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|Dreams of Darkness Rising (Prism Vol 1)|
Author: Ross Kitson
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The first book in a new epic fantasy trilogy. When tragedy brings forth servant Emelia's powers of wild-magic she is embroiled in a quest to battle a seductively evil undead sorcerer. But the wild-magic comes at a cost--that of her mind.Rating: 5.00 Reviews: 1
Chapter 2 Kirit’s Eye
“You’d like wine? Wine? Does this look like a Feldorian tavern?” Jurges Innsman asked. He raised his voice over the raucous din of a half-dozen mariners roaring songs towards a motley collection of painted women at the back of the tavern.
The neatly presented young man smiled and shrugged, idly playing with a silver coin in his elegant fingers.
Jurges scowled and rummaged for the inn’s solitary bottle of wine on the back of the filthy bar. He displayed it to the patron who eyed it closely then indicated his acceptance. The barman filled a goblet with the deep red liquid then slammed the bottle down. The young man flipped him the coin then turned to watch the card game. He surreptitiously wiped the rim of the goblet before sipping its contents.
Jurges hated foreigners even more than he hated the locals. This was unfortunate given that he owned a decrepit seaside tavern in one of the dingiest ports in the continent of Nurolia. The Rose Tavern was an ironically named example of the worst sort of drinking den in the port of Kir. The dockland region of Kir had the appearance of a colossal shipwreck. The slimy wooden boardwalks lead to creaking piers and jetties that clawed at the tumultuous waters of the Northern Ocean. Kir’s small cove gave limited shelter from the winds that wailed from the Scattered Isles six hundred miles to the north.
In ages past, in the golden era of Azagunta, Kir (or Theles as it had been known in days gone by) had been the anchorage of choice for traders sailing towards Helien or returning to Aquatonia. It survived the Plague of Dust that had decimated the majority of Azagunta in the final days of the Era of Magic and this astonished many. They joked that its price for survival was to become a source of every known plague to torment man since that day. The haughty neighbours of Goldoria dubbed it Sogox’s barnacle, an irreverent reference to the demon god of disease.
The Rose Tavern, like its dozen compatriots whose amber lights haunted the portside of the Barnacle, was a haven for slavers, pirates, dishonest traders, thieves and, of course, gamblers. Jurges sneered at the specimens that played Kirit’s Eye tonight. Multi-national card games rarely ended well.
At the central table sat five players, cards arranged before them. The closest to the bar was a young brown-haired Thetorian called Hunor. His glittering earrings matched the twinkle in his eyes. On his left was Alfra’Te, a rotund Mirioth merchant who was relishing in the sound of his own voice.
To Hunor’s right was Jelbettio, a drunken Feldorian, all curls and tanned charm. The final pair of players were sullen Azaguntans—Olix and Malik—their auburn hair trimmed very short as was the current fashion amongst the criminal classes of the immoral isle.
Alfra’Te was dealing whilst chattering in Imperial, the common language of traders.
“There’s no doubt that the local market for quality carpets and cloth has dried up like an Azaguntan plague pit. I would say I’ll be heading to the Choosing when I’ve cleaned you losers out.”
His podgy hands were laden with cheap jewellery as he flicked the first set of cards out to the other four players.
“Which order is taking in this season?” Hunor asked.
Alfra’Te paused and clicked his tongue. His gold teeth glittered in the subdued light. Out of the corner of his eye Hunor could see flickering of hands between the two Azaguntans.
“It’s the Air-mages, young Hunor. Unfortunately Coonor is not the city to be visiting at the advent of winter. I swear I’ll be wearing my rugs as robes!”
Hunor and Jelbettio laughed, the latter swigging his ale as he did so.
“You could warm that fat back end of yours by enlisting to the Uristân legion, Alfra. I heard the lizards are chopping up your cousins for dinner again,” Jelbettio said, his voice slurred.
Alfra’Te flushed and his attitude became serious. Hunor winced at the jibe.
“Right…a fresh hand then, my kind sirs. The Porosti house is high, the Helgorki house is void. Threes reverse the run. Jelbettio, are you in?”
