King of Sword and Sky

Page 29


Zebah smiled. "To open gateways, Chazah. To the Well of Souls."
He snatched the stone up off the desk and tossed it back to her. She caught it with one, swift snap of her wrist. "This is your Fezai's great new triumph? The selkahr crystals already do as much."
Her eyes narrowed. "You dismiss so quickly a gift whose greatness you do not begin to fathom, Chazah. Zim, the stones—which we call chemar—do what your selkahr does, but only in their purpose are chemar and selkahr similar." Zebah opened her fist and rolled the stone between her fingers. "Selkahr is very precious, we know. How much do you have to spare for such uses as gateways and portals?"
Vadim's spine stiffened at the directness of her probe. "Enough," he answered guardedly. Selkahr was made from Tairen's Eye crystals, and those had been in exceedingly short supply of late.
She laughed, a throaty sound. "But it is not so easy to come by." She leaned forward, her br**sts pressing together invitingly, her sloe eyes fixed on his face. "Chemar, great one, are made from the bones of those sacrificed to Gamorraz. The stones can be manufactured at will and in great quantities. But best of all, as you have seen for yourself, the chemar have no magical properties until they are activated by the proper witchword. Fey wards will not detect it. No sacrifice is needed to make the stones work. You can place chemar anywhere you desire a portal and open the gates at will—and without using Azrahn. You can insert your armies, without warning, anywhere you so desire. The stones are consumed when you use them, but all you need do is simply drop another when you wish to open a gate again."
The High Mage leaned back in his chair. "Very well. You have piqued my interest." He gestured to the bag dangling from Zebah's wrist. "How many of those chemar did you bring with you?"
The witch hefted her black pouch. "Fezai Madia sends four dozen as a gesture of her goodwill."
Vadim rose to his feet, the hem of his purple Mage robes swirling about his ankles. "You will give me a demonstration of their effectiveness. Then I will decide how useful they may, in fact, be."
Zebah bowed low, but the slow, confident smile on her face when she straightened belied any implication of subservience. "As you will. It is my pleasure to serve, great one."
"What price does the Fezai have in mind for more of these chemar?"
The Fezaiina's smile widened, showing the pointed edges of her small, white teeth. "One of your strongest males for every four dozen stones."
Vadim's glance sharpened. "That is a steep price."
"Perhaps." Zebah lifted her dark, arching brows. "But consider this, Chazah: Your males will be returned to you when the Fezai is through with them." She shook the bag of chemar stones and laughed. "Or, at least, what is left of them."
Three bells later, the Fezaiina took her leave, stepping into the open maw of the Well of Souls. Four muscular, sel'dor-shackled men followed her, tame as sheep, their eyes downcast, their faces blank with the dazed effects of the Feraz witch's enchantment.
Vadim Maur watched them go with a twinge of regret. The four had been promising men from strong bloodlines, full of latent magic. But Fezai Madia would not have been pleased if he'd sent her less than quality in payment for her latest discovery…and the woman had an evil temper.
The hand holding the chemar pouch began to shake again. He bent a hard gaze upon it, trying to will the trembling muscles into obedience. Instead, the tremors grew more pronounced and shot up the entire length of his arm. The velvet bag filled with chemar dropped from nerveless fingers.
"Master Maur." A nearby guard started towards him until a snarled command from the High Mage sent him reeling back in fear.
Vadim bent to snatch the chemar pouch from the ground and stuffed it in the pocket of his robes. His trembling hand he stuffed in the other pocket. His gaze swept the room, noting which men had witnessed his moment of weakness. Unfortunately for them, all four belonged to Primages who had apprenticed to a Mage other than Vadim Maur. He did not have access to their souls the way he did to the umagi of his own apprentices.
"You four. Come here."
Nervously, they came. What choice did they have, really?
Two of them swallowed and hesitated. "Master Maur?"
The fearful defiance annoyed him. "Do as I say."
Gulping, the four men knelt. "Mast—" The guard's voice broke off in a gurgle as Vadim's Mage blade swept out in one clean slice across three of the four men's necks. The fourth man gave a cry and jerked back just in time to miss the first death strike. He didn't miss the second.
From the doorway to the Well of Souls—kept open with a combination of Azrahn and frequent sacrifices to the Guardians of the Well—demons howled at the scent of fresh blood and death. Vadim left the creatures to their feast. Souls consumed by what lived in the Well could not be called back from the dead. The four would carry no tales of Vadim's weakness to their masters.
As he exited the room, he paused to tell the guard outside the door, "Contact your captain. Tell him to send more guards for the Well."
The soldier brought his heels together with a snap and bowed sharply at the waist. "As you wish, Most High."
The Fading Lands ~ Chatok
Night had fallen. A warm, dry breeze blew from the west, swirling through the long skeins of Rain's hair. He stood on the battlements of Chatok's great tower, his face turned to the north, eyes whirling with glowing radiance as he sang a message to his tairen kin in the still-distant nesting lair of Fey'Bahren.