
possessed the coin with the stench of Sardach breathing warmly on his neck?

Still the mind
. He thought.
Still the mind. Still
the body. Still the—blah blah blah.
He knew the mantra, but it didn’t work
for him. He
always
struggled when he cast spells. That’s why he had
chosen divination, where any mistakes were far less likely to be deadly than
they were in the other areas of magic. Except where Argyle was concerned. Then
the mistakes
were
deadly. He
needed
to make a clear reading. If
he didn’t….

And Sardach was adding to that burden.

He shook his head. It wouldn’t do to think about it any
longer; he needed to focus on the spell. He had cast it before, and there were
no real dangers with it, even if he made major errors. But it was a delicate
process, and mistakes in casting always led to mistakes in the divination, and
he did not want those mistakes. He
desperately
wanted the spell to work
so he could tell Argyle—with certainty, this time—that Typhus had not touched
the coin. He sighed and reluctantly turned around.

Sardach
was gone
! A wave of relief flooded
through him, even though it was only a brief respite and nothing more. Still,
it was enough—for now—and he set to work on the spell. He took a deep breath
and removed the dagger from his belt. He held it before him, studying his
reflection in the polished surface. There was no sign of Sardach in the
reflection, but he couldn’t escape the nagging feeling of Sardach’s warm breath
against his neck. He turned his gaze away from the blade and toward the rat. It
was scurrying in its little cage, testing the corners, poking its pinkish nose
and paws out of the holes….

He always hated the first step in the casting, but it was
unavoidable. He
had to
kill the rat. Not that he liked rats—he
didn’t—but he didn’t like killing, even when it was necessary. And it was
necessary. He couldn’t cast the spell without a fresh strand of death magic,
one that was still clinging to the life that was ending. The further removed
from that life the death strand was, the less successful the divination would
be, and he needed success. Desperately. It was the only way he could avoid seeing
Voltari again.

Yes, he would have to kill the rat, and it would be messy. It
would be a slow death, because he needed time to weave the threads together. It
would be a noisy death, too. Dying rats squeal. But there was no help to it; he
needed that fresh strand of death—that
dying
strand. It was the only way
to reach into the coin’s past to bring the residue of those who had held it before
him to the surface. He needed that residue to rekindle the coin’s past back to
some semblance of life, to build the images into the illusion, to
see
who had once held it. If one of them was Typhus….

He sighed, opened the top of the rat’s cage and caught up
the rat in his hand. It wasn’t the first time he had captured a rat, and that
made it easy to avoid the teeth, to pin down the claws, to make the deep slit
in its throat.

It was messy. But he had prepared for it. The cover for the
cage was in place before too much blood had sprayed across his desk, and he had
made sure to face the cut away from the other components of the spell. If they
were contaminated, he would have to begin again, to kill another rat, to buy
another daisy. Still, he would have to clean his desk. Again.
Why must I
have to be the one to kill it? Why can’t someone else do it?
But he knew
the answer. The spell would be attuned to him, and only he could kill the rat.
Or cat. He had had to do that once when the shop ran out of rats. That was a
strange time. Chickens were popular; you could eat them afterward. But they
were
very
messy, and Fanzool didn’t like messiness any more than he
liked killing. Rats were small and didn’t have as much blood as chickens. He
had tried a mouse, once, but it wasn’t large enough; it died too quickly. It
really didn’t matter
what
was killed, just that
something
was
killed.

He turned away from the still struggling rat and concentrated
on the magical energies within him and brought those around him into focus. It
was the normal mix of strands: the life-giving shades of green permeated the
flower; the liquid blue wove its way through the bowl of purified water; the
rich, rustic brown stretched out from the rock dust; the subdued, deep red pulsing
within the embers and brazier; and the deep greenish-black of the rat’s dying. It
would be all black by the time he finished the spell, and once it was, it would
be nearly useless for him. It was the dying that made the past open to the
present, and only then for but a brief glimpse.

He reached out for a greenish-black strand and anchored it
around his left pinky. Then he turned to the coin. This was the delicate part;
he needed to find the tiny tendrils of magic left behind by those who had held
it, separate them from the strands embedded in the coin’s nature, and knot them
together with the other strands of the spell.

He bent to work, a part of him distantly aware of what
hovered behind him,
within
him, watching what he was doing, seeing what
he was seeing. But it was only a small part that noted his companion’s presence;
the rest was absorbed in the casting of the spell, the weaving of the knots,
the images fluttering to life as he went.

His image came first, since he was the last to touch the
coin, and he quickly cast it aside. Then Argyle’s dreadful sneer began to come
into focus, and he once again heard the threat Argyle had made and the sadistic
laughter that accompanied it.
I will kill you if you fail.
He banished
the image of Argyle—if it were only that easy to banish Argyle, himself!—but
not the fear it brought, and he once more wished the mantra worked for him.

He delved deeper, unmasking the history of the coin one
hand, one face at a time, looking for the one he sought, looking for Typhus.
There was a large man, obese beyond belief and bejeweled like a king. Although
he had never met him before, he knew the man by reputation:
Dirk
. Of all
the names that could have been given to the man, Dirk had to be the least
likely. A thin knife?
Him
? No, it wasn’t his appearance that named him;
it was his actions.
Dirk
didn’t mind killing any more than Argyle did.
He shuddered and thrust the image aside, allowing room for the next one to
coalesce.