Jelbettio squinted at his six cards then tossed two at Alfra. The merchant passed two back. Jelbettio pushed a pile of gold forward. His game had been going well.
Malik, the smaller Azaguntan, smiled and asked for two also. As he moved to receive the cards Hunor transiently saw the edge of a card in his sleeve.
“How are the tides for the trip, Alfra? I can never decipher all that nautical rubbish. It’s like Wild-magic to me,” Hunor asked, his eyes evaluating the two Azaguntans.
Malik and Olix were clearly allies. Malik, the younger one was hard hard-featured with dark copper hair and a killer’s eye. Olix, the older and taller, was scarred from his mouth to his ear bestowing him a ghoulish leer. They were also both armed with swords and, Hunor suspected, concealed daggers.
Alfra’Te, eager to forget Jelbettio’s joke, began jabbering once more.
“I’m no expert m’self, young Hunor. Never sail without one of the Guild on the ship. Having said that, I’ve sailed the trade route betwixt Kâlastan and the Mist ports that often I could probably give them a run for their money. Now if you have the Eerian moon rising, the Pyrian moon falling and the other two absent then I reckon that makes for a strong east stream across the Northern Ocean. Olix, are you in?”
Olix shrugged and scratched his scar. “With what little you’ve left me. Three cards.”
Alfra’Te exchanged the cards and Olix pushed his remaining gold forwards. Hunor looked at the twisted face. Olix had the air of a professional criminal but he and his companion had been fleeced for most of the last hour. This stank of a scam. He should have listened to Jem.
Alfra’Te turned to look at Hunor as he glanced at his cards. He had a good hand: two mages, one duke, all in strong houses. He lingered on the choice and sipped his ale. His gaze flickered across the inn behind Olix and Malik.
The inn was deep, retreating from the wharf-side door back into the shadows. A dozen lanterns lit it, sputtering the fumes of whale oil into the air. The mariners in the far corner continued to bellow out songs, rather less than more in harmony with one another, while keeping time here and there with a playful slap on the thigh of one of their women. Three or four lone drinkers slumped at the bar by the side of the smartly dressed young Goldorian. Sat on the next table, four cloaked men spoke in whispers and shot occasional glances towards the game.
“I’m in, my vocal friend. One card if you please,” Hunor said. “Did I regale you with the tale of time I fought the Mud Ogre of Southern Foom, a beast so vile its halitosis could cripple a horse?”
Jelbettio roared with laughter and Alfra’Te looked bemused. Hunor pushed forth his gold and as he did so a large coin rolled from his pile and across the table. Jelbettio instinctively reached out for it and in his drunkenness knocked over his flagon. The cheap beer splashed over the table edge and onto Malik, who recoiled. Two cards fluttered down from the Azaguntan’s sleeve. Hunor smiled with satisfaction.
The moment seemed to hang in time as all eyes settled on the cards as they came to rest on the wet table.
Alfra’Te pushed his chair back as Olix and Malik rose, hands lunging to their swords. Jelbettio snarled and was on his feet drawing his rapier. Hunor twisted from his chair and spied the table of dark-garbed men rising and reaching for their blades.
Jelbettio swished his thin blade in the air before him and lunged. Olix parried the misjudged attack and slashed with his broad sword. Jelbettio gasped as the edge drew a deep wound in his belly, a spatter of blood covering the gold on the table.
Hunor swore as Jelbettio stiffened and dropped, foam bubbling from his mouth. Blade venom, that’s just my luck, thought Hunor. He reached behind his back and slid his sword from its sheath. Hunor then stood immobile, the glinting blade held just below waist height.
Malik approached, his eyes glittering. About ten feet behind him the four dark cloaked men moved from the table. The inn was eerily silent.
Hunor met Malik’s cold eyes with his own. Then he winked.
At the bar the prim Goldorian tutted and placed his goblet on the bar very precisely. He raised both hands, stepped forward and muttered arcane words.
The air seemed to thicken around his arms then rippled forth, like a stone thrown in a pond. The four dark-attired men were lifted from their feet as if struck by a hurricane. They crashed through the table and into the chairs, their weapons clattering on the floorboards.
