Jess Lebow: Obsidian Ridge

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Jess Lebow Obsidian Ridge
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    Obsidian Ridge
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    Английский
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Jess Lebow


Obsidian Ridge

Prologue

The Year of the Leaping Frog, 1266 DR Somewhere over Calimshan.

The princess was ushered quickly through the black stone hallways. The shadows shifted with every twist and turn, making the entire place seem as if it had been torn straight from the nightmares of an overly imaginative child. The floor beneath her feet vibrated softly-the clicking of her escorts' claws on the chipped stone barely audible over the constant hum.

Coming to the end of a long swooping corridor, the princess was abruptly shoved inside a large, poorly lit chamber. She fell to the ground, landing hard on her knees and hands. The door slammed behind her.

"Well met, princess," said a voice-or rather, two voices: one high pitched, one much lower. They seemed to echo one another, one following only a fraction of a heartbeat behind the first.

The princess got to her feet, smoothing her robes and straightening herself in a rather regal fashion. "Who are you?" she asked.

"Yes, my servants aren't very accommodating when it comes to introductions," replied the echoing dual voice. "I am Arch Magus Xeries, the lord and ruler of the Obsidian Ridge."

The princess examined her surroundings.

The walls of this chamber were made from the same black, chipped obsidian as the rest of the citadel. The ceiling, if there was one, was obscured in darkness far, far above. The floor was smooth and polished, and in the very center sat a large dais, a pair of connected thrones atop of it.

"There is only one of you?" she asked, puzzled by the echo.

A bent figure sat in one of the thrones, obscured by shadows.

"Yes," he replied with his two voices. "But that is why you are here, so I will no longer be alone."

The princess shuddered, a chill running down her spine. She wrapped her arms tightly around herself. "What do you want from me?"

"What does anyone want from anyone else?" replied the arch magus. "I want you by my side. Your sympathy. Your loyalty. Your companionship. Those things that everyone craves."

The princess turned her back to the throne. "And why do you think I would give myself to you?"

"Because I can give you whatever you desire," replied Xeries, his voice echoing over itself. "What do you wish for?"

The princess turned back around, softening her stance. "Whatever I desire?"

"Immortality. Riches. Power." Xeries leaned over, lifting a decanter of deep red wine and pouring it into a goblet in his bent, twisted hand. "Is there something else you could want?"

The princess took a step closer. "And what must I do for this immortality, riches, and power?"

Xeries chuckled. He took a sip of his wine, then wiped his lips with the back of his hand.

"Like all things, there is a price."

Chapter One

The Year of the Staff I366DR The Kingdom of Erlkazar

The air stank of old blood and feces, adding to the eerie sense of openness in the empty slaughterhouse. Night had fallen some time ago, and most residents of Llorbauth were already asleep-but not on the docks. Nighttime was when the denizens of this place came out for work.

High in the rafters, the shadows moved, and a figure emerged. He stood watching, scanning the nooks and empty stalls. Far below he caught sight of what he wanted-a group of men. The figure leaped. His cloak fluttered slightly, but his feet made no sound as they came to rest on another sturdy rafter.

Down below, wearing torn overalls and discolored shirts, the group of men-the sort who made their living with their hands and their backs-drew closer, seemingly unaware of the figure above them.

"Where'd all the pigs go?" asked one, looking around the empty slaughterhouse.

"Cut up and shipped out," answered a fat man, the only one dressed in sorcerers' robes. "Just this morning."

"That's a lot of pig," said the first.

"Yes," agreed the fat man. "A lot of pig."

The figure watched as the men crossed the slaughterhouse floor and slipped out of his view. The figure leaped once more. The moment his foot touched the solid wood, he was bounding toward the next perch. With three great jumping strides, he covered nearly a third of the slaughterhouse. Then with one final push, he flung himself, arms out, toward a much farther rafter.

A large hole in the ceiling spilled the half-moon's weak light into the building, and for a moment, the figure's lithe frame was silhouetted against the night sky. Had any of the men looked up, they would have seen the glint of metal at the tips of the figure's outstretched hands.

Catching the rafter, the figure swung twice then pulled himself up to crouch, waiting and watching.

The men had converged on the northern end of the slaughterhouse, where three huge stacks of crates were piled against the wall. Without talking, they got to work.

Inside the first crate, nestled in a huge pile of straw, was a large glass vessel. One man pulled the wooden planks off the top of the crate, and two more converged on the contents, lifting the heavy glass from both sides. The men had to squat and waddle to move it. As they did, one of them stumbled and nearly lost his balance.

The others gasped and rushed to his aid. But it was unnecessary. The man regained his balance and finished moving the vessel to a safe location on the floor, only a few more steps away.

"Be more careful!" shouted the fat man. "My brother is going to be here soon. If you break one of his vats, we'll all g «it."

The clumsy man nodded frantically. "Yes, Master Tasca." Then he hurried to unpack another crate.

The other men followed suit, unloading more glass and iron. The pieces came out one at a time, and the men worked smoothly and carefully. There were no more stumbles.

A contraption materialized from the men's efforts. Three huge glass vats, each half again larger than the last, rested on metal stands that held them off the floor by several feet. Each was connected to the next by a series of twisted tubes. It looked like a monstrous glass centipede, cut into sections and strung together by clear veins or intestines.

Not breaking their stride, the men continued. From the next stack of crates they pulled out glass beakers full of viscous, red liquid. Each was sealed with wax, which the men peeled away before pouring the contents into the largest vat.

"Don't spill any of that, or you'll be sorry," scolded the fat man.

The men continued their work in silence.

It took some time, but the vat grew fuller, and it reached the halfway point when the men finished unpacking the second stack of crates.

The man they called Master Tasca bent down beside the largest vat. Rubbing his hands together, he spoke a series of quick words. A bright purple flame erupted in his palms, and he set it down on the flagstones below the vat. Struggling to his feet, the fat man nodded at the others, and they began unpacking the last of the crates.

Inside were more beakers, each holding a bright blue liquid that glowed, illuminating the blood-stained floor.

Once again, the wax seals were pulled and the liquid poured into the vat. When it hit the thick, red substance already inside, a gray vapor formed. It swirled up the sides, heavy and dense, clinging to the glass as it climbed.

"Quickly now," instructed Pello Tasca. "We don't want to lose any."

The men formed a bucket brigade, working together to pour the beakers in as fast as they could. There was much less of the blue liquid, and the men had it finished in half the time. Then they lifted the final glass tube and fitted it over the largest vat, sealing the top.

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