It was a young man—the thief Argyle had mentioned? Giorge,
was it? He looked like a thief: small and wiry, but surprisingly well-muscled
for a boy of his size. He could easily get into—and out of—tight places, and
his dark complexion would be a shadow’s lover, so intermingled they could be.
He turned to the face and studied it, memorizing the contours of the angular
cheeks, the playful dark-brown eyes, the lopsided grin, the thin black
moustache that was so sparse that it had no business being there, and the
short-cropped black hair, only a little longer than his thumbnail. When he was
satisfied he would recognize the boy if he saw him again, he moved on.

The next image startled him, and his fingers fluttered,
almost losing their grip on the myriad strands of magic.
Typhus!
he
screamed in his mind.
It can’t be! He’s dead!
The image began to fade,
and Fanzool hastily reinforced the knots he was making, adjusting the pattern
until it worked the spell back into its fullest potency. As the image
stabilized and cleared up, he bit his lip and examined it more closely. He knew
the appearance of Typhus well; he had seen it many times while searching for
him for Argyle, but that search had proven to be fruitless, and he had assumed
it was because the assassin was dead. It was a reasonable assumption, since he
knew of nothing that could block a divination so completely. Had someone found
a way to do it? Had
Voltari
?

There was no doubt a striking similarity between Typhus and the
image he saw before him, but there were differences. Were they merely cosmetic?
Disguises intended to conceal what lay beneath them? Typhus was a master of
disguise; an assassin of his quality had to be. If his targets saw him, recognized
him….

Typhus had no beard, but this image did—a scruffy one that sorely
needed tending. And his hair? It was black and long enough to drape over the
top of his collar. Typhus never wore his
dark-brown
hair that way. Had
he dyed it? Was he wearing it long to throw off pursuit? And where was the
scar? Even if it were hidden from casual observation, it couldn’t hide from his
divination; the spell
always
showed the true image of the target. That
scar was too much a part of the truth of Typhus for it to be concealed from
him. It ran down his neck, from the left ear to the collarbone, and there was
no sign of it!
No sign?
Fanzool squinted and looked more closely.
It
is
there, but it is smaller, much smaller, barely a crescent snick right below the
ear.
He frowned, and his frown deepened as he continued his appraisal.

The eyes were wrong, too. Typhus had grey eyes, and these
were blue, almost silver in appearance, and there was a kind of naïve kindness
in them. Typhus’s eyes held no kindness at all; they were cold, unfeeling,
ugly
eyes. Every time he had seen them in the images of his divinations, they sent a
chill through him. But these eyes? They were almost friendly.
Almost
.
There was a hint of something sinister hanging about their edges, as if
something hideous lurked in their depths. Or was there? Was he merely imagining
that he saw a touch of Typhus in them? He frowned and took in the broader image
of the body.

This man was younger than Typhus. Typhus was over forty, and
this man looked in his early thirties and carried himself as if he were somehow
younger than that. The skin tone was wrong, too; this man was pale, almost
ashen, and Typhus was ruddy of complexion. That nose had been broken, but none
of the other images he had seen of Typhus had a broken nose.
None
. Still,
it could have happened recently….

No
, he concluded,
This is not Typhus
.

Typhus always wore a custom-made padded leather tunic
reinforced with chain links. It had all the pockets he needed and those pockets
were filled with the godforsaken things he used when he assassinated people. And
where were his form-fitting, sleek, tight, breeches? He would never part with
those; they were wrought from silk spun by enchanted spiders. But this man wore
the robes of a wizard—a black silk robe like Voltari’s—and he carried himself
the way a wizard would, not an assassin. He was a bit taller than Typhus, a bit
heavier….
It must be Angus, the wizard who had given the coin to Giorge. But
he could be mistaken for Typhus, so much alike they are! But the differences
….

The image hovered before him for some time before he let it
dissolve so he could seek the next one. But there was no next one. The residue
ended with Angus, and there was no more trail to follow. Fanzool worked the
spell to its fullest magnitude, trying to draw into focus the smallest of
fragments left behind by those who had possessed the coin before this wizard,
this Angus. But there was nothing.
Voltari
, Fanzool thought with hideous
certainty.
Somehow he erased the residue!
It was the only explanation.
The coin was nearly a thousand years old, and it should have had a very long
history, one tracing back to the coinsmith who had pressed it for King Urm. At
the very least—

Unless Angus had forged the coin himself. His brow furrowed
as he considered the idea. Could it be a counterfeit coin? Could Angus have
found a way to forge anew the coins of Urm? It would take a great deal of skill
and knowledge to do it. He would have to know King Urm’s profile—that could be
copied from another coin, couldn’t it? If he had one genuine coin, it would
tell him all he needed to know to replicate it—the weight of the gold, the
placement of the symbols, King Urm’s profile. Yes, if he had one to use as a
model, it could easily be done. But it would take a master craftsman to do it.

BOOK: The Viper's Fangs (Book 2)
3.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Head Games by Cassandra Carr
Vulcan's Forge by Brul, Jack Du
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
Blue Smoke by Nora Roberts
Letters from Yelena by Guy Mankowski
Cloudburst by Ryne Pearson
The Brush-Off by Shane Maloney
Antidote to Venom by Freeman Wills Crofts