Hunor made his move. Malik swung his sword and Hunor sidestepped, hooking his blade under the attack. The razor edged sword flashed in the amber torchlight.
Once more Hunor was still. Malik crumpled to the ground. The edge had carved a furrow across his left arm and face. Bright blood spurted from the flapping artery in his arm and he dropped his sword to press on the wound. The long cut on his face served to blind him as gore trickled into his eyes.
Olix looked at the devastation in horror. The four men were being held by a vice-like force. Two were wounded, with jagged pieces of wood impaled through their legs and were wailing. The other two lay under the remnants of the table.
The assassin Olix’s blade still shone with the sticky poison as he advanced. Hunor could see that his atypical fighting style had disconcerted his foe. He suppressed his cockiness—one nick from that sword and it was all over.
Hunor was like a statue as Olix closed the distance between them. Alfra’Te scuttled towards the door then paused to observe the finale of the battle.
The combatants’ eyes met and then held.
Olix pounced, whirling low as he attacked, his free hand pulling out a slim dagger. His envenomed sword darted at Hunor’s abdomen whilst his dagger stabbed in an arc to try and wound any parrying arm.
Once more Hunor made a single slash. The keen blade had sliced into Olix’s neck before the attack had come close. The assassin flailed as blood spurted across the inn and sprawled over the table, his poisoned weapons falling uselessly to the floor.
Hunor looked at the younger Azaguntan who was desperately trying to stem the bleeding from his arm. He wiped his sword with a black cloth and re-sheathed the weapon before scooping a handful of blood-flecked gold into a small bag. Hunor strode past the bar and gestured to the neat Goldorian.
“Come on, Jem! Time and tide and all that.”
A mist that had rolled in from the ocean thickened the evening air. It gave the worn timbers and grimy stone of Kir a glistening look, like the carapace of some giant insect.
Hunor and Jem strolled along the wharf side, navigating through the detritus of mankind that littered the cobbles in front of the taverns and bordellos. Gaudily painted harlots danced with sailors to pipe music. Yells and screams peppered the air as fistfights spilled from the ramshackle inns onto the street.
The pair may have presented a curious target to some ambitious bandit yet despite their appearance they conveyed an aura of confident strength.
Hunor was the taller. His brown hair was shoulder length and his features carried a roguish charm. His dark travelling cloak covered a blue tunic that in turn covered black leather armour. On his back was strapped a sword of Shorvorian design and at his belt was hitched a slender dagger.
Jem was a sharp contrast to his companion. The mage had lighter hair trimmed precisely into a short greased crop. His tidy moustache added a dash of colour to his pale boyish face. Jem’s clothes were quality made and had loose sleeves tamed by tight cuffs in the style of the Mirioth tailors. He carried a slim sword that hung from his waist.
Jem had been sulking since the pair had left The Rose Tavern. Hunor kept attempting conversation but each initiation was met with a dismissive tut from his friend. The two came to the central pier, now wrapped in a cloak of mist and paused at the bottom of City Street.
Hunor hid a smile. He knew Jem could never sulk for long without talking.
The mage stroked his moustache. “Well that was a quiet game of cards, Hunor. We really must look up those new friends of yours again.”
The Thetorian thief held his hands out in mock exasperation.
“How was I to know that someone was going to beat me to cheating? And to do it so, so badly. What a crime!”
“Well we can add that baby assassin to our growing list of enemies. Maybe we’ll regret not finishing the business there.”
“The kid was courteous enough not to use blade venom, unlike his mentor. It should be a valuable lesson for him. They should pay me for these pearls of wisdom, I swear.”
“Oh, absolutely,” Jem said. “I’m certain when his arm has been replaced by a large hook so that he finds himself quite unable to relieve any itches in his britches without damaging the family jewels, he’ll no doubt be sure to look us up and say thank you.”
Hunor chuckled at the Goldorian’s dry wit and Jem couldn’t help but crack a smile. The pair turned and started ambling up City Street as it wound its way from the portside to the old city.
