the heft and the edge 10/6/2020
The Twist Inside
This is the second chapter of Inventions -part 2 of The Twist Inside
This is what I call a portmanteau chapter. It updates the reader on the activities of lesser characters and supplementary plots. Of course, all the characters and plots will come together in dramatic incidents later in this novel or in Vol. 3 of the Song of Ages trilogy. Everything is important.
This portmanteau reintroduces a character thought dead at the end of The Best of Men, follows the survivors of two atrocities committed by the Black Company, and brings us up to date on the fate of the torturers Franner and Creel.
The mortal remains of all these characters exist in various states of life or death. Some are heading in the right direction, some are not.
It all makes a lot more sense if you’ve already read
The Best of Men
Morgan Trant was never a reckless man. Quite likely he’d never have considered cantering in along the main road to Moreda. And today there was not ever a possibility. Morgan trusted that feeling he got when he knew something was wrong. A man with as many enemies as he had, learns to be wary.
It could be that the Black Company were still in occupancy. If they were then he’d give them a surprise. There was no contest. Instead of using the main road he walked his horse along minor paths through the trees of the home forest.
His first confirmation that things had indeed gone awry with his comrades was the sight of Hoggy Rezer doubled over with his trousers round his ankles, apparently having sexual congress with a tree stump. Only he wasn’t moving. And on closer inspection his innards were spilling from a gash in his belly. He’d taken a severe cut through his midriff that not only opened his guts but had sliced through his trouser belt. He must have staggered through the woods, one hand holding up his trousers and the other fighting a losing battle trying to keep his body together.
Trant grinned at the thought. He’d like to have seen that.
But if Hoggy had bought himself a grubby little death then Trant couldn’t hold out much hope for the rest of the crew.
Morgan continued his circumspect approach to the manor. He found other corpses on the way. Some were members of the Company, others had vermillion cloaks tangled about their stiff bodies. There’d been a battle then, and not long over, less than a couple of days.
Perhaps he should have got back sooner. Perhaps not. Mart Skarrick, his second in command was no fool and no slouch. He’d have had the boys well organized, and well-motivated. It must’ve been the sorcerers who had failed them. So much for Chaldonie and his precious powers.
Trant dismounted, tethered his horse on a branch and covered the final twenty yards of woodland on foot. With his dark clothes he wouldn’t be seen against the blacks and greens of the forest edge. He looked out. The house occupied the centre ground of a circular clearing a good mile wide. But today the house seemed as though hunkered down, oppressed by the weight of purple clouds heavy with rain. A cold breeze was getting up. The windows of the house were black and blank.
In the fields all around parties of soldiers did gruesome work. Some with horses and traps, others with only handcarts, they worked their way through the mud and blood gathering up the fallen, and parts of the fallen. There were bodies raised with reverence and carried gently to a ground where graves waited to receive them. There were cadavers tossed onto carts that rumbled over to a growing mound of flesh waiting for the oil and a torch.
Last week it had been his own boys building a pyre.
That was for his crew, his army of low-lifes and degenerates. They deserved no better.
He noticed the wind had blown some of the spit onto his sleeve. He considered the sleeve and the rest of his clothes. Best Gothery cloth. That wasn’t going to help him. A pity he had nothing different. He sighed, counting out his options. He’d done thirty miles today, he was hungry and thirsty, and soon the sun would be going down. There’d be no welcome for him at the House, and a risk of being caught if he galloped off down the high road to the nearest town. But the last thing he wanted was another night sleeping under a bush and getting wet. And so he eased back under the trees, recovered his horse and began to circumnavigate the estate.
The clouds made it an early dusk. The first spattering of rain began to fall as he followed a green lane down towards a handful of woodsman’s cottages. The Company had emptied this very hamlet eight days back. There had been a few old people there, with no fight in them. None of them would be returning to their homes any time soon. Or ever. Trant couldn’t remember whether they had ransacked the place for food. Hopefully not.
