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Crusader

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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“Ahhh,” he groaned, and rolled over, weeping with the pain and the loss and the overwhelming humiliation. Humiliation, not so much from the demonic rapes he’d been forced to endure, although that was part of it, but from the realisation that everything he’d done, and everything he’d thought himself master of during the past few thousand years had been a lie. He’d been a tool and a pawn as much as had the sweatiest and stupidest peasant and now he’d been disposed of as easily.

The Maze — well taught by the Star Dance — was the hardest and cruellest master of all.

WolfStar — Enchanter-Talon, feared by every Icarii in existence.

WolfStar — crazed murderer, loathed by scores of generations of Icarii.

WolfStar — Dark Man, Dear Man, friend and ally of Gorgrael the Destroyer.

WolfStar — lover and ultimate destroyer of Niah.

WolfStar — manipulator of the entire world and all who lived within it.

WolfStar — utter, utter Fool.

A rat ran over his right foot, scratching deeply into his flesh as it went, but WolfStar paid it no heed. Over the past hours (days? weeks? he did not know) countless creatures had scrambled over him, trampled him, urinated on him, nibbled, bit and tasted him, and yet none had done him the kindness of killing him.

All WolfStar wanted was to die … to escape the utter humiliation his existence had become. But no thing or one would grant him death in this world of death made incarnate — this damned, cursed Maze. Bleakness swarmed constantly over him, and madness probed intermittently at his mind: the hours when the Demons raged drove him to the brink of insanity, but never (oh please, stars, let the horror tip me over!), never beyond into the oblivion of total insanity.

Why? Why couldn’t he become one of these mindless creatures that swarmed incoherently and incontinently through the Maze? All WolfStar wanted was to become mindless, because then he would feel no pain.

WolfStar’s fingers scrabbled over his chest, feeling again the clotting blood of Caelum. He gagged, sickened by the feel, as also by the damned persistence of the blood.

He couldn’t wipe it off, it wouldn’t go away. It wouldn’t even dry to a scab that he could scrape off.

WolfStar was marked by Caelum’s blood, and he wondered if that was what protected him.

What had happened to the boy? Why had he walked onto the point of Qeteb’s blade?

WolfStar had turned the horrific moments of Caelum’s death over and over in his mind, and yet he still could not understand them. What had gone so wrong? Why hadn’t Caelum fought back?

Or, at the least, why hadn’t he made an effort to escape? WolfStar could crawl no more. He propped himself up against a wall, holding his belly with one hand, dragging air into his lungs.

Suddenly Caelum walked about the corner and came directly towards him.

He had a beatific smile on his face.

“Caelum StarSon!” Qeteb screamed, and stood in his stirrups and raised his sword.

Caelum, now directly before WolfStar, turned and stared at the horror approaching, stared at the rearing, plunging creature above him, and at the Demon screaming on its back.

“Oh, how I love you,” he said.

“No!” Qeteb shrieked, driven beyond the realms of anger, not only by Caelum’s words, but also by the serene expression on his face.

The Demon drove down his sword.

WolfStar could not believe it. As the sword plunged downwards, Caelum held out his hand and seized the blade. It made not a whit of difference.

The sword sliced through Caelum’s hand and plunged into his chest, driving Caelum back against WolfStar, who grunted with shock.

Qeteb leaned his entire weight down on the sword, twisting it as deep as he could go, feeling bone and muscle and cartilage tear and rip, seeing the bright blood bubble from the StarSon’s mouth.

What had the boy been doing, wandering through the Maze with a beatific smile on his face while all the Demons of Hell rode at his heels?

“There had been magic worked there,” WolfStar whispered, inching his way further down whatever dead-end of the Maze he’d chosen this time. “An enchantment … Caelum was caught in enchantment… but whose? Whose?”

Suddenly WolfStar was angry, and it chased away all his bleakness and humiliation. Someone — not the Demons — had worked an enchantment on Caelum … Who had control of enchantment in this Star Danceless world?

And if someone did have control of enchantment, how could WolfStar work that to his own will?

“Who are you?” he whispered, now dragging himself along with one hand while the other held his ruined belly in vaguely one piece. “Who are you?”

He repeated the sentence, over and over, making of it a mantra. He repeated it for hour after hour, dragging himself through the Maze, ignoring the countless creatures — once-animal and once-human or Icarii — that flowed about and over him. He continued to repeat it through the Demonic hour of dusk that probed at his mind, and he continued to repeat it through the night until it almost drove him mad.

At dawn, as the light broke over the Maze, WolfStar realised something.

He was not mad. And he was not dead. Neither madness nor Demon had touched him, or even taken any interest in him. He had survived, for whatever reason and for whatever purpose.

And he had to have a purpose, because without a purpose he was nothing but a pawn.

A glow of light filtered down through the stone walls of the Maze, lighting the flagstones before him.

A million symbols flowed over and through the stone. The Maze, taunting him.

“Damn you! Damn you!” WolfStar whispered, furious that the Star Dance and the Maze had manipulated him for so many millennia. From the heights of power, the glory days of thinking that all Tencendor danced to his manipulations, WolfStar had fallen to being nothing but a useless puppet crawling through the stone corridors of the Maze.

A Talon-Enchanter with no more power than an ant.

“No!”

No, he could not bear that. There was power out there somewhere — he could feel it! — and that meant there was power available for the taking.

And he would take it. No-one would laugh at WolfStar!

“Who are you?” he whispered over and over as he crawled hand-over-hand across the rough stone. “Who are you?”

As crazed birds tumbled through the sky above his head, so plans and intrigues tumbled through WolfStar’s mind.

There was power out there, and he would find a way to control it.

“Who are you? Who are you?”

WolfStar crawled for hours, lost in his own thoughts, his anger giving him strength when he should have collapsed, until eventually he thought he heard something whisper. He raised his head, and stared.

Then he laughed, knowing hope for the first time in many days.

Ten paces ahead rose the gateway into the wasteland.

Chapter 5 Of Sundry Enemies (#ulink_9e998cf1-354b-5730-8e1a-3c19951d2843)

“This land is not enough,” Sheol whispered. “We need the entire world and all its souls to feed from. When can we take it all?” She was lying sprawled across the floor of the mausoleum, writhing in an agony of need and desire. Her last feeding hour had been good, but not good enough.

There were other souls out there, and she wanted them. She bared her teeth, and snarled.

Qeteb leaned down and grabbed her by the hair, hauling her to her feet. Sheol screamed, and then roared, her shape flowing from humanoid to dog and back to humanoid again.

StarLaughter, sitting with her back against one of the black columns, turned her face aside in a disgust she did not even bother to disguise. Nothing had gone well for her since her son had attained his full potential.

Qeteb laughed, and dropped Sheol.

The female Demon crawled a few paces away and then rose to her feet, smoothing down the pastel-coloured gown she’d chosen to assume and rearranging her facial features in an expression that came close to obeisance.

“Great Father,” she said, and dipped her head.

Qeteb grunted. For the moment he was prepared to put up with Sheol’s impatience — had she not fought through a hundred thousand years to resurrect him? — but he wasn’t sure if his current good nature would last much longer than dusk this evening.

There was going to be an irritating delay before they could consume the souls of the entire planet, and Qeteb did not like to be made to wait for anything, let alone total domination.
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