“Did you see that merchant scamper when it all kicked off?” Hunor asked. “I can’t say that I’ve ever seen so large a Mirioth move that quick! Well maybe for a carpet sale.”
Jem shook his head with a faint smile. “It transpired to be a rough deal for your drunken Feldorian acquaintance though.”
“Play with assassins and drink too much. That’s not a recipe for general well-being in this town. It’s a shame—I had thought he’d be a good recruit to join us. Expand the portfolio, so to speak.”
“Seriously? If we were to run scams involving contraband alcohol perhaps...but he was hardly competent as a swordsman, or a thief. You know I feel we’d be better trying to enlist another Wild-mage.”
“Well we’re unlikely to find someone that satisfies all our needs, mate—be realistic. Azagunta hasn’t exactly got the widest choice has it?”
The ramshackle timbers of the docks were gradually giving way to a row of better presented houses as the two ascended the hill towards the city walls.
“Remind me again why we’re in this place,” Jem said. “It’s filthy and it stinks. Even the old city smells of blasted dead fish and that’s half a mile away. It took me a morning of spells to clean my room.”
“Jem, nowhere is ever going to be clean enough for you,” Hunor said. “It’s hardly my fault if the shipment I’d heard about ended up ten fathoms under the Corthinian archipelago, is it? There’s probably a Subaquan thief at this very moment picking through those quality silver goblets. Say, do you reckon Subaquans have thieves? I mean fish are free to grab under the sea, aren’t they?”
Jem looked in exasperation. Hunor swiftly interjected, sensing that Jem was about to launch into one of his pedantic diatribes about other cultures.
“So we’re at a real loose end, old mate. What say we catch a ship around to Bomor? The Sea of Mists has to be warmer come winter than this dump.”
The pair had reached the city gate so Hunor’s question hung in the dank air.
Kir had grown from the ashes of an ancient port called Theles, a city built in the boom of Azagunta during the Era of Magic. Its archaic stones were now blackened and drab. The crumbling wall that once held carvings and frescos of beauty now only displayed vague shapes that hinted of a magical grandeur some twelve hundred years past.
It was as if the city was embarrassed at what it had become. The walls served to contain a memory of what once was. Yet even this had been tainted over the years by shabby restorations and tasteless modification, the hallmark of the island of Azagunta, the so-called Isle of Thieves.
Two city guards scowled as Jem and Hunor approached. Their only remit was to keep out thieves and lower life forms from the small walled city.
Hunor beamed a large smile. “Good day, kindest sirs. Imagine our dismay when we realised that all the beauty to see in finest Kir was behind these walls where our salubrious accommodation resides and not in the charnel pit that lies at its delicate feet. Can we trouble you to allow our return?”
Two coins glittered in Hunor’s agile fingers. The guards nodded gruffly and the pair passed the gates, slipping the money to them as they entered.
Jem resumed their conversation as they strolled through the Old City. The mist of the docks had left them halfway up the hill but the air remained chilly. Whale oil lamps gave the narrow streets a strange amber glow. Hunor could make out only two of the moons through the clouds above: the silver Eerian and the red Pyrian.
“Maybe Bomor’s not so bad an idea, Hunor. I do worry about going back to Bulia until that fiasco with Igred is sorted out. Mind you, I could do with attempting to retrieve some of the clocks that I was half way through making from the house.”
“Not really worth a knife in the back, mate. We’ll get back there soon enough,” Hunor said. His keen eyes scanned the busy street ahead. They were passing the guild houses near to where the city warden’s keep was located.
“How about contemplating a change? We could traverse the Sea of Mists and see what’s transpiring with the Mirioth legion and their lizardmen neighbours? Or how about the Emerald Mountains? Perhaps some worthy cause will appeal to us as we travel? You know, something different to illicit pursuits, for once?”
“Not enough profit and too much danger, Jem. We’ve been there and done that remember? I thought we’d discussed this to death? You’ll be signing us up for the Artorian Knights next and going out to hunt trolls in the Wastes.”