The cottages were timber clad but distempered to a mouldy white. Trant couldn’t see why they had bothered: the moss and lichens were always bound to win. He reined in and came to a halt some twenty yards short of the first house. There was no sound but the patter of raindrops on the clay roof tiles, not a voice was there, nor a bark, nor a twitter. The track led between two of the cottages and turned to the left. He could see two other rooftops beyond. The second house, to his left, had a gutter running under the eaves that fed a butt at the corner of the front wall. That was something. He’d get water at least.
He nudged the horse on again and made for the house with the water butt. As he turned around the edge of the unfenced yard the other two houses came into view, but Trant was too busy struggling to pull a flask from his saddle bag to pay them much attention. But when he looked up the flask fell from his grasp and bounced on the path.
A green light emerged through the narrow windows of the house directly ahead. Not a powerful light, hardly more than a wavering glimmer. An unnatural light. It gave him a shiver. A sense of dread washed over him.
He shook himself out of it, forced a laugh.
“Soft git,” he said aloud.
It would be a candle, nothing more, behind some green cloth or glass. A lit candle meant that someone was there, but so long as it was only one or two people he’d be alright.
Morgan dismounted, sensibly recovered and filled his flask, and then took two great swigs from it. That was better.
“Let’s see what we’ve got yer, then.”
He didn’t mind the idea that they might have heard him coming. He stepped up to the door and knocked hard. The door wasn’t even on the latch and it swung open before him.
The sickly green bathed his face.
Seated on a chair in the middle of the room a dark figure sat obscured by the light that came from his chest. Colours leaked from him in twists and swirls and spirals of multiple shades of green and brown and dark blue. They poured out through a wide suppurating wound as a smoke or a steam, and they spread in the air like blood in a pool of water.
Trant swallowed hard.
He failed to move, he couldn’t move as the figure grasped the chair arms and pushed towards him. The face was illumined in the gaseous light but took on none of the colours. It was impossibly white.
“Well Morgan Trant, what is it you want with me?” Chaldonie’s lips twisted into a wicked grin. “Are you in need of an employer?”
City Infirmary, Ciu’ Valdez
‘Do you want to see summin’ special?’
Sammy Tozer was bored. For days there’d been nothing to do but just sit there, watching all the hospital wardens, and healers and such coming and going. It was a sort of parade. They’d turn up at Roar’s bedside, do that examining thing, looking at his eyes, listening to his chest and so on, then shake their heads and go away again. Nurses meanwhile were always buzzing round in their neat frocks, and their white pinnies, room to room, bed to bed. For Roar, if he was awake, they’d chat to him, telling him how well he was doing, and they’d give him some pills with water; or if he was asleep, which was most of the time, they’d give him water through a bottle with a long tube right down the back of his mouth. Roar wouldn’t notice. When he was asleep, he was out cold.
Sammy couldn’t understand it. Roar’s wounds were all healed, but for no reason anyone could fathom he kept passing out. It was like he only had the energy to stay awake for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. Sometimes he’d fall asleep in the middle of talking to you. The healers wondered if he’d been hit on the head. ‘I wasn’t there,’ he’d told them, ‘and the bird din’t see what happened, neither.’ They’d given him a funny look when he said that, but Sammy felt no need to explain. He wished they could just do something useful. It was so frustrating. Sammy needed Roar awake so he could make him an offer, the most important deal of his young life, but whenever the wizard came to, everyone kept getting in the way. It was frustrating, and it was boring.
‘I said, do you want to see summin’ special,’ he said again to the new lad, ‘You an’ your sister. While the babbie’s asleep?’
The girl looked up. She was sitting in the chair at the bedside of the man they’d brought in earlier that morning - a broken twisted sort of a man. Sammy reckoned she was a bit bored too. They’d been something new for him to watch: the broken man, the big lad, the little girl and their babbie. The girl had spent most of her time playing with the babbie and teaching him to walk. The lad just sort of stood around trying to not get in the way. But the babbie had been asleep for a while now, and there was nothing for her to do but sit and be quiet.
Now the girl got out of her seat and came over to them. She tugged at the lad’s sleeve. He looked at her, a cautious smile on his face, but said nothing.
Bit slow that one, Sammy thought.
‘Carla, you go with them.’ It was the broken man who was speaking. ‘The little one is asleep, and we know he will not for a good while be waking. And I can manage if he wakes.’
