Mickey Reichert: Godslayer

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Mickey Reichert Godslayer
  • Название:
    Godslayer
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  • Жанр:
    Фэнтези / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
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Mickey Zucker Reichert


Godslayer

Prologue

"I! I who fashioned myself a sorcerer or an angel, who dispensed with all morality, I have come back to the earth."

– Arthur Rimbaud, Adieu

The three mailed guards who ushered Bramin into the king's court regarded him with cautious curiosity. No one dared touch him. Nor did they question the cloth parcel which swung from his belt. Offending any wizard could spell instant death, and the jade stone clamped in the black-nailed claw which tipped Bramin's staff identified him as a sorcerer of high rank.

As they passed through the double set of oak doors, Bramin fought to keep his head high. The battle he had just survived and the enchantments of transport weakened him both mentally and physically. His aura had dulled to a flicker of gold and, though he had nothing to fear in Ashemir's throne room, he hoped the king's magician would not recognize his fatigue. It was simply a matter of pride.

The carpeted path to the king's throne seemed to stretch for miles. The court watched the procession in a vast silence which jagged Bramin's already taut nerves. A comma of black hair slipped into his eye, and he flicked it back with an anger that sapped much of his remaining strength. Weakness of any sort enraged Bramin, and it reminded him of his reckless squandering of power. Over-confidence had cost many of his colleagues their lives.

"Step forward and name yourself." King Ashemir's command broke the silence, and tense whispers followed it. Ire rose momentarily at this ritual formality. The king knew Bramin well. The magician had been born and raised in the royal city, the product of a rape. His father was one of the dark elves, the last faery creature seen in this part of the world. As a child, Bramin paid for his willowy figure and dark complexion with jeerings and ridicule.

Bramin came forward, unhurried. He nodded briefly at the advisor beside the king, glared at the court sorcerer, who regarded him with both envy and amusement, and bowed pleasantly to the king. "I am Bramin, Dragonrank of the Jade Claw." He thumped the base of his staff on the floor for emphasis. "I have performed your quest. The giant, Redselr, lies dead at my hands." He thumbed the sack at his belt. Enervation and anxiety caused him to misjudge position and strength, and the tie snapped. The bag fell to the floor, and the giant's head rolled free to the king's feet.

King Ashemir recoiled with a gasp. The court sorcerer turned an unbecoming shade of green. Behind Bramin, strained whispers broke to cries of fear and amazement. Guards scrambled to maintain order, others ran for the abomination which seemed to stare at their king with glazed eyes.

With a word and a gesture, Bramin caused the head to slide back into its bag. The effort slammed against him like a wall, stealing his breath. His life aura flickered dangerously. A high-pitched ringing filled his head, making the voices around him seem distant. Yet Bramin retained control over his languishing muscles. Gradually his mind cleared, and he cursed himself brutally. He could have let the guards clear his mistake away or physically done so himself. Pride alone goaded him to recklessness, and he had nearly paid its price.

The king cleared his throat. His look of fear dissolved, masked by a pleasant smile. "You've earned your reward, Bramin Halfman. Five chests of gold, a parcel of land, or the hand of my daughter, Halfrija. The choice is yours."

The pronouncement of Halfrija's name made Bramin smile despite his exhaustion and indignation. "I need neither money nor power, for I have both already. But for Halfrija's hand, I would stop the sun from setting and the moon from rising. I would still the tides or steal the hammer of Thor."

The court passed opinion in a gentle hum of conversation. The king bit his lip against an ecstatic grin, but his blue eyes gleamed with excitement as they met Bramin's glowing red glare. The court sorcerer looked stricken. All three men knew Bramin would need to abandon the School of Dragonrank, since one of its primary requirements was eleven months per year of training on the school's grounds. For the king, it meant a new court magician with power beyond any of his predecessors. Only those blessed with the claw symbol could join the Dragonranks. Its devotees were the most capable users of the art, and the most able among them became omnipotent lords or directly served gods. "Summon Halfrija," Ashemir commanded his guards. They rushed to obey.

Bramin knew marriage would force him to sacrifice a future of ultimate power for domesticity and the banality of court proceedings. He lowered his head, staring at the claw-shaped scar which puckered the black skin on the back of his right hand. The symbol had appeared at the age of ten along with the first traces of the life aura which glimmered about him, visible only to those versed in magic. His mother and human half siblings sent Bramin away that year. So he traded the gibes of the citizens of Forste -Mar for their respect and the grueling discipline of the Dragonrank.

A person marked with the claw was a rare enough occurrence in any town, and Forste -Mar received its second surprise three years later. Bramin's eldest half sister, Silme, was similarly stamped by destiny. She joined the Dragonrank, which pleased Bramin. It gave him a familiar companion on his infrequent breaks from studying enchantments or practicing swordsmanship. And he had always liked Silme best. Many times she had dried his tears or soothed his deadly rages when children grew cruel with their taunts or citizens wounded his pride with derision.

The doors swung open, interrupting his memories, and the court again fell silent as the guards ushered Halfrija before them. A dress of blue silk with interlacing patterns of silver tastefully outlined her delicate frame. Her face was fair with artistically high cheek bones. Her wide-set eyes were the pale blue of cornflowers. At the sight of the lady he loved, all other thought fled Bramin.

His heart pounded, pumping warmth and desire through his body. He stared without speaking, love-blinded to her taut-lipped pall of fear.

The king rose from his throne. "Bramin Jade-claw, you see my daughter, the Lady Halfrija. On Midsummer's Day, I sanction the marriage between you. May you live long together and prosper!"

Halfrija opened her mouth to speak, but her words were lost beneath the cheers of the crowd. As Bramin turned his back to the king and trod the walkway toward Halfrija, she shrank back. Her hands clenched to bloodless fists, and her soprano pierced the dying shouts of the court. "Wait!"

Bramin stopped before her trembling form.

"I would test your love," she announced shrilly. "It is my right."

Breath broke from Bramin in an angry hiss. He had risked his life for her once and would gladly do so again. But her entreaty was an affront. While it was indeed her privilege, no princess had invoked the law since its enactment three centuries past.

Halfrija continued. "You must fight a champion of my choosing to the death in the arena at midmorn. Should you survive, my hand is yours." She shivered, and her voice acquired a strange, droning quality. "You may select your weapon, but use of sorceries or enchanted swords will free me from my promise."

Struck to the heart by the maliciousness of her challenge, Bramin dropped all pretense of dignity. He knelt before Halfrija with the true respect he had denied the king. "As you wish, my lady. May the court hear my vow to kill or be killed by your champion without use of magic. "

Halfrija's mouth twitched to a cruel smile which swiftly disappeared.

Stiffly, Bramin turned. Fatigue and hopelessness wove a black curtain across his vision. As he retreated along the carpeted walkway he stumbled, and the glares of courtiers sapped him of all remaining grace. It seemed an eternity before he reached the far end of the hall. A guard swung open the carved oak doors, and Bramin passed through them. The portals clanged closed behind him, silencing the whispered condemnations of Ashemir's court as completely as death.

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