“Technically we wouldn’t be eligible for the Knights as they only recruit from old Artorian lines,” Jem said.
Hunor rolled his eyes as Jem began one of his lectures on the ancestry of the various orders of Knights in Nurolia. They were nearing the end of Gilder Road. Then out of the shadows of an alley he spotted a lean figure nodding towards him.
Hunor nudged his companion, letting his hand rest on his dagger. Jem stopped mid-conversation and peered towards the alley.
“Six in the alley. There are also two on the roof with crossbows.”
Hunor nodded. He could sense the mage preparing a defence and considering all the various escape options. Hunor prayed Jem wasn’t planning a fizzy wall; his stomach was griping enough after the food in the Rose Tavern.
The lean man crossed the street and stood before the pair. He was remarkably ugly. His lumpy face was crisscrossed with scar tissue. One eye was glass and clearly hadn’t been cleaned in a while.
“A good Leafstide to you both. My master was wondering if you’d be gracious enough to give him twenty minutes of your time?”
Certain that both crossbows were trained on his head Hunor produced his most charming grin.
“Kind yeoman of mighty Kir, you catch us at a slight disadvantage. I am afraid as mere traders and strangers in this ancient city we can’t think who would want to waste their valuable time with our exceptionally dull company.”
The lean man gave a lopsided leer, his mouth evidently restricted by his scars.
“Why Guildmaster Linkon invites you and he’s not a man who is readily refused, good trader.”
Jem sighed as he saw Hunor’s eyes twinkle.
The guild house of the West Avenue thieves had once been a great library. Its robust walls were designed to convey an air of tranquillity, felt in the hey day of the Azaguntan Cabal to facilitate learning. Those aspirations were now as dusty and decayed as the nation that had believed in them and the many centuries since had seen a new knowledge come to the Azaguntans—that of crime. And as the ethos of a nation had evolved so the western library had twisted and changed. Partition walls, wooden screens, newer bricks and mortar had divided the long chambers into a warren of rooms and passages, some overt and some secret. Different spans of aging plaster—yellowed by the continued haze of tobacco smoke—covered the walls patchily like the skin of some leprous ghoul.
Hunor’s distaste at the place was clearly magnified a thousand-fold in his particular companion. Jem’s nose was curling to the point of becoming a snout and his moustache twitched like a nervous rabbit.
Their guide, the scarred man from Gilder Road, was leading them through the passages. They passed several rooms where groups of burly men sat playing Kirit’s Eye. All were armed and most rooms had racks of crossbows, oiled and ready. Jem took it all in as he walked behind Hunor, logging all their positions should the need arise to flee.
They paused at the base of a staircase whilst the scarred man talked to two thugs. Jem felt a tingle in his head and glanced to the left.
In the shadows of the staircase was a man, perhaps in his late thirties, with dirty blond hair. He was dressed in an untidy white shirt and leather pants and was muttering something to himself. Jem sensed the magic in the air around him; he was another Wild-mage.
Hunor nudged Jem. The scarred man had begun to ascend the stairs and the two thugs stared at the pair. Hunor slipped past them with a wink, followed by Jem.
The door at the top of the stairs was heavy oak and reinforced with iron bands. Another two ruffians, clearly with a hint of goblin in them, stood guard. They parted to allow the trio through.
Hunor and Jem entered an expansive chamber. The room was perhaps thirty feet wide by forty feet deep. A fire in the far wall sent dancing shadows across the plushly decorated walls. The majority of the floor space was occupied by a bewildering array of furniture: chairs, tables and cupboards, all of the finest craftsmanship. The plaster in here was in much better condition than the patches in the rooms below and several grand paintings were hung on the walls, dating from the Eerian Empire.
The scarred man weaved around the chairs and short tables and came to a halt before a grand desk. On the far side sat a short solid man.
“Jem, Hunor! Boys! Where’ve you ass-monkeys been hiding these last few years? Hey, how long’s it been now?” the small man asked.
Jem nodded curtly whilst Hunor held his hands out in a gesture of mock surprise. “Linkon Arikson. How can a visit to Sogox’s Barnacle be complete without a drink with you?”