Sammy didn’t believe that last bit for a second, but the nurses would help.
‘Something special, he says, Signoren,’ said the lad, ‘Shall we go?’
‘I think, Benito, that Carla would like that very much.’
Carla nodded definitively and took Benito’s hand. ‘Right then,’ said Sammy, ‘Come with me – you’re in for a surprise.’
Cuahtemoc was motionless, perched on a low branch of the sycamore tree that grew alone in the middle of the courtyard. As soon as he saw the eagle, Benito tried his best to hold Carla safe behind him, but she wouldn’t have it, shook him off and marched up close to the tree.
Sammy smiled at both the lad’s concern and girl’s fearlessness.
‘Trying to look after your sister? Needn’t bother. Lord Cuahtemoc is very dependable – he only attacks bad people. An there’s nuthin’ bad about you two. That’s what he says. Says it’s obvious - though he’s not sure why. Would you like to see him fly? It’s him asking, not me. Nobody can make him do anything he don’t want.’
The lad shook his head. ‘I wouldn’t try to,’ he said, with a serious look on his face.
His sister ignored the comment and nodded vigorously, firstly at Sammy but then, realising her error, directly at the eagle.
‘She doesn’t talk,’ said Benito ‘but she says yes. Yes please. And I do as well. My dad used to say there was nothing like seeing an eagle fly. He’d travelled had my dad.’
‘Hush now, Lord Cuahtemoc is ready,’ said Sammy.
The mighty eagle raised himself up for a few seconds and then dropped from his perch, spread his wings, and clear of the tree began powerful beats that pushed him up and up into the cloudless sky.
Carla bounced and skipped in excitement.
Signoren Bassalo could hear the Halfi boy’s voice through the open window, and realised that the special thing must be in the courtyard below. He climbed out of his bed, and carefully made his way across the room to see what it might be.
He jumped back as the Eagle took to the air and powered past the window.
‘Magnificent,’ he said, ‘and not a little frightening.’
‘Yes, he is a wonder to behold.’
Bassalo had thought the man in the bed by the window was sleeping or unconscious.
‘Does the eagle dwell in the hospital gardens, or does he make a visit?’
The man pushed up onto an elbow. ‘He is my friend. He’ll stay here for as long as the doctors try to treat me. So, just visiting.’
‘Would it be rude to ask? You look healthy, uninjured.’
The man laughed. ‘Don’t I just? Yes, my injuries are long healed. It’s just that if I try to stand up and walk, I’m very likely to collapse, and then I’ll sleep for some time. It makes it very difficult to achieve anything. I shouldn’t be here. My duties would have me making for Astoril. There’s so much to do – it is a curse. But how rude am I to complain? It is easy to see that you have suffered great trauma, yourself.’
Bassalo shrugged. The movement hurt. ‘Hospitals are full of sorry stories. But I have no complaints. We have the infant to make us smile, and I am not so bad as I was. We were lucky to meet help along the way. Lord Seama Beltomť, no less.’
The man sat up. ‘You’ve met Seama? When? Sorry, the news has been a little confusing. I’d heard that Seama was in the Forest, that he’d defeated the Black Company. I hope that is not wrong.’
‘You are a colleague of his – a wizard?’
‘For my sins. I am Roar McAndre. My wounds and discomforts came from a battle with the Black Company at Altiparedo. I feared that I might not survive, so I sent him a message warning that the Black Company were still attacking villages in the Skirt. But then I passed out for several days. When I came back to these mortal remains of mine, Cuahtemoc told me they’d gone south, and so had Seama. You must have met Seama before he changed his plans?’
‘Yes, just south of the Skirt. I was able to pass on the story of Altiparedo, and the latest news of those evil men. And so, he changed his course, but not before he came to our aid. You see, we share something more in common than a meeting with the great wizard, Roar McAndre. My injuries have the same cause as your own. The Black Company destroyed my village and murdered my people. My name is Oswaldo Bassalo. It is a good thing, Roar, that we meet in this place. Good will come if it, I am sure.’