Linkon laughed then winced in pain. He was a small yet muscular man with a nose that had been broken so many times it had come to resemble a small parsnip. This comical appearance fooled very few in Kir. His eyes were dark and told of death. One did not rise to Guildmaster by any other way than a close allegiance with murder. His tattooed hand was pressing a pig’s bladder against his jaw.
“Scarseye, go and scram will you. Your face makes the milk curdle. Go steal me some money or something, huh?” Linkon said to their companion.
Scarseye glowered at Linkon then left, the door closing heavily behind him.
“Cold, that one Hunor, stone cold,” Linkon said. “No honour amongst these younger thieves, present company being excepted. Would kill your mother, eat your kids and do your dog if you crossed him.”
Jem sat in an opulent armchair and straightened his clothes. His gaze flitted through the antique furnishings. He reached to a small table next to his seat and rearranged four candlesticks to form a precise line.
Hunor remained standing and poured a glass of wine from a golden jug on the desk, idly pushing aside some parchments and scrolls.
“Why the bladder, Linkon?”
“Damn tooth rot again, Hunor. Tried everything. This one’s from the Guild of Healers, some old Midlundian cure. There’s hags blood, yarkel eyes and griffon feather inside it or something. I’d just blown twenty silver on something that smelt like fish crap from the apothecary as well.”
“The whole town smells of fish waste,” Jem said.
“So how come you Wild-mages can’t do any better than the quacks? My own boy downstairs can blow a hole in a garrison but can’t even sort my tooth out.”
Jem sighed and began to explain in an air of irritation. “There are few magic disciplines that can produce healing, Mr Arikson. Really it’s the forte of Dark-mages, altering flesh and blood. I also seem to recall that Galvorian monks can use their arts to mend bones and treat wounds.”
“Ingor’s nuts! I’d not let one of those potato-heads near my killer smile. Anyways it’s been too long boys. Hear you monkeys have been winding up Igrid down south?”
Hunor sipped his wine, fixing his eyes on Linkon.
“Ah come on, Linkon, you know Igrid. He’s a jester. It was all some misunderstanding about his niece and an Aquatonian necklace. It’ll come good. We just fancied a change of scene—thought we’d nip up to the seaside and try those eels that the Barnacle is so famous for. Did I tell you the story about me, Jem and the Molten Eel of Pyrios?”
Linkon shook his head to indicate his interest in one of Hunor’s stories was at best miniscule. A lull descended on the room, which was soon broken by the short Guildmaster.
“Any how let’s get to business before we all drop our trousers and start fencing, huh? I’ll admit I’m pleased you boys are in my town. No really. I’ve a big job that needs your…ah, combined talents.”
Hunor sat next to Jem, who smoothed his moustache.
“A concerned party has contracted me to locate a valued item matching a very particular description. Simple enough? Turns out Engin’s dice aren’t rolling too well this autumn. I’ve sent three crews out for three separate items that match the description already and I’ve just got wind of another.”
“Why do you need our, as you put it, combined talents, Mr Arikson?” Jem asked.
“I’m sure the valuable in question will be tucked away with some magic wards around it. Credit where it’s due, you boys are good at this sort of thing. It’ll be worth your interest,” Linkon said, pressing the pig’s bladder tight on his jaw.
Hunor and Jem exchanged a look.
“First, who’s the job for? Second where is it?” Hunor asked.
Hunor saw Linkon’s eyes flicker almost imperceptibly at a scroll on his vast desk. The Guildmaster smiled with some effort, rearranging the pig’s bladder poultice. His voice was cooler and Hunor worried for a moment he had gone too far.
“First of all you don’t need to know who’s behind the money. That’s the way I work boys you remember that? Second of all, the job’s in Eeria. Coonor, to be specific.”
Hunor groaned. Coonor: the City of the Mists. What was it about mists today? It was the only place in mainland Nurolia that was colder than where they were now.
Jem sat forward. “Coonor! The cleanest city outside of Goldoria! Please continue, Mr Arikson, please continue.”
It was Hunor’s turn to sigh.
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