‘He has left then. Not a question. I’ve had at least five people running up to tell me how he launched into the air with a show of flame and fury, and then flew off into the west. I assume he’s not just taking exercise?’
Dulsibot had found the wizard up on the western battlement of the castle, looking out at the ship now docked in the harbour. Uh Bib now favoured the Necromancer with a wry grin.
‘It is dangerous, Necromancer, to assume anything when there’s a dragon involved. I had asked if he could wait upon the arrival of my guests. He explained that he had better things to do. Actually, I think he was hungry.’
‘But we fed him well.’
‘Ha! I may tell you he was unimpressed by your pig meat. Not to his taste at all. Besides, he likes to hunt for his prey.’
‘But what will you do without him? Your journeys will be made longer. And as I understand the game, you need to be in many places, if not all at once then very soon after.’
‘Very good, very good. A neat turn of phrase. In many places at once indeed. But that surely is easy to achieve.’ Uh Bib pulled up the silver chain around his neck and held out its pendant for the Necromancer’s examination. ‘We have the stones. I can speak through them whenever I like. They were a fine gift.’
Dulsibot grimaced. ‘That may or may not be true. I would have a concern that our lord and master rarely makes a gift that is not in some way also a curse.’
Uh Bib giggled briefly. ‘That does indeed seem to be the pattern. The Gift of Ah’remmon is wont to be perilous. Yet, perhaps in this case it is not so bad. I acquired the stones in the City of Lusk, at the behest of the God, but taken from another’s hand.’
‘The hand of a Blood Magus is the hand of his master. I would still be wary. As I understand it, via these stones you may converse with your agents though you might be separated by a continent. Do you not think that your words, or thoughts, might fly further still?’
‘Ah’remmon listening to all we speak? Is that it?’
‘Well, why not?’
‘It is of no consequence. We speak of functions, of plans and actions. I keep my opinions to myself. Though actually the real peril of the spechan stone is that it may communicate more than thoughts. Believe me, each of these stones carries the will and the urge of the God himself. I can feel it nagging away, on and on. Luckily, I have a very strong will of my own.’
‘But what of your agents?’
‘What do I care? So long as they do as they are told, their equanimity is irrelevant. Mad, bad or sad, it is all the same to me.’
‘Your man Creel,’ said the Necromancer, gesturing at the ship below, though it had already given up its passengers, ‘you said he was terrified of the stone he carried.’
‘Creel is terrified by everything. But he was more skilled than his erstwhile partner. It was actually very easy for him to take instruction, whatever his reluctance.’
Dulsibot shrugged. ‘We all have our talents. His partner, I believe, had a different set of skills?’
‘Indeed. Useful skills if repellent.’
‘So, why did you have Creel come here, when you could speak to him wherever he was? And for that matter, why did you have him transport his partner, as erstwhile as he is?’
‘The answers to these questions are related, Necromancer. I need some information from Creel that he may not have thought to offer. And to facilitate that, I had an idea that perhaps you could work your particular form of magic for me. Shall we go and see them?’
‘Why not? I have the corpse in one of the lower chambers off the Temple cavern, as you requested. A secure room. The other is wolfing down pork chops in my kitchens. I’ll have him brought down.’
Creel knew it was coming, but it didn’t mean he was easy with it. Soon as he arrived, they’d taken his knives off him. Scary looking men with spiky hair. But their captain had spoken fair to him. He seemed alright. At least they’d fed him. But now here it was: two really big lads, less spiky, more muscles and swords, come down to the kitchen to get him. One of them came up behind and just picked him up out of his chair, mid-chop.
‘Finish later. Maybe.’
‘Where are we going?’
‘Under. You talk to chief.’
Creel didn’t argue, didn’t try to run. He’d had his chance and blown it. Could’ve just chucked that filthy stone the Smiler made him use; could’ve disappeared, gone west, taken a ship back to Sullinor. Could have but hadn’t. And he knew why. The stone had done it. Made him keep it safe, sort of made him answer, whenever he was called, made him do whatever he was told. This time he’d been told to get in a carriage, paid for already, collect a box – a box that looked a lot like a coffin – take it over to Banya’s Harbour, and get on a boat, also paid for already, that carried him two days upriver to bring him to this terrible place. He could’ve been clear and free, but no. Here he was, and that was that.
The two big men pushed him down a long dark tunnel, that opened up on a tremendous, empty hall. Empty but for the huge black throne and the high altar. They didn’t let him linger to look at them. He was marched past and through to the back wall. There were other tunnels starting there. They brought him to a doorway a little way down one of them.
Creel had spent a lot of time in Ar’aldini, the Emperor’s prison city, where rooms underground had always been a preferred venue. The screams of those tortured in those chambers never reached the ears of common people in the streets above. A kindness to those who just didn’t want to listen. Creel was certain that this chamber was just such a kindness. The door swung open, and his ushers ushered him in and followed after.
It was a large room, irregular in shape, not built but a natural cave refined, the walls smoothed and whitewashed. It was bright with several lanterns fixed around the perimeter. To one side were three heavily upholstered chairs. It might not have seemed too bad a place to Creel, given that it was completely lacking any instruments of torture, but for the fact that the chairs were occupied and in one of them sat the Smiler, Tarangananda-uh-Bib. And the box was there too, placed on a stone table in the centre of the room.
‘Ah, Creel. Thank you for coming. Your journey not too arduous, I hope?’
The Smiler smiled at him, but Creel was too nervous to manufacture an answer.
‘We’ll let that pass then. Let me introduce my friends.’
Two people Creel had never met sat on the chairs to the wizard’s left.
‘This lady is Kalpana Abassid. She is a notable Blood Magus from Lusk. Do you know where that is?’
‘I… I’ve h h heard of the place. N… never been there.’
The woman looked at him. She was quite young. He’d never have thought her a wizard. She smiled as though she knew what he was thinking. It wasn’t a nice smile.
‘Lusk, Creel, is remarkable because at the heart of that city is the Temple of the Great King of Earnor, the God Ah’remmon. And at the heart of the temple there is a… shall we say a hole, a gap. Passage through that gap might lead a person to another country, but sadly the traveller would not survive. Perhaps you noticed that the hall beyond this room was something like a temple also? An altar, a throne? But you may not have noticed that between the two there is a space, another hole, less great but similar to that hole in Lusk. That too is another connection to the same place. What do you think of that?’
‘Another place. What place?’
‘A sensible question. Shall we call the place a kingdom, or perhaps more grand: an empire.’
‘An empire, under the ground?’
‘No Creel, not underground. Let’s not get into that. But let me tell you, the name of this place is Kyzylkum.’
‘Never heard of it.’
‘Are you sure? Your employer, Zaras, knows it well. Kyzylkum was his home. Did he never speak of it? Perhaps not. It was not somewhere he wishes to remember. The name means Red Sand. It is a desert.’
‘Not much good then.’
‘And for that reason, among others, Zaras sought to escape the place. In fact, he had decided he would never return. He told me that he would rather die here rather than live there. Now here’s a thing. I’m beginning to wonder if Billy Zarrassi has managed to achieve a part of that aim. You see, he has disappeared. Gone missing, ever since that little affair in Slaney, if you know the affair I’m talking about. I believe you came to Astoril to tell me about it, but I was otherwise occupied. Tell me about it now, who was there, what happened, what did Zaras do? Come, shed some light on this mysterious disappearance.’
Now for it. Creel was on very slippery ground here. He was tempted to lie. Tell them he hadn’t been there, or that Zaras had dismissed him early. Say nothing about how he’d escaped, leaving Zaras and Franner for dead. In normal circumstances saying nothing was a good option. But it was no option here. The Smiler had taught the Spook that nasty mind trick that had ripped the truth from so many of their victims, and left them damaged or dead.
‘The… there was only one f.f..feller in the stable,’ he began, and then launched into a halting account of nearly everything he could remember. The Smiler was content to sit and listen to the tale up until the point Creel explained that him and Franner had been coshed, and were unconscious.
‘But you were not unconscious for long?’
‘Nah, came round pretty quick. We was tied up.’
‘But not with your ears blocked. You’ll have heard what was said. Were any names spoken?’
‘Nah, didn’t hear ‘em speaking any names. We’d been told this old guy was called Leire, that was all. Zaras was doing the trick, questioning him, you know, and they were still standing there. But it was weird, coz the old guy didn’t look old anymore, and there was about seven or eight others there as well, probably been there hidden up when we came. One of ‘em was holding Zaras tight. I reckoned the two of ‘em closest was supposed to be watchin’ me and Franno, but they was too interested in what was ‘appenin’ to the Spo… with Mister Zaras. The old man, young man, whatever ‘e was, was muttering stuff, like he was seeing somethin’ and tellin’ himself about it.’
‘Du…dunno really. Think he said somethin’ about a tunnel. I wasn’t listening. Soon as I came to, I started working on the ropes. I’m good with rope, and they weren’t. So I was free in a minute or two. An’ they was all concentrating on Zaras.’
‘But how did you manage to slip away?’
‘Ah, w… well, something happened. The man doing the mind thing was angry. I heard him saying somethin’ like “what did you cut him for?” Well that was my chance. They’d all gathered round to look, so I just snuck out while they was so busy.’
‘What did you think had happened?’
‘I think one of ‘em must’ve stuck ‘im – killed him.’
‘Violent people then. So, Zaras was killed. Is that what you think?’
‘Yes, yes. That’s it.’
‘And you left, fearing for your life?’
‘Yes. Wasn’t ‘angin’ around neither, I legged it.’
‘And what about your friend, Franner? You left him behind, did you?’
‘What choice did I have?’
‘Perhaps you could’ve freed him too?’
‘Nah, wasn’t time. An’ he was a great lumberin’ bloke, you know. He’d’ve made too much noise.’
‘He was a great lumbering bloke?’
‘Yeah, that’s right. What I said.’
‘But you said “was” I think. As if he were dead. How would you know?’
‘I… er I didn’t, don’t know. But if they killed Zaras, they’d’ve done for Franno too.’
Creel thought it was going well so far. The Smiler seemed to be accepting most of what he said. And why not? It was mostly true. But now what was he doing? The wizard had gotten out of his chair and come to stand right in front of him.
‘Perhaps they did indeed kill Reno Franner. Shall we ask him?’
‘We could ask for his version of events.’
‘You s…saying he’s not d…dead?’
‘Ahm, not exactly. I didn’t finish my introductions, did I? The gentleman sitting there next to the Lady Abassid is the lord of this island, ruler of the Halfi people who live here. They call him the Necromancer, because as they understand it, he charms the dead. What do you think about that, Creel?’
‘W…what do you mean, ch…charms them? Sounds creepy.’
‘Oh it is, it is. But very clever. Very helpful. I have to thank you Creel, for bringing along this box, as I asked. Did you look inside?’
‘Nah, it was all nailed up.’
‘It was. But I believe we have had those nails removed. Necromancer?’
The Necromancer man had been looking at Creel with what Creel decided was some sympathy. He might be an ally. He sighed before he spoke.
‘Yes, the lid is free. And the blood administered as you requested. In its most refined form.’
‘Very good, very good. And so,’ said the Smiler, putting his hand on Creel’s elbow and causing him to turn and look at the box, ‘shall we look to see what you brought for me?’
Creel felt sick as the wizard pushed him closer to the table. The Necromancer got up too and went to stand near one end of the box. The woman stayed where she was, but Creel noticed that she pushed forward in her chair, making sure that she could see everything that happened. Excited.
The Necromancer signalled the two guards to come and remove the lid of the box, and they made short work of it.
Creel didn’t want to look. He knew by now what it was. Who it was. He tried to step away but the wizard held onto him.
‘Now, now, Creel, come along. He’s waiting for you.’
He had no choice. Creel leaned over, with his hands pushing on the edge of the table to give him a bit more height. And there he was, Reno Franner lying on his side, grey of face, eyes closed, a dagger protruding from the back of his neck.
‘So… so, he is dead then?’
‘Not quite. Necromancer?’
The man nodded and then began to sing. Creel didn’t understand the language. The tune was odd, lots of flat notes in amongst a long slow melody, the voice quiet at the start but growing stronger by the minute. For a little while nothing happened. The wizard seemed content to listen to the song, the Necromancer was lost in his singing, but the woman still looked on with keen interest. Creel still felt sick.
Franner’s right eye twitched. Creel pushed away from the table, twisting free of the wizard’s grip.
‘What you doin’? This isn’t good, it’s not r… r…right.’
Uh-Bib giggled. ‘Does it scare you, the dead coming back to life? Or is there something else? Have you told us everything?’
‘Yes. No. What do you mean?’
‘What do I mean? Well I could say—’ There was a thump inside the box. Creel backed away to the wall, as far as he could go. The guards quickly returned to the door. Uh-Bib continued.
‘I could say that I recognized the knife as one of yours. Oh, more banging! All very encouraging. But the knife is immaterial. You see, when Franner was brought to Astoril, while his body was very much dead, his spirit was still screamingly strong. And so, I administered a potion we call Nepenthe. It slows down all the process of decay – oh, is that a hand I see?’
Franner’s great fist of a hand gripped the side of the box. It pulled and pushed and the box began to creak and shudder.
‘Stop it. It’s just a trick. He has a knife in his neck, he can’t be moving.’
‘Ah yes. Head and body, spinal nerves separated. But you see the Necromancer with Lady Kalpana’s help have, how to describe it? They have made of the body a simulacrum, an independent thing but controlled by the spirit rather than the nerves. All very complicated, but the Blood Magi have been studying these techniques for thousands of years.’
Creel tried not to listen. He started to sidle around the walls, searching for an exit with his hands, while keeping an eye on the box. The box that continued to creak and groan.
‘I read his mind, Creel, back in Astoril, so I know what happened. You were about to leave the stable but Franner had woken, and he rolled over, trapping you against the side of a stall. You knew he wanted you to cut his ropes. That is right, isn’t it? Nothing to say? Cat got your tongue?’
The side of box bent and cracked.
‘My word, he’s a struggler. But then, he’s very angry you know. When you took out your dagger, he thought you were going to free him. But look what you did.’
Uh-Bib gestured at the table just as the box burst asunder and Reno Franner rolled out of the wreckage and off the table, to fall to the floor.
‘Don’t you worry, Creel, he’ll be on his feet in no time. I think he wants to ask why you stuck a knife in his neck. But judging by the grunting noises, I think he’s finding it hard to form his words.’
Creel looked this way and that. No escape. No escape.
The Necromancer finished his song as Franner levered himself up to stand next to the table, jerking from side to side, trying to look all about him. Looking for Creel.
‘Ah, well Creel, I think it is time for us to leave you both to your reunion. Kalpana, Necromancer, shall we leave?’
As the door opened to allow their exit, Creel made a dash for it, pushing past the wizard and teetering across the stone floor. The guards were unimpressed and simply bounced him away. He stumbled and sprawled on the floor. The door slammed shut, bolts crashed into place.
Creel looked around in panic. Franner had begun to stagger around the room, growling and grunting still. Creel rolled under the table, but not quickly enough. Franner saw him. He reached down to grab at Creel’s ankle. He was so strong. Creel found himself hauled out into the open, but he kicked and kicked and kicked and managed to get himself free.
Run, that’s what he’d do. Franner was slow, really slow, he’d never catch him. And maybe, while he was running, he’d think of a way of getting free. If only those chairs weren’t so big and heavy, he could’ve used one to bash Franner to death. But they were, so he couldn’t.
Creel ran, dancing away every time Franner lumbered close.
‘You fat, useless bastard,’ he yelled. ‘You’ll never catch me. Not in a hundred years. Never… no…’
Franner stopped moving for a moment and forced his features into a hideous grin. Stiffly he nodded his head.
‘That’s my life, then,’ Creel gasped as he ran, beginning to sob his despair, ‘My life – spend all my days run… running away from you – until you die or I die. Me and you – here in this room forever.’
The grin was fixed on Franner’s face as he began the pursuit once again.
It was less than a day before Creel decided to stop running.
The Best of Men
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SONG OF AGES
THE BEST OF MEN
An epic fantasy of monsters, gods, warriors and wizards, of heedless villains and decent everyday people.
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SONG OF